One of the most dangerous things you do could be sitting at your desk. According to recent studies, long periods of sitting can contribute to health problems like heart disease, stroke, muscle atrophy, inflexible spine, neck strain and poor circulation.
The good news is there are a few simple things you can do to counteract these health hazards. First, remember to get up and walk around every 15 to 20 minutes. This could mean taking a trip down the hall to grab water or just strolling around the building.
In addition to these suggestions, Seattle yoga instructor and 8 Limbs Yoga Center owner Anne Phyfe Palmer shared five easy yoga moves you can do from your desk that can help improve your health.
Palmer has been practicing yoga since 1993 and teaching since 1996, and understands the constraints of working in an office.
“I teach level II hatha, prenatal and postnatal yoga, but most of my work hours are also spent behind a desk as studio director of 8 Limbs,” she said. “I well understand the need to use my body during the work day to avoid feeling stiff or uncomfortable.”
Speaking of feeling stiff and uncomfortable, while sitting (especially at a computer), our bodies are hunched and our spines are compressed, which contributes to back pain and putting lumbar disks at risk. The abdominal and gluteal muscles begin to atrophy and circulation slows in the legs. This reduced circulation means there is less blood pumping to the brain, which can cause brain function to slow -- not exactly the best thing to have happen at work.
Fortunately, Palmer’s five yoga poses can help offset these problems.
“Active yoga postures use our muscles, thus promoting blood flow,” Palmer said. “Through more active muscles, we are better supported when we return to sitting, our brain gets increased blood flow, and our spines are ideally less compressed.”
These yoga poses will also open up the muscles in the chest and strengthen the muscles in the back. The sequence also adds flexion to the spine and flexibility to the hips while engaging abdomen and gluteal muscles.
Additionally, working through the poses will force you to take deep breaths; Palmer said this connection of mind and body works to calm the brain.
“Breath awareness can be as simple as taking three deep breaths,” she said. “Do your best to invite the breath down toward your belly and pelvis to avoid breathing with your shoulders. This creates a relaxation response.”
Hold each of these poses for five breaths and repeat about every half hour:
Seated mountain pose
Sitting on your chair, place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Reach your arms overhead with palms facing one another and lengthen through your side body. Stretch through the palms and fingers and exhale. As you exhale, bend your elbows and pull them down to make a ‘W’ shape, squeezing the shoulder blades together. Repeat a few times. This move will energize your upper body, help to stretch your chest and strengthen your upper back.
Seated mountain variation
Sitting on your chair, place your feet flat on the floor, hip-width apart. Reach overhead, interlace your fingers and spin your palms to the ceiling, and straighten your arms. Feel length in your side body. This will stretch the wrists and palms in addition to giving the spine some needed length.
Place one arm on your desk or chair arm. Reach the other arm along your ear and bend toward the other side. Keep both side waists long and both sit bones anchored to the chair. Hold for five breaths and take deep breaths into the side ribs that are being stretched. Then stay in the side stretch but reach the upper arm toward the floor at a diagonal. Tilt your head away from that arm to stretch your neck. Come up slowly and switch sides. This will open your side body, allowing for deeper breaths, and will release compression in your spine.
Chair pose will get you off your actual chair and use your glutes and quads, which become almost completely inactive when we are seated. With your feet on the floor, hip-width and parallel, place your hands on your desk or chair arms. Lift yourself off your chair until you feel your weight transfer to your feet and legs. Stay there and take five to 10 deep breaths. Every time you exhale, contract in your lower belly, and on each inhalation, lengthen your side waists. For a challenge, lift your arms along your ears into "full" chair pose. Chair pose is one of the best yoga postures to safely strengthen your legs, glutes and upper back.
Ankle over knee pose
Sit back down. Lift your right leg and cross the right ankle over your left knee, foot flexed. Keep your spine tall (don’t round your back) and lean forward if needed to find the outer-hip stretch. Hands can be on chair arms behind you slightly to add a chest stretch, or resting on your top leg. Stay for at least five breaths. Imagine that your breaths go right to the area where you feel a stretch. Place your foot back on the floor, and then switch sides.
An added bonus with these poses is that you don’t have to change into or out of sweaty clothes to realize the benefits to your muscles. You can improve your health right from the comfort of your desk.