Fighting the Hunch: Five Fast Stretches for People Who Sit at Work
It didn't take long for standing at a desk all day to be ruled out as a healthy alternative to sitting at a desk all day. Cornell University found that standing all day can increase the risk of heart disease and varicose veins, and since most people who use standing desks don't set them up correctly, standing all day while you work can result in a whole mess of musculoskeletal problems.
So, here we are, back to sitting again. But sitting for more than an hour at a time increases our risk for heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and a whole lot of other problems, according to the Mayo Clinic.
Now that we're stuck between a rock (sitting) and hard place (standing,) what are we to do? Pacing while you're on the phone and getting up and moving around for five minutes every hour can help, but one of the best things you can do for your body during the work day is to stretch it. These, then, are the top five yoga poses to counterbalance the effects of all those hours we spend hunched over a desk or sitting on the couch or behind the wheel. They're even simple enough to do at your desk, in your office, or in a corner of the conference room.
1. Corpse Pose (Savasana)
Corpse Pose is just as it sounds. Lay down flat on your back, hands on your belly, chest, or at your sides — whatever feels good. Consciously make an inventory of every muscle that's tense and make a concerted effort to let them go. Draw your breath into your nose and into your belly, then let it go in a slow, controlled breath. Repeat for 10 breaths. A daily dose of corpse pose can help realign your spine after being hunched over at your desk all day. Doing Savasana before a yoga class starts can ensure a better posture during the class. And laying down as an exercise? Yes, please!
2. Child's Pose (Balasana)
The most-recommended pose for rest, Child's Pose is one of the first moves we learn in yoga. Child's Pose lengthens the spine and opens the hips and shoulders. Take as much time as you need in this pose and remember to breathe slowly and deeply.
While sitting on your knees, toes touching, slowly roll your torso forward as you exhale. Rest your forehead on the floor, arms outstretched in front of your body or relaxed at your sides. If you can't get your head to the floor, make two fists, one on top of the other in front of you, and prop your head up on them. Now, just relax into the glorious stretch this pose provides.
3. Cobra (Bhujangasana)
Cobra is a favorite stretch for many sitters, and it's not hard to see why. All day, we sit at a 90-degree angle, and this pose is the exact opposite. Easy to modify for the tension you currently feel, Bhujangasana is the number-one go-to yoga pose when you only have a couple of minutes to stretch.
Lay flat on your stomach and place your hand on either side of your torso. Gently push your palms down and lift your chest off the floor. Be sure to stop as soon as you feel too much stretch in your pelvis or your pelvis starts to lift off the floor. Breathe in, lift your head up, and look straight ahead. Hold for just a few beats, and then exhale as you ease back down with control. Repeat five to 15 times, depending on your ability and need.
4. Cat and Cow (Marjaryasana and Bitilasana)
Cat and Cow is an easy pose, and it feels great, easing pressure on your back and neck and providing a delicious stretch for your back.
Get on all fours with your hands below your shoulders and knees directly below your hips. Think of a Halloween cat as you take a deep breath in, arch your spine, tuck in your stomach, and tuck your chin to your chest. Hold this position for a couple of breaths. Now, picture an old cow as you exhale with control. Slowly drop your stomach, and raise your head, and hold again. Repeat this progression several times, holding each Cat and each Cow for an increasing number of breaths.
5. Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Savasana)
Possibly the most body-inclusive and comprehensive pose included in this list, Downward Facing Dog both lengthens and strengthens all of the major muscle groups in your body. Your arms and shoulders push your top half up as your head lets loose to relax the neck that's been holding up your head as you work. Your spine lengthens as your core engages, relaxing your hips. The legs feel the pull as you walk out your calves that have been tucked under a chair all day.
With your feet hip-width apart, place your palms on the floor in front of you, and raise your hips to make an inverted "V" shape. Fully relax your neck and head, shaking it back and forth and side to side to release all the muscles there. Don't let your shoulders creep up to your ears, which is the unfortunate posture typing all day can create. And don't push your calves too far by trying to get your heels to the ground. You will get to that skill level in time. For now, just gently "walk" out the tension there by slowly pedaling your feet up and down.
With our lives trending more toward computer work every day, we all need to take a little time to be mindful of the effects that our work puts upon our bodies. Armed with this short list, you can now take a quick ten minutes, even while working, to reverse the effects of sitting.