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Release Stress Right at Your Desk With 5 Chair Yoga Moves

By , Kristin McGee
You've been sitting at your desk for several hours and you haven't moved. It's you, your computer and your phone for the foreseeable future. Your back starts to ache and your neck feels stiff, so you wiggle in your seat and try to find a better, more comfortable "sitting" position. Nothing seems to work. The ache persists and you spend the rest of the afternoon cursing your uncomfortable chair for turning on you.
What you don't realize is that if you took a few minutes out of your day to stretch out with some simple yoga poses, you would be doing your body a great service. Not only can a few targeted poses strengthen your core and spine, but they can also help you in opening up your lungs, activating your breath, focusing your mind, and in fact stretching your entire body without ever fully abandoning your chair.
As yoga and Pilates instructor, I discovered that not everyone can fit exercise into their daily—often overbooked—routine. However, many Americans tend to be more sedentary than physically active, making it even more important to move every day. In addition to sitting all day at work, we spend time sitting during our commute to and from work in a car, on a bus or subway, and then sinking into the couch to watch TV at the end of a long day. A 2013 survey by Ergotron, a global manufacturer of sit-stand desks, found that 86 percent of American workers spend their day sitting, and the effect of prolonged sitting is taking a serious toll on our health. In addition to causing strain on the neck and shoulders, back, hips and legs, when we sit for long periods of time we are increasing our risk for diabetes, elevated cholesterol, and postural and muscular problems, to name a few.
While yoga in the middle of the work day might sound crazy, it's actually a time-effective and efficient way to combat some of those health risks while releasing tension. Knowing how important it was for people to find some way to move each day, I put together "Chair Yoga," a book featuring a series of 100 low-impact yoga exercises and poses that can be done anytime, anywhere, in a chair.
"Chair Yoga" helps combat the negative impacts of sitting by reducing muscle pain and tension, decreasing mental stress and aiding in digestion. Get started by incorporating some of these popular poses into your daily routine, right at your desk.

Your Mid-Day "Om"

Sun Salutations with Twists
When it comes to your spine and core—two areas which are often in compromising positions when slouched over at a desk—yoga twists are the move to do.  
  • To start, sit tall with your feet on the floor, hips toward the edge of the chair and your back straight.
  • Inhale, reaching your arms overhead to press your palms together.
  • As you exhale, drop your arms down as you twist to the left, bringing the right hand to the left knee and the left arm behind you to the top of the chair.
  • Inhale back to center, then repeat on your right side.
  • Continue this flow eight to 10 times.

Starting position.

Extend the arms.


Eagle Arms
Eagle arms help to open your shoulders, upper back, elbows and wrists.
  • To start, sit tall with your feet hip-width apart and firmly on the floor, hips toward the edge of the chair and your back straight.
  • Take your arms out to the sides at shoulder height, palms open to the ceiling.
  • Next, wrap the left arm under the right arm as high as you can, then double cross your forearms and try to press the palms together.
  • If you can't touch your palms, press the backs of the hands instead.
  • Work on lifting your elbows toward the ceiling while softening your shoulders.
  • Hold for five to eight breaths before releasing your arms and repeating with the opposite arm crossing under.

Downward-Facing Dog
Downward-facing dog is a great way to engage your lower body. This full-body stretch opens your upper back, shoulders, head, neck and legs. It also helps to refresh your mind and connect with your breath.
  • Start by facing the back of your chair and place your hands on the back of the chair, shoulder-width apart. Walk your feet back until your chest is parallel to the floor.
  • Next, engage your abdominals as you lift your ribs away from the floor. During this phase, think about arching out of the lower back and lifting your hips up and away from your shoulders.
  • Bend your knees to pull back even more, then straighten your legs again.
  • Hold this for eight to 10 breaths.

Goddess Squat
For additional lower-body work and an opportunity to further open up your hips and strengthen your buttocks and legs, try goddess squats.
  • Start at the edge of your seat with your hips in the middle of the chair.
  • Open your legs out to the side as wide as you can, and press your hands together in your heart center and hold for eight to 10 breaths.
  • To advance this movement, try lifting up a few inches from your chair and holding as long as you can.

Scale Pose
A nice way to end your chair yoga routine is with an abdominal exercise. Scale pose is great for working the core and literally lifts you out of your seat. The more you strengthen the abdominals, the better your posture, energy and spine health, not to mention flatter abs.
  • Sit at the edge of your seat and place your hands on either side of you hips.
  • Engage your core muscles and lift your hips and feet so you hover above the chair.
  • Release and repeat three to five more times.

Adding these few chair yoga poses to your day will gradually help you stretch and strengthen your body. In just a few minutes a day, if you can stay committed, you will see and feel yourself getting stronger, more flexible, more focused, healthier and happier.

Do you practice yoga or any kind of stretching at your desk?

About the Author 
Kristin McGee, a nationally recognized celebrity yoga and Pilates teacher, speaker, mompreneur, and author of "Chair Yoga: Sit, Stretch, and Strengthen Your Way to a Happier, Healthier You" has been at the forefront of the yoga industry since she began teaching yoga in the 90s. Her exceptional yoga and Pilates teaching abilities and unparalleled knowledge of fitness and health (she is a certified Pilates teacher, ACE-certified personal trainer and an AFAA-certified aerobics instructor) has established her as a sought after trainer with a continuous roster of high-profile celebrities. She was named of of the top 100 most influential yoga teachers in the U.S. by SONIMA and is a contributing editor at Health magazine. Kristin is the proud mom to her toddler Timothy and newborn twins Robert and William.

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Great routine -- except that last one: the Scale Pose is not happening here :) Report
JSTETSER 11/26/2018
Thanks. I just completed the series while sitting with my student. You made my day! You are an amazing encourager. This post has raised my attitude to be "CAN DO!"
Thanks! Report
KHALIA2 10/5/2018
Good information to know. Report
Great ideas! Report
Awesome...thanks... Report
SPINECCO 9/28/2018
Great article. Report
KARISSATX 9/28/2018
I'm really excited about these chair yoga exercises. My back KILLS me when i leave work every day. Just finished this little routine and i already feel more energized. Going to save a copy to my computer desktop to remind me to do every day! Thanks SP! Report
These look great with the exception of the Scale pose. That looks dangerous. Report
I've seen and done all of the poses shown except for the "scale pose"! That looks very interesting. Hope to try all of these later this afternoon! Great info! Thanks! Report
TCANNO 9/28/2018
more should do this Report
JANIEWWJD 9/28/2018
Great workouts!!! Report
BETTYJOH2 9/1/2018
These will really help that humped back and numb tush. Report
KHALIA2 8/12/2018
Great moves, Kristin! Report
1CRAZYDOG 6/19/2018
Nice moves. Lessens the excuses NOT to do exercise. You just need a chair! Report
PEGGIE0203 4/10/2018
Great ideas. Some of them can be done while travelling too, so long as you're a passenger, not behind the wheel. ;) Report
THECOZE 4/6/2018
I participate in active stretching at my work... when my timer goes off, every few hours, I take a few minutes to stretch in order to release tension and move around... it's a definite necessity. Report
more great stretches! Thanks! Report
Excellent! Report
SPINECCO 4/5/2018
These are great stretches. Report
MSROZZIE 4/5/2018
Excellent article, with good seated exercises! Report
CHRIS3874 4/5/2018
I haven't had anything resembling a desk job for years Report
JAZZEJR 4/5/2018
Great ideas. I'm going to try these -- just point your behind away from the door, Guys. :) Report
EO4WELLNESS 4/5/2018
Wow that last one is scary on a folding chair. Her weight is forward so it SHOULD be okay but it seems risky on a folding chair! Report
Thanks I can do this Report
I'm with Donna_VT & RuneShadow: they look doable except for the last one. My reaction was "Are you nuts?" It could be extremely dangerous if you should tip or lose your balance! And my joints--elbows and wrists--could be badly strained by attempting it. I really don't like seeing unsafe moves promoted with no caution. Which is really too bad since the other 6 look gentle and inviting. Report
good points Report
These are good. I do them occasionally. I have them saved Report
Great moves Report
Love these five chair yoga moves! Report
Simple, great moves. Thank you. Report
Thanks for the advice but I just couldn't get that arm twisty thing to work lol But I sure look funny trying.
Truly Shay Report
Great ideas. Thank you. Report
Great ideas Report
great stretches! Report
Definitely would help. If your supervisor has a hard time with you doing this, explain (not argue) that by doing these it's increasing your oxygen flow. Thus when you sit back down (Ok,,,,I'd do them on break not while I'm supposed to be working) your brain will be clearer, because your muscles are now looser, they can respond quicker, I wont have as many sick days because of pain. To name a few Report
These sound like a great way to stretch out. Report
I want to work out but I have such a bad back and neck that I get a little freaked out. My back Dr. told me to only walk. But, these stretches look awesome. Report
I have never been a fan of yoga. But I could try some of these. Report
Looking forward to trying some of these! Report
Outside of the third move, I don't think most people would be able to do these at their desks unless they have an office with four walls. With many businesses going the route of "open" floor plan and cubicles to save money, not only are these impractical, you may get spoken to or written up if you do some of them. Businesses don't want distractions, nor do they want to risk an employee hurting themselves on the job which would require them to pay worker's comp. Report
Love yoga!! Report
I can see incorporating some of these during my day. Report
I sit at a high desk there is no way that most of these would work on a high rolling chair! Report
This has some great exercises. I will definitely incorporate these into my workouts. Great Article!! Thanks so much... Report
they all look doable except the scale pose . . . no way I can even get close to doing that one Report
Chair exercise is a new course for me Report
I have an hour glass that runs out in 20 minutes. I am supposed to get up ant around, then. I am going to try these a couple of times a day. Hope my colleagues work with me and don't just laugh! Report
I just started yoga about a month ago so I'm glad to be able to incorporate a little more into my day. I just hope nobody stares at me! Report
These are great, but you won't find me doing the last one, The Scale! Thank you for exercises that suit those of us with limited mobility as well as those stuck at their desks for long periods. Report
I do other SP sitting exercises and will surely be doing these Report