Do you sit in front of a computer for hours every day? Do you ever feel chair-shaped and get neck pain, headaches or eye strain? I know I do if I’ve been a slave to my editor (only kidding! Sort of…). Whatever the case, the trick lies with the way you’re sitting. If you’ve read my article Sitting Is The New Smoking you’ll know how strongly I feel about bad posture! But what can we do if working at a desk is how we earn our living?
You Got To Move It, Move It
The standard advice is to move around as much as possible and get out of the hunched spine and round shouldered slouch that is so characteristic of 21st century lifestyle. Standing up, and walking around goes some way towards straightening us up but often doesn’t do a good enough job.
Look around you next time you are out shopping: how many people around you are slouching with hunched shoulders and poking chins? Very few people actually stand up straight these days now that young ladies don’t get deportment lessons and parents no longer tell teenagers to “stand up straight!”
Funny then, how you feel ten inches taller after a yoga session. That’s because you can’t do yoga properly with that curved spine! Your practice forces you to draw your shoulder blades together and grow tall through the spine and neck (think Mountain Pose). We move from that slouch and extend our spine in back bends and open our chest and shoulders in poses like Camel or Fish Pose. Our āsana is helping to reverse all the bad things that are happening when we sit too much.
If only there was some way we could fit yoga into our daily schedule…
Take Your Yoga To Work
No, I don’t mean rolling out your mat in the office (unless that’s an option), I’m talking about yoga you can do at your desk. Yoga you can do in your work clothes. Yoga to cancel out all the bad effects of sitting at your desk for too long at a time. There is a lot of interest at the moment in chair yoga and office yoga is simply an evolution.
The only limiting factor to office yoga is how obvious you want to be while you are doing it. No one will notice you sitting up straight and taking a few deep breaths at your desk but they may raise an eyebrow if you do a headstand on your chair. Here are a few of my more discreet favourites:
1. Belly Breathing
Sit up in your chair, aligning your upper body like you would in a standing Mountain Pose by relaxing the shoulders down and pulling in the lower ribs. Relax your belly and breathe into it slowly and deeply. Repeat 5-10 times. This is great for those fraught moments when you need a little calmness in the workplace.
2. Spinal Twists
Place your left hand on your right knee while your right hand holds the right side of your chair by your bottom. Inhale and sit tall then turn to the right as you exhale. Take a few breaths here sitting taller with each inhale and turning a little further with each exhale. Repeat on the other side.
3. Seated Cat/Cow
Take hold of the sides of the chair with both hands. Inhale and lift your chest, arch your back and widen your shoulders into a seated Cow Pose then exhale and curl down into Cat Pose. Repeat a few times, letting your breath lead the movement.
4. Shoulder Opening
Clasp your hands behind your back and stretch your arms out, leaving a micro-bend in the elbows. Inhale as you draw your shoulder blades together, push your hands away from the body to widen the shoulders and lift the chest. Hold for five breaths then relax. Repeat a few times if it feels good.
5. Side Bends
Sit tall and inhale both arms out to the sides and then above your head. Clasp hands together and turn your palms to the ceiling. On an exhale, bend to one side as you push your palms away to stretch the shoulders. Inhale back to the middle and repeat to the other side.
6. Brahma Mudrā (or four faces of Brahma)
Sitting up tall, slowly turn your eyes then your head to look to the right as far as you can. Then slowly turn your eyes then head as far as you can to the left. Keeping a steady pace, bring the head back to the middle. Now turn your face up while your eyes look to the end of your nose and then move your face down while your eyes look to the space between your eyebrows. Finally, return your eyes and face to the front. Repeat this sequence a few times as slowly as you can. This is particularly nice if your eyes are getting sore and tired from looking at a screen for too long.
Putting Office Yoga To Work
You don’t have to do them all at once. Instead, try fitting them around your day. Maybe you could do a few side stretches while you wait for your printer to spew out that long document. Or try a few spinal twists while your computer is logging off at the end of the day. You could do a few deep breaths while you wait for a meeting to start, and maybe even get your colleagues doing them too! Imagine how much nicer the office would be if everyone was doing a bit of yoga each day and keeping aches and pains away into the bargain.
Try building these into your schedule for a week and see how your body reacts. I’ve found I get much less neck pain, fewer headaches and can concentrate SO much better at my desk because I’m more comfortable. It’s also much easier than having to take time out for a medical appointment and, speaking as a physiotherapist, they’ll keep you out of my waiting room which is good for both of us! If you do decide to give them a go, let us know in the comments! I’d love to know how you get on.