Yoga in the Age of Covid-19 and Lockdown

The global pandemic has changed life as we know it and how we conduct our everyday lives. As such it has had profound effects on peoples’ quality of life and mental health.

 Our lives can be divided into the time before Covid-19 and the time after Covid-19. The time before seems like a technicolour dream of freedom and possibility. An existence where we would hug, share food, sing in crowds and come together in ways which now would seem careless at best, dangerous at worst.

L.P Hartley’s classic novel. ‘The Go-Between’ begins with the infamous line, ‘The past is a foreign country: they do things differently there’(Hartley, 1953, p.5 ) The seeming distance of the recent past stands in stark reality to the new present which is framed in a new lexicon of shielding, aerosol transmission, home schooling, self- isolation, support bubbles, R numbers and social distancing. Our minds and our bodies are having to adapt to this new reality day by day as we collectively grieve for the past and yearn for a brighter future. So, how can Yoga help with this process?

Yoga is a philosophy for life with an 8 limb road map which details how we relate to the world around us and how we relate to ourselves. As the world and our choices have narrowed, Yoga points to the strength (sthiram) and comfort (sukham) which can come from our inner resources if we only know where to look.

 The one thing we can all relate to and a point for connection is the breath, we all breath. As we manage working from home, trying to supervise home schooling or running the gauntlet of supermarket shopping, how often are we aware of how we are breathing? We know when we feel anxious or worried or excited our breath becomes shallow. We know if we feel miserable or lacking in motivation or relaxed we sigh and take longer exhales.

The 4th limb of Yoga is breath control or pranayama. A simple resource we all have is our breath. We can’t control the pandemic, other people or the weather but we can control how we react and one way of gaining a mindful awareness of our reactions is by harnessing the healing power of the breath. Simply by observing the breath coming in and the breath moving out we can begin to feel the quality of our breath and our thoughts. This concentration is the 6th limb of yoga (dharana) and is a precursor to the 7th limb of meditation (dhyana).

 When we focus on our breath and our shifting thoughts we can begin to see patterns emerge. With self-knowledge comes agency, an ability to change the quality of breath to bring more ease to the mind. Yoga has a range of pranayama practices which can be helpful but the starting off point is the simple awareness of breath coming in, breath coming out. When breath awareness is coupled with movement, the 3rd limb of asana or posture, to release tension and stress then a body-mind-breath connection is established in a state of Yoga. Life is often overwhelming but the simple process of settling into the felt sensations of the body and linking this to the breath is a way to process the past, meet the challenges of the present and to make peace with the uncertainty of the future.

Author: Emma Conally-Barklem, EmmaLiveYoga December 2020, All rights reserved.

Reference

The Go-Between, L.P. Hartley, 1953, Penguin Classics, London

Improving gut health for night shift workers

In the modern era, many people are opening their eyes to the true importance of maintaining the health of their gut. Shift workers in particular struggle with gut health, considering the difficulty of maintaining good habits during a demanding schedule. Many night shift workers often find themselves more vulnerable to health issues and find certain eating habits can have a negative impact on their digestive health.

Here are 7 tips to IMPROVE gut health for night shift workers,

1. Eat your main meal before going to work

It is recommended to eat the main meal before going to work. This helps by allowing the body to process and digest the food before they begin their shift. Eating before a shift will ensure the body remains fuelled for the long hours ahead and will assist with maintaining energy levels.

We all get that lull after eating big meals that make us feel like a sedated sloth or make us want to put on our PJ’s for a nanna nap. Eating smaller meals or snacks whilst on shift will prevent that dip in energy.

2. Avoid high-fat, fried or spicy foods

Certain foods are much harder to digest, especially during the night time when the digestive system slows down. High-fat, fried, and spicy foods should be avoided as they could cause heartburn, indigestion, gas and constipation.

We all love a bit of spice in our lives but definitely best to leave the spice for the days off if wanting to avoid an uncomfortable shift at work.

3. Pack healthy meals and snacks

Our taste buds often cause us a bit of a dilemma. Its so frustrating to say this, but often things that taste the best tend to have bad implications on your health. To avoid being tempted by those delicious but not helpful snacks, pack more healthy options such as fruit, hummus and carrot sticks, hard boiled eggs, home made granola or smoothies with added protein.

Smaller snacks and lighter meals are better foods to eat during a shift, as they don’t cause as much distress to the gut when eaten, due to food being much easier to digest in small portions.

Soup is a great thing to eat during a night shift as the liquid form of the food means it’s already started to be broken down and puts less strain on the digestive system.

4. Substitute caffeine for water

Caffeine is a substance that many shift workers rely on, rather than the generally accepted glucose and good amount of rest. This is a bad habit to get into as caffeine causes distress to the gut, making digestion a needlessly painful experience.

Instead drink water when feeling the need for refreshment. This has notably better benefits in regards to not just general health but the gut too. If a pick-me-up is required, one cup of coffee is actually generally healthy, just best not to drink it in excess.

5. Skip sweet snacks

When the urge to buy and consume a treat comes over a shift worker, it’s best for them to avoid the sugar.

Research has shown that the pancreas doesn’t work as well during the night so it’s not able to manage the blood sugar. A healthier and more gut friendly option would be to reach for nuts, seeds and yoghurts.

6. Take ACTIVE breaks

An often forgotten part of gut health is the physical aspect. It’s not always about what you eat, but also how well your body is equipped to deal with it. Making the most of the break times and ensuring there is some gentle exercise throughout the shift will keep the body ‘well equipped’.

The best advice would be to take walks or go on a brief bicycle ride if possible, during break times – this helps immensely with both digestion and general health.

7. Have a light snack before bed

Another good way to maintain a healthy gut, similar to the first tip, is to eat at a specific time. On this occasion we are referring to before going to bed. Eating a snack before sleep keeps the gut active.

The reason why this is so healthy for the gut is because digestion, as a process, is better maintained with frequent action, rather than large periods of inaction.

Tips for a healthy home office

There are many positive aspects to allowing employees to work from home or adopting a more hybrid way of working. However there are some factors that do need to be considered that could cause a potential issue for those working in this way.

“The environment was beginning to make me feel rather burnt out as well as effecting my ability to function productively in my role.”- Admin Assistant

The best way to advise on how to improve a home office environment is to take a look at the downsides as opposed to working in an office environment. So what are they?

  • Poor seating and desk setup
  • Less resources and equipment
  • Switching off and setting boundaries is difficult
  • Less inclined to take set breaks and have actual downtime
  • Poor environmental factors 
  • Inadequate lighting 
  • Less communication
  • Lack of connection with others in person

The desk and seating

Whilst working on your sofa may sound amazing, the practicality of it that it can cause numerous issues with your back. It is always advisable not just for posture, but for state of mind to have a separate work space dedicated to your time of working.

Space doesn’t have to be an issue as you can actually set up an area in a small corner if you are clever about the choice of desk and chair. You could also make use of your dining table. And if you don’t have space for an appropriate ergonomic chair, you could use your existing dining chairs and add a sitting wedge to angle your pelvis forward and correct your posture. You can also get a backfriend or lumbar support.

Poor seating arrangements can cause so many musculoskeletal problems (MSK). Other equipment that can be purchased to ensure a safe set up are a peripheral mouse, a wrist wrest and a footrest. These simple and sometimes inexpensive items can make a huge difference to future physical issues for someone working from home.

Equipment and resources

‘Tech neck’ is an issue to watch out for; the stress caused to muscles in the neck, back and shoulders by leaning forward for long periods of time. This is exacerbated by using smart phones, tablets and laptops. To reduce this risk it is best to a desk top PC where the monitor height can be adjusted to eye level.

Offices are designed in such a way that everything an employee needs is available. When they start working from home; that equipment they once had to hand such as printers, stationery, other office accessories and also adequate internet are no longer accessible. There is nothing more frustrating if you don’t have the best Wi-Fi and the connection is continuously dropping out. Its enough to make the most placid person on the planet turn into a swearing lunatic who threatens the PC with actual physical harm.

Boundaries

Just 3% of UK employees want to work from home most of the time, according to research carried out by global workplace experts Steelcase in March 2021. The findings also revealed that nearly one in five (18%) reported a worsening level of productivity.

Not having that commute (however long or short) to the office can mean there is no clear divide between switching off from your home life to entering into the mindset of your working day. It is therefore imperative to ensure the worker is able to schedule in regular breaks away from their desk and screen to move around, go for a walk and just separate themselves momentarily. This will help to prevent any future burnout and issues with productivity.

Breaks and downtime

Employees should be encouraged to practice the 40-20 rule, which is to sit and work for 40 minutes, then move around and walk for 20 minutes. If this is not practical, encouraging the worker to take a lunch break walk will help instil some acknowledgement of self care and bring a sense of mindfulness as they walk, relieving and stress and built up tension.

Setting clear start and finish times is so important too as many have found they would be checking emails constantly and never actually switching off when they should be relaxing with their family.

Environmental Factors

Employees should be encouraged to cultivate a nice-looking home workspace. Somewhere a member of staff would choose to be, rather than be out of requirement. Therefore a good way to look at this and approach creating the space, is to make a home out of your workspace.

Similarly, the environment they work in should befit that of a respected person. Clean. Free of clutter, and decorated with personality (collectibles, stickers, statues). This way, a member of staff would feel relaxed, at home, and motivated. Ensuring your staff are aware of the importance of their workspace when setting up their office area is paramount.

Lighting

The lighting around a member of staff can genuinely affect their mood and output a lot.

If staff are working in areas with weak lighting (broken lights included) – the staff are known to feel more lethargic, less motivated, and less driven to complete the tasks that are laid out.

Due to this, strong lights with warmer glows give a better sense of motivation to members of staff and are actually documented as having strong positive impacts on their mood; particularly if the source of the light is the sun. For this reason, setting up a workspace in an area with larger windows would be beneficial.

Communication

The greatest issue facing staff in the modern era is a feeling of disconnect between them and those who are supposed to be their superiors and also their colleagues. It is of the upmost importance to create a strong positive repour between staff members and management. This will ensure staff are not intimidated by situations where they may need to ask for help and can also gain assistance and guidance from their peers.

The best way to do this, would be to have some level of open chat between staff members. There are so many options available now for internal communications, and do not have to simply rely on email and calls. The members of staff should be encouraged to use all methods available to them that they are comfortable using.

It isn’t uncommon for members of staff who enjoy their jobs to mention their good bonds with their colleagues, as the main reason for this enjoyment. This is a good thing to keep in mind in terms of staff well being when home working is being introduced. Additional team building and bonding days should be increased to accommodate the changes.

Connection

In a similar vain to the last point, staff often feel limited in their capability to converse with colleagues. A limitation often born from mental blocks, making them worry they’ll be disciplined if they ever converse on topics that aren’t entirely topical to the job they’re doing. However, for the benefit of their motivation and enjoyment of their job, ‘chatting’ should be encouraged, as long as it doesn’t interfere with their output too much.

It also has a significant effect when it comes to reducing burnout. Having a chuckle at a fellow member of staff’s joke while working keeps morale high and motivation at its peak.