Challenge: Sit behind a desk and try to maintain good posture: straight spine, feet on the floor about hip distance apart, weight evenly distributed between both legs and hips, shoulder relaxed down the spine, head lifting toward the sky, and remember to breathe while reading this article.
While having a desk job often provides a routine and stability at work, some disadvantages include limited physical activity and flexibility as well as being stuck in front of a computer all day.
Long hours of sitting, poor posture, late nights, commuting, lack of sunlight, and stress which are all contributing factors to the damage from working behind a desk.
While yoga may not be able to speed up your commute or decrease your work time, it can help you be more mindful. Yoga can also improve your posture for those long hours. Yoga can help decrease your stress level and improve your ability to deal with stress.
Additionally, yoga can help you spark that inner fire to help light up your office when you might not be able to always recharge with natural sunlight. Here are 10 yoga exercises to undo the damages of your desk job, starting from the top:
1. Neck Stretch
Proactive prevention for: Text Neck
Exercise: Half circles with the neck, starting right ear to right shoulder then reaching the chin to the chest and then left ear to left shoulder and back, repeat 5 times on the right and 5 times on the left.
Yogi Tip: The slower the movement, the more chance to explore the necks range of movement and stretch all the muscles of the neck. With the eyes closes, this can be extremely meditative and relaxing as blood flow slowly shifts from the back of the head to the prefrontal cortex.
2. Shoulder Shrug
Proactive prevention for: Shoulder Slump
Exercise: Inhale the shoulders up to the ears, hold for 10 seconds in breath retention (holding the breath without stress), exhale release the shoulder blades together and down the spine.
3. Elbow Circles
Proactive prevention for: Upper Chest and Shoulder Stress
Exercise: Extend the arms out to the side then place the hands on the shoulders, bring the elbows together in front of the body. Slowly circle the elbows back over the head making a circle and the elbows will meet again in front of the body, repeat 5-10 times.
Then circle in the opposite direction with the elbows dropping towards the chest making a circle and the elbows will meet again in front of the body, repeat 5-10 times.
4. Wrist Release
Proactive prevention for: Carpal Tunnel
Exercise: While standing, place both palms on the desk starting with the shoulders over the wrists for all positions. Slowly flip the palms face-up and fingers pointed towards the body and shift the shoulders back from over the wrists to over the fingers (and further if possible).
Do this with the hands completely glued to the table for 2-3 breathes then meet back with shoulders over the wrists. Repeat the exercise with the palms face-down and the fingers pointed towards the body.
5. Lateral Extensions with Optional Twist
Proactive prevention for: Tight Chest and Back
Exercise: Sitting comfortably in a chair with equal weight in the hips and legs, with a straight spine, extend both arms towards the sky. Slowly release the right arm towards the ground while continuing to lift with the right side body.
Allow the left hand to reach over the head towards the right side, gaze at the eye of the elbow or wrist, and continue to reach both shoulder blades together and down the back. Breathe and hold for 2-3 breathes and switch sides, repeat as many times as is comfortable.
Optional twist: release the right arm to the arm rest or base of the chair and place the left arm to the outside of the right leg, gentle gaze over the right shoulder. Inhale both arms up and switch to the left side.
6. Forward Fold with Bent Legs
Proactive prevention for: Collapsed Spine and Tight Hips
Exercise: Sitting comfortably in a chair with equal weight in the hips and legs, curl the chin gently into the chest and roll down with the spine as far as possible. Depending on spinal mobility, rest the arms gently on the legs until the chest can reach the thighs.
When the chest reaches the thighs, allow the arms to be heavy or bring them to rag doll in front or behind the calves to stretch the upper back. The most important step is slowly rolling up (think of this taking twice to triple as long as you may have done this originally), starting at the tailbone roll up one vertebra at a time until the head is the last thing to lift and if it feels right allow the arms to inhale up and exhale hands to heart center to end this stretch.
7. Figure Four (optional Eagle Arms)
Proactive prevention for: Tight Hips, Lower Back Pain, and Shoulder Stress
Exercise: Sitting comfortably in a chair, place the right leg over the left thigh and flex both feet, square the hips, and reach the hips back as the sternum reaches forwards to elongate the spine.
Hands can be placed lightly on the thighs with a soft bend in the elbows. Option to bring the right arm under the left for Eagle Arms. Hold and breathe for 5-10 breaths, repeat on the other side.
8. Leg Extensions and Hamstring Stretch
Proactive prevention for: Stiff Legs
Exercise: Stand up and place both feet directly under the hips, shift weight into the left leg and step the right foot slightly in front (feet still hip distance apart).
Bend the left leg and slowly reach down allowing the arms to rest by the thigh, calf, ankle, or floor with a straight spine for the first 2 breaths then relax the spine and allow a natural curve. Tuck the tailbone to slowly lift the spine back to center and switch sides.
9. Ankle Rolls
Proactive prevention for: Rigid Ankles
Exercise: Lift one ankle at a time and spell the alphabet, then switch sides. If you get really good at this, for mental strength as well as increased ankle flexibility try to spell the alphabet backwards with your ankles.
10. Chair Pose
Proactive prevention for: Weak Muscles
Exercise: Place the big toes together, heels slightly apart and squeeze the inner thighs as the arms lift, biceps by the ears, slowly lift and hover the hips over the desk chair. Be mindful to keep the knees over the ankles and lift the belly button up and back.
Hold for 5-10 breathes, repeat throughout the work day (maybe even every time you have to get up or at least once an hour).
Challenge complete: Notice, have you maintained good posture? Could you read this article again with more mindfulness on your body and breathe?
Feel free to share any other stretches or helpful tips for those fellow yogis stuck behind a desk at work!