Posting up at a desk for eight or more hours a day can do a real number on our bodies. Extended sitting not only has prolonged health risks, it can make you feel stiff, achy, and uncomfortable in a matter of hours. The good news: Yoga can help. By incorporating a few yoga poses into your daily work routine, you can stretch out the muscles that get tight and sore with all that sitting—no mat or form-fitting pants required. Read on to learn how.
How to do it: Sit with your arms at your sides, palms facing in. On an inhale, sweep your arms toward the ceiling as you let your shoulder blades slide away from your ears and down your back. (Throughout the movement, do not let the elbows bend.) Stay in the pose for a breath or two; on an exhale, sweep your arms back down. If you want to increase the stretch through the sides of the body, interlock your fingers at the top of the pose, and exhale your arms to one side. Return your arms to center with an inhale, and then exhale your arms to the other side.
Ankle to knee
This hip-opening pose (chair version of Agnistambhasana) can also be done standing or lying on the floor. It not only stretches the muscles surrounding the hip joint (such as the hip flexors and glutes) but can also help prevent back pain and sciatica.
How to do it: Sit up straight with a neutral spine and plant your feet on the floor. Rotate your right hip to draw your leg up, and use your left hand to place your right ankle over your left knee. To protect your knee, keep your foot flexed as you breathe into the stretch. With each exhale, lean your torso forward for more of a stretch. Carefully return your right foot to the floor and repeat on the other side.
This yoga standby combines two movements: cat (Marjaryasana) and cow (Bitilasana). It’s perfect for long days of desk work since it helps lengthen the spine and gently stretch the shoulder, spine, and abdominal muscles.
How to do it: Sit up tall with a neutral spine and both feet planted on the floor. Place your palms on the tops of your thighs and, on an inhale, roll your shoulders down and away as you allow your back to arch. (This is cow position.) On the next exhale, draw your head and shoulders forward, arching your spine in the opposite direction, and then drop your chin to your chest. (This is cat position.) With each breath, move through a few more sets of cat and cow.
Assisted neck stretch
All that staring at a computer screen day after day can be a real pain in the neck. To prevent and manage the neck discomfort that inevitably comes with an office job, you can couple this neck stretch with a few rounds of head rolls in each direction.
How to do it: Reach your right arm up over your head and then rest your forearm on top of your head so your palm reaches your left ear. Allow your head to fall toward your right shoulder and use the weight of your arm to gently stretch the left side of the neck. Remove your arm and return your head back to center. Repeat on the other side.
This chair-modified version of downward facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana) provides many of the same benefits as the mat variation. It offers more of a total body stretch from fingertips to toes by involving the shoulders, back, abdominal muscles, hamstrings, and calves.
How to do it: Stand facing the seat of your chair. Inhale and lift your arms overhead. With an exhale, sweep your hands in front of you with your palms facing the floor, and then place your hands on the top of the seat. (If the stretch is too much in your hamstrings, you can bend your knees.) Slowly shift your pelvis toward the back wall, allowing your head to drop closer to the floor with each breath. To get out of the pose, walk your feet forward and return to standing.
Yoga doesn’t have to be limited to a studio. Incorporate these poses into your workday to help prevent the aches and pains that often accompany a 9-to-5 desk job.