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.
Extend the 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 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.
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.
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.