By: Jane Shersher, LSW & Founder of Counselors Autonomous, A Program within Ava Today
Quick & Realistic Workouts / Stretches for Busy Students and Professionals
Sitting for long periods of time can cause “misalignment and pain” amongst joints and muscles in the body (Sales, n.p.)
The following yoga stretches can help individuals that are spending most of their time sitting in an office or standing in a factory or customer service setting. The goal here, amongst achieving a mindfulness break, is to ease tight muscles (tight muscles are a frequent result of prolonged sitting) and to invigorate the transportation of oxygen-rich blood throughout the body as well as eliminate waste efficiently. (instructions and poses bellow are retrieved from- Sales, 2015- “5 Office Yoga Poses” unless otherwise noted)
- Balancing Table Pose
Start with table pose position on a stable floor surface with some padding to protect your knees. Table pose includes balancing your weight on both of your hands and both of your knees equally. As you inhale, raise your left leg parallel to the floor and raise your right arm parallel to the floor, extending both outwards, the arm in front and the leg behind you, toward opposite walls. Feel your body reaching and elongating through your spine, pull up with your stomach (trunk) muscles so that your lower back doesn’t sag. Try to imagine placing the soul of your foot flat on the wall behind you, even though it is far away and perhaps physically impossible to reach the wall- this action tenses your leg muscles in a crucially beneficial way. Make sure not to bend your knees or crunch your neck while performing this position. Hold for 10 seconds. Now exhale, pulling both your knee and your elbow toward the center (midline) of your body (aka- your bellybutton). And repeat this coupling of movements with the other side. Perform each side 5 times before taking a break.
See photos of these poses and exercises:
- Wall Squats
Lean against the wall and squat with your knees directly over your feet and your feet hip-width distance apart. Your quads should be parallel to the ground. Hold for 3 minutes or until your legs are burning uncomfortably. Repeat multiple times throughout the day. This helps to counteract the adverse effects of sitting all day in your office chair, and during your commute, and at home on the couch.
- Seated Spinal Twist
This pose helps to “stretch and strengthen spinal muscles, reducing back tension by elongating strained ligaments and tendons, and “encouraging fresh blood flow to the digestive organs” (Sales, n.p.).
- Start by sitting tall in your chair with your feet flat on the ground.
- Breath in deeply to lengthen the spine, make sure your hips are facing forward, and that your sit bones are firmly planted on your chair.
- As you breathe out slowly, twist to your left, taking hold of your left armrest with your right hand and the back of the chair with your left hand
- Make sure to turn your head over your left shoulder
- Hold this position for at least 5 slow breaths.
- Breath in one last time, and slowly return to the front-facing position as you exhale. Use your stomach muscles as you return to the forward-facing position rather than just recoiling back to it.
- Repeat this process on the right side.
- Be slow and deliberate with these movements, as you don’t want to tweak your spine into misalignment while recoiling.
- Bellow are 3 additional ways that you can perform a seated spinal twist if you don’t have a chair handy or desire a deeper stretch.
- Sitting Pigeon Pose
This pose will help to open up your hips and surrounding muscles. Sitting too much can cause your hip muscles to tighten up and pull on your lower back, causing pain, discomfort, and strain on your joints. It has also been said that we humans “tend to store emotional tension in our hip joints,” (Sales, n.p.) so if you are stressed, you may be translating that emotional tension into physical discomfort by storing it in your hips. Let’s stretch that tension out of there:
- Start sitting tall in your chair with the chair a few feet away from your desk.
- Take your left ankle and place the outside side of it flat on top of your quadriceps muscle, just above your right knee, with the foot in a flexed position.
- While breathing deeply, slowly start to bend forward at hip level towards your knees and rest your hands or elbows on your desk if possible in order to stabilize the hip joint and deepen the stretch.
- Note- a stretching tension sensation in your outer hip is the aim, but pain is not. If this stretch is painful either in the hip or knee joints, pull your torso back up by straightening your back towards the back of your chair or simply ease out of the pose entirely.
- Hold this position for at least 5 slow deep breaths, and then slowly come back to a sitting position.
- Release your leg and shake it out or draw circles with your leg in the air to the side of your body in order to get blood flowing back into your hip joint. This action also helps to give your gluteus muscles (butt muscles) a nice movement, especially if you draw 5-10 circles in each direction.
- Repeat these steps for the right side.
- Bellow are additional versions of the pose if you don’t have a chair handy or desire a deeper stretch.
- Neck stretch
It’s no wonder that our necks can become stiff or tight during the workday, particularly if we spend most of our time in front of computers. Here are some stretches to reduce the prevalence of tension headaches and tightness in the neck and shoulder area.
- Start by sitting in your chair and relaxing your shoulders.
- Do 2-3 gentle neck rolls to both the right and the left side (avoid crunching your neck to the back so as not to compress your neck vertebra).
- Next, bring your right arm behind your back with your right hand reaching around to the left side of your torso.
- Hold you right hand in place by clasping it with your left hand. Pull your left elbow in toward your back side so that the left elbow points to the back of the room, fingers still interlaced with both hands, Do not force the movement, as you want to avoid any damage to tendons or ligaments.
- Tilt your neck to the left and hold for at least 5 deep breaths. Make sure that your shoulders are relaxed and dropped to a neutral position. You should feel the stretch in the right side of your neck and upper right shoulder.
- Now from this position, tilt your chin toward your left shoulder as if you are trying to smell your armpit. You are looking down and past your left shoulder in this position and should feel the stretch in the back right of your neck and shoulder. Hold for at least 5 deep breaths.
- Take one last deep breath and return to a normal sitting position with your spine as straight as possible. Release your shoulder muscles.
- Roll your shoulders three times forward and back without hunching your back or neck (this loosens your neck, pectoral (chest), and shoulder muscles and powers your stomach/core and lower back muscles)
- Now repeat the neck stretches on the other side and follow up with shoulder roles. Try the other two stretches included in the photos bellow as well and see what you think. Muscles diagrams are incorporated in this explanation so that you know which muscles should feel like they are being stretched- this is how you know that you are doing the pose correctly. If you don’t feel these muscles, play around a little bit with the pose by tweaking the angle / joint alignment.
- Chest, Lower Back, & Shoulder Stretches
When we spend prolonged periods of time in front of a computer, particularly time typing, that sustained posture can cause our shoulders to rotate inward and our chins to tuck forward and down in a position that rounds our spines in the wrong direction.
Ideally, our postures should include an alignment of ear lobes over shoulders and ribs over hips, however, with the computer position, this slumping and slouching posture can cause misalignment amongst the shoulders and neck, causing pain and lethargy.
A hunched over posture sends signals to our brains that our bodies are fatigued and disempowered, and it also communicates this same message to our colleagues. Ask yourself- do you want to appear reactive, passive, or closed off when communicating with your coworkers? Body language is just as much of a form of communication as the words that we use.
Our spines are an extension of our brains, as the spinal cord, which sends messages from our brains to our bodies, runs through our vertebrae. This means that poor posture can at some point, effect the direct communication between our brains and our muscles and organs if the nerves traveling from the spine to the rest of the body get pinched between poorly spaced vertebrae. If this happens, pain, loss of feeling, and effects on mobility can be serious threats.
In order to address your posture, try the following stretches:
- Sit in the front of your chair so that there is space behind your back.
- Put your hands behind your back and interlace your fingers.
- Taking a deep breath, lift your chest up and forward, raise your chin up slightly toward the sky, and pull your arms away from your back, behind your body.
- Make sure you feel your shoulder blades squeezing together and down your back. Feel your chest expanding and not your neck or shoulders crunching (you don’t want to compress your joints but rather elongate your muscles and stretch your joints open)
- Lean forward and fold over in between your knees as much as possible without feeling pain.
- Pull your arms above and behind your head as much as possible, again, inviting a stretching sensation, but without pain. Tension creates a good stretch, but you should not engage in any sharp pain, as this could lead to ligament and tendon damage.
- Hold this position for 4 deep, slow, and mindful breaths. Breath into the stretch.
- Rise back up to a seated neutral position and repeat this pose with fingers interlaced in an alternating finger position (switch finger alignment to one over from last time).
- Repeat this stretch every hour or every time you return to your desk after getting up.
- You can also interlace your hands in front of you, arms outstretched, and reach over your head and behind you, arching your back in order to stretch the sternum (chest joint), neck, pectoral (chest) muscles, seratus anterior (ribcage muscles), and latisimus dorsi (back) muscles as well as your wrists (to avoid carpal tunnel). Bellow are examples and variations of this pose:
- Chair Crunches
This is a fast and easy way to fight the effects of that sandwich you’re about to eat for lunch today:
- Start by pulling your arms up and hands to the base of your head at the back of your neck
- Lift your right knee up toward your chest and turn your torso to meet your left elbow with your right knee.
- Now do the same with your left knee and right elbow.
- Make sure the twisting motion is coming from the strength of your trunk (stomach muscles- abdominous rectus and obliques) and not from your back vertebrae
- Repeat 20 times and multiple times a day
- This action will not only strengthen your tummy, it will also stabilize your lower back, which is greatly effected by sitting or standing all day.
See hotos at: http://www.prevention.com/fitness/seated-chair-exercises
- Shoulder Stretch
This site has several seated stretches that can be very helpful if your shoulders, back, and chest are tight. Here is a shoulder stretch that can be done in a variety of difficulty levels: