Nightmare Boss? Conflict at Work?

Nine simple exercises you can do at your desk that will improve your health and wellbeing
April 28, 2017 Updated: April 28, 2017
FONT BFONT SText size

We’ve all experienced the horrible sinking feeling you get from a badly handled disagreement at work, or suppressed rage at a demanding or unreasonable boss. When workplace pressure gets too much, and you feel trapped in a negative thought-cycle, it’s crucial to take back some control over your feelings.

Even with a limited amount of time you can create space to bring yourself back into balance, manage your stress levels and gain some much-needed perspective after a hard day or a tough week. Use these tips to give yourself a mental and physical stretch and reset.

If you only have 5 minutes:

  • Take five long, slow, deep, diaphragmatic breaths, lengthening and deepening the exhale. Imagine you are exhaling stress and inhaling energy.
  • Stand up and stretch.
  • Spend a moment in contemplation and immerse yourself in a memory of a time when you felt most happy and relaxed.
  • Remember humour is a good way of blowing off steam – however tricky the situation, look for the funny side.

If you can take a 10-minute break:

  • Go for a brisk walk or climb some stairs.
  • Do a few desk stretches in your chair, to loosen up tight muscles.
  • Focus on action not reaction: our stress increases if we feel a work situation is out of our control. Note the aspects you think you can control and focus on them, letting go of those aspects you can’t.
  • List five things that are positive or amusing about a tense meeting or situation that you have just come out of.

If you can spare 15–20+ minutes:

  • Unwind by elevating your legs: lie on your back with your feet and calves on a chair so there is about a 90-degree bend at your hips and knees. Focus on relaxing your breath: 15–20 minutes in this “constructive rest” position is equal to a 2-hour nap.
  • Simplify and eliminate: unnecessary distractions and interruptions increase our stress. Simplify your work area into a non-distraction work space and limit the amount of information on view.
  • Practise 15 minutes’ seated meditation, focusing on the body breathing itself.
  • Take a walk outside, if possible. Breathe the fresh air and connect with nature.
  • Listen to a piece of music you enjoy.

Chair Yoga Poses

1) Grounding

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Sit on front of seat. Feet firmly grounded. Hands on thighs. Practise slow breathing – inhale (note to yourself ‘breathing in’) and exhale (note to yourself ‘breathing out’). Practise with your eyes closed, focusing on slow breaths, clearing your thoughts to just focus on the movement of the breath in all the parts of the body involved.

2) Arm stretch

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Sit on chair. Feet shoulder width apart. Sit straight. Feet grounded. Gently engage core muscles. Lift arms to sides and overhead, lengthen the spine, hold and then lower. Repeat.

3) Chest opener

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Sit on chair. Plant feet. Hold on to back of chair with hands and elbows bent. Press elbows towards each other – feel the stretch in your shoulders and opening your chest.


4) Backbend

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Sit on chair. Plant feet. Interlace fingers behind your back (or hold edge of chair) and raise chest to ceiling, leading with the sternum and gently bending the back. Keep comfort in mind and don’t jam the neck backwards.

5) Leg stretch 1

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Sit on front of chair. Place right leg straight in front. Inhale. On exhale reach forward towards foot, hold for a breath round. Gently roll yourself up. Repeat on other side.


6) Leg stretch 2

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Face chair. Place hands on chair. Bring left leg forwards. To deepen the stretch in the forward leg, widen the stance. Repeat on other side. Bend your knees if your back is rounded and you feel all the stretch in the lower back.


7) Side bend

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Sit on chair with feet flat on floor. Reach up with left hand, palm facing inwards, holding on to edge of chair with right hand. Press down on seat with right hand and, with straight back, stretch left hand up and over your head. Hold. Release. Repeat on other side.

8) Chair squat

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Stand behind chair. Feet a little wider than hip distance apart. Place hands on top of chair. Look straight ahead, finding a gazing point on the wall or floor. If your balance is good, bring arms straight out in front, parallel to floor with palms facing each other. Inhaling, bend knees to lower into a squat. To come back to standing, exhale as you push into the heels.

9) Legs up

(George Watts)
(George Watts)

Take rest. If the neck is uncomfortable place a cushion under the back of the head.

Chair Yoga poses and images devised by George Watts.

Jennifer Ellis is the founder of The Yoga Wellness Company a new London-based company that works to develop and share the mind, body and well-being benefits that flow from the practice of yoga.