Break for yoga - Katarina Gleisberg and Eleni Vardkai

Yoga Break During the Working Day

WHAT’S THE ISSUE? For those of us who don’t smoke, it can be harder to give ourselves a break during the working day. In this interview, Katarina Gleisberg, who is a teacher of Mindfulness and English Language Learners, shares an exercise that anyone can do to consistently take a break for yoga during the working day:

  • build yoga into your working day – wherever you may be. 
  • reduces stress by reducing your cortisol level.
  • increase your focus and productivity.


ELENI VARDAKI: What is a Yogi Smoke Break? Where did that come from?


KATARINA GLEISBERG: So the woman who started Yogi Smoke Break, Rany Kang, was a server in a restaurant.


She realized that her co-workers who were smokers automatically had this break time built into their busy work they. Whereas for her and other co-workers, who are not smokers, they were just kind of sitting, maybe eating – not taking that break. 


And she had this idea of, “What if we use that time so we also have break, but for something healthy for us?” She’s a yoga teacher and thought, “If we start Yogi Smoke Breaks…” – she wanted to provide a break for everyone. 


No matter what your physical condition is, a Yogi Smoke Break is doable because it’s a 7 to 10 mindfulness practice. 


They are easy, simple, small doses of yoga that anybody can do during the workday, even if you are sitting at your desk. It works.


Sitting up straight, taking the time to breathe, realizing that when we take a break and we are aware of our breaths, that helps us to: calm down, rejuvenate, and feel more focused afterward. Therefore, we can radiate that calm and focus to everyone around us.


ELENI VARDAKI: So it sounds a bit more like a “less haste, more speed” kind of principle.


KATARINA GLEISBERG: Yes, because like I said, they only take 7 to 10 minutes. They are filmed via Facebook live. There are different teachers throughout four different time zones in the US.



KATARINA GLEISBERG: We can take a break and do yoga meditation whatever, no matter what our settings is. We don’t have to be at home in a cosy little place on a yoga mat. It can literally be as simple as “I am sitting in a restaurant on a park bench, I am at work” – wherever – “And I am choosing to take a few minutes to be mindful to calm myself down so that I can be more focused and productive afterwards.” What helps us with that is that we are literally focusing on what’s happening now. We are blocking out whatever happened in the past and we are not obsessing about what’s going to happen in the future. 




So in order to do these cleansing breaths, we can either put our hands palm upon our legs. Or hands on the heart, to feel the heartbeat. Or hands on the belly. It depends on what I am feeling that day – for me, I like feeling the heartbeat. That helps me to be present. 


And we start off with a few cleansing breaths. 


Since this is a very condensed version, we just do one round of Square Breathing –  Square or Box breathing – where we inhale for four. Hold for four. Exhale for four. Hold out for four. As I am breathing in, I think of all of the things that I want to accomplish. So I am breathing in: productivity, calm, and connections. And I am holding for 4 seconds. And I am exhaling anything that does not serve me. Holding it out.


That’s one round of cleansing breaths. 


Again, as I inhale I’m thinking of what I want to bring into my life- clarity, focus and power – breathing out anything that does not serve me. 




Next we would move to the stretching. It takes yogi moves and has them all simplified. 


One that I love to do is the Spinal Twist, where my fingers go in front of my shoulders and my thumbs go behind. I inhale to left, exhale to the right. 


Another one that I love is the Miracle Bend, where it opens up the heart and it bends out the negativity and anxiety.

The Miracle Bend – if I was doing this in Kundalini Yoga, it would be standing. But we adopt, in Yogi Smoke Breaks, everything for anyone who may be seated. So if I am doing the Miracle Bend, I lock my thumbs like this, and as I inhale, I inhale back as far as I can go. Holding it back. Exhaling forward. 


The key with this, just like yoga – you do what your body is capable of. 


We do the most simplified versions for Yogi Smoke Breaks to make them accessible for all, but this can be something where if I am capable of holding my back several more seconds, then by all means do whatever gives you that powerful stretch. 


So we have the cleansing breaths, the stretching and then we end with a meditation. 




One of the meditations that I love to do is called the Meditation to Act Not React


In order to do this we have our hands in Gyan Mudra.  A mudra, in yoga, is a hand position. Gyan Mudra specifically is when the index finger and the thumb are touching. And if we have our arms just a little bit out, not touching the body, like this. Again it’s called the Meditation to Act Not React, because we are getting rid of everything that does not serve us. 


On the inhale I think of what does serve me, what I want to bring into my life. So maybe it’s: concentration, focus, clarity, productivity. So I inhale for 3 seconds with a whistle…(You can do this with your eyes closed. It’s going to be most powerful that way)…So I inhale for 3 seconds with a whistle. Hold for 3 seconds, and then a powerful cannon breath out. 

Back to inhale for 3 seconds. Hold for 3 seconds, and a powerful cannon breath out. And that can be done as many minutes as you need. 


Normally when I do this at home, I do it for about 5 minutes. I noticed as I get further into it – my powerful cannon breath out – that gets much stronger. Because I am getting rid of all that doesn’t serve me. 


I feel like meditation in general has a lot of benefits, but I do feel empowered afterwards. Because we have control over our emotions, and a lot of people don’t realize that, but when we are aware that we have control, that releases a lot of anxiety and it brings empowerment along with it. So that is something that I think really serves me. 


I try and share that with my students because then they realize, “Okay, I’m stressed out, but the world doesn’t have control over me. I have control over me – even if I don’t over certain circumstances.”



ELENI VARDAKI: Wow! I don’t know if you can see the difference, but I can feel the difference. I was following along and doing all of those examples and demonstrations that you were giving. I definitely feel more focused and energized – almost a little bit tingling. Like, I’m so much more present after a day of very full-on one thing after another. So thank you for that. That was a wonderful gift. I definitely enjoy that.


And I hope that the audience back home could also feel how special that is to feel more focused more energized and calm, after doing some of those exercises. 


Now Katarina, here’s the thing, though. I’m thinking, you know, for a busy parent, a busy teacher or a busy Head of School, they’re like, “Well, you know what, I see the value of teaching this to kids. It can help them focus to learn, but I don’t have time to do this.” What would you say to that?


KATARINA GLEISBERG: I understand that, because I was a person who felt that exact same way: “I don’t have time for this.” 


But then I realized the times when I was feeling overwhelmed, I was thinking of all of the numerous things on my To-Do list, and it was causing me to not focus on one thing, and getting it done, because I am thinking of all these others. 


It has been shown that when you slow down your breathing, it changes your brain chemistry to make you calmer and happier. It decreases the cortisol – the stress hormone. 


That helps with increasing metabolism, it helps with your immune system, and for the short-term effect, it helps you to calm down so that afterwards you can focus.


If I take the 5 or 10 minutes (whatever it is) to meditate and take a break, and afterwards I’m in a good mood, and my productivity increases, because I’m more calm and focused – then that’s invaluable to me. 


Because that 10 minutes that I took to meditate, and allow myself to take a break, has just made the last few hours drastically more productive. 


It’s got that blood flowing – I mean, gosh! So many things, right?


It makes me feel more alert, and awake and empowered –  just from that 10 minute break. So it’s worth it in the long-run.