Technology. It is great for the mind, but horrible for the body. When you spend 8 hours (or more) at a desk, staring at and typing on a computer, your body starts to fall apart: Neck pain, back pain, jaw pain, wrist pain, they are all par for the course when you have a desk job. Enter Office Yoga!
Many people claim that they don’t have time for yoga, even though they know it will help them feel better. Luckily, yoga is very adaptable. There are many poses that can be done while sitting to stretch out the neck, shoulders and back so that your computer doesn’t have to be your body’s enemy.
As the saying goes, “An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.” Proper posture is essential to minimizing the effects of desk work on your body. Ideally your computer station should be set up with your screen at eye level and your keyboard at or slightly below elbow level. Your chair should offer support so that your spine and pelvis are vertical. Your feet should rest comfortably on the floor, with your knees slightly lower than your hips. Taking short breaks every hour or so can help you reconnect with your vertical posture while still allowing you to get work done. Those little breaks are a great time for some Office Yoga!
Note: If your office chair has wheels, please move your chair against a wall for stability.
1. Half neck rolls: These are great for relieving the neck and upper back tension that is common with
computer work. Simple neck rolls can be done in your chair with your feet on the floor. Sit up straight. Inhale, and while you exhale drop your chin toward your chest. Take 3 breaths, letting your head and neck relax as you exhale. Next, roll your head to the right aiming your right ear toward your right shoulder and your left ear toward the ceiling. Take 3 breaths here then roll back through center and repeat to the left. Bring your head back up to center and do some shoulder rolls, both forward and backward.
Variation #1: While your head is to the right side, on an exhale, rotate your chin toward your right collar bone and then on your next exhale, upward toward the ceiling. You can hold each position for about 3 breaths as well. Repeat to the left.
Variation #2: Before starting the half neck rolls, cross your right arm over your left arm as close to the elbows as you can get. Try to reach each hand to the opposite shoulder (right hand to left shoulder, left hand to right shoulder). Make sure to press your shoulders downward. Then do the half neck rolls as described above. Then cross your left arm over your right arm as close to the elbows as possible, grabbing your opposite shoulders and repeat the half neck rolls. If you can’t reach your shoulders, that’s fine, just grab whatever is available.
General Guidelines: Choose a different variation each time you stretch to change up the movements you offer your body. Be gentle with yourself and make sure you are breathing. This should feel good, not strained. If your neck muscles start to like it’s too much, stop. Listen to your body, it will tell you when you’ve had enough.
2. Seated Twist: This pose can relieve tension in the spine. Sit forward on your chair so that your feet can rest easily on the floor. Keeping your spine straight and vertical, rotate your rib cage to the right so that your left ribs are moving forward and your right ribs are moving backward; your pelvis should stay facing forward, equal weight on your sit bones. Gently turn your face and gaze to the right, keeping your head vertical as well. Feel free to rest your left arm on your right side arm-rest, if your chair has one. If not, you can rest your left hand on your right knee. Hold for 3-5 breaths, then repeat to the left. Use each inhale to grow taller through the spine, every exhale to relax into the twist.
General Guidelines: Make sure you are not pushing or forcing yourself into the twist using your arms, the movement comes from your core (obliques). This ensures safe twisting. If you have moderate to severe scoliosis or any disc problems, consult your doctor before twisting.
3.Hamstring Stretch: One problem with sitting for long periods is that your hamstrings (muscles behind your thighs) are in a constant state of contraction. Chronically tight hamstrings can lead to lower back problems, both pain and instability. By releasing the hamstrings, it can relieve the tension in your lower back. Sit toward the front of your chair with your left foot flat on the floor. Extend your right leg forward with the heel resting on the floor (feel free to take your shoes off for this one if you like). As you sit vertically, you might already feel a stretch in your right leg. If so, just stay and breathe, 3-5 breaths. If you don’t yet feel a stretch, keep your spine straight and tip your pelvis forward, rocking to the front edge of your sit bones. Move until you feel a stretch, then stay 3-5 breaths. Repeat on the left.
General Guidelines: Make sure you are not rounding your spine, the stretch comes from the movement of the pelvis, not from reaching your head to your knee. When you round your spine, you lose the connection to your hamstrings and you are only stretching your lower back. While there is nothing wrong with getting a lower back stretch, you are bypassing the stretch you actually need, which is the hamstring stretch.
4. Seated Figure 4 Pose: Sit with your left foot flat on the floor and cross your right ankle over your left knee. If you can’t get the ankle on the knee, slide your left foot forward on the floor straightening your left leg until you can. Work toward bringing the left foot closer to you until the foot is under the knee (it may not get there right away, be patient with yourself). Sit up as straight as possible while letting your right knee drop toward the floor. If you are already feeling a stretch in the right hip/glutes, stay just as you are and take 3-5 slow breaths. If you are not yet feeling a stretch, keeping your spine straight, tip your pelvis forward, reaching your navel toward your right shin. Like the hamstring stretch, you want to rock to the front edge of your sit bone. Stop when you feel the stretch. Hold 3-5 slow breaths then repeat to the other side.
General Guidelines: Make sure to keep the top ankle flexed (rather than relaxing the foot) so as to stabilize the ankle, thus putting all of the stretch into your hip where you need it. If you have had a hip replacement, keep the bottom leg a little straighter so there is less hip flexion; you may also need to keep your top knee slightly elevated by supporting it with your hands. Try not to force the stretch, move into it slowly and comfortably.
5. Upper back bend/chest opener: Sit forward on your chair so that your sit bones are at the front edge of the seat and your hands are grasping the back edges of your seat, fingers aimed away from each other. Grasp the seat with your hands and press the center of your chest to the ceiling. Don’t drop your head, keep it inline with your spine or bring your chin toward your chest. Breathe deeply into the chest for 3-5 breaths.
Variation #1: Sit toward the front of your chair and interlace your fingers behind your lower back. Try to bring your palms together so they touch (you might need to bend your elbows). As you inhale, squeeze your shoulder blades together and imagine that your collar bones are spreading apart. As you exhale reach your knuckles away from your hips. Stay 3-5 breaths, then repeat with the other set of fingers on top (if your left thumb is on top, shift all of your fingers over by one until your right thumb is on top). If you can’t connect your hands, stay with the original pose, or hold onto something, like a towel, a strap, or a belt, walking your hands toward each other.
Variation #2: Start with Variation # 1. Inhale, then as you exhale, fold forward over your lap, reaching your knuckles toward the ceiling. This will stretch the chest, shoulders and lower back. Hold 3-5 breaths, then repeat with the other fingers on top. If you can’t connect the hands, hold a towel, strap or belt between the hands.
General Guidelines: Make sure not to let your wrists pop outward. Try to make one fist with your two hands, pressing the palms together. Squeeze your Rhomboids (muscles between your shoulder blades) to get the most stretch and opening in your chest and shoulders. If you can’t bring your hands together, hold onto a strap, belt, or towel, something to connect your hands.
Once you’ve finished your Office yoga practice (and you can repeat it multiple times through the day if you like), end with sitting upright in your chair, feet planted on the floor and close your eyes. Place your hands on your lower abdomen and take 5 slow abdominal breaths, expanding the belly as you inhale and letting it gently contract as you exhale. Breathe slowly and evenly, in and out through the nose. Open your eyes and go back to work feeling more energized and relaxed.
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