How often during a normal workday do you get up and move? Do you spend most of the day tied to your desk, your chair, your cubicle?
This is increasingly common in today’s society as more and more of us are spending our days in the office, and our bodies are suffering. This article will show you how to do yoga at your desk.
Many of us in today’s society have what’s known as “the 9-5 body.”
In fact, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, work-related musculoskeletal problems—from carpal tunnel syndrome to muscle strains—made up 32% of all worker injury and illness cases in the U.S. in 2014.
Working hours are higher than ever before, and workers are taking less vacation time than ever before—particularly Americans. According to Fortune, 54% of employees ended last year with unused time off, collectively sacrificing 662 million vacation days.
Were you one of them?
Those 662 million vacation days were 662 million days spent behind a desk that could have been spent running, hiking, walking, traveling, or doing yoga.
When we sit at our desks all day, every day, we create problems in the body.
Our bodies were never meant to be sedentary. They were designed for movement. But that’s not always possible when work must be done and the bills must be paid! Our sedentary, 9-5 lifestyles create a whole host of problems.
“The issue that we’re really up against is that we’re not made to sit—certainly not for extended periods of time,” Michael Fredericson, sports medicine physiatrist at Stanford Health Care, told The Muse. “But when your office job calls for you to sit at a desk for hours on end, you tend to hunch forward, and your neck protrudes, and there’s eye strain. It’s stress that goes through your whole body.”
Too much sitting can cause organ damage.
This is no small issue. According to the Washington Post, the organ damage includes heart disease and an over-productive pancreas. Prolonged sitting has been linked with high blood pressure and increased cholesterol, and people with the most time spent seated are over twice as likely to have cardiovascular disease than those with the least. This is because muscles burn less fat and blood flows more slowly during long seated periods, meaning that it becomes easier for fatty acids to clog the heart.
Similarly, cells in non-active muscles don’t respond as readily to insulin, which the pancreas produces and carries to cells for energy. So during prolonged periods of sitting, the pancreas produces increased insulin, which can lead to diabetes. In 2011, a study found that even one day of prolonged sitting resulted in a decline in insulin response.
Muscle degeneration and leg disorders are also in store for prolonged sitters.
Mushy abs, tight hips, and limp glutes all result from a 9-5 lifestyle. Slumping in a chair causes abdominal muscles to go unused, hurting your posture and exaggerating the arch of the spine. This is known as hyperlordosis, which you can learn more about in our yoga for the back article here.
Sitting also means that the important hip flexor muscles go unextended for long periods of time. This shortens and tightens them, limiting range of motion. Sitting also requires no use of the glutes, which causes the muscles to degenerate. Soft glutes hurt your stability and ability to maintain a powerful stride.
Common leg disorders include poor circulation in the legs and “soft” bones. When we sit for long periods of time, blood circulation slows. This causes fluids to pool in the legs, creating everything from swollen ankles and varicose veins to dangerous blood clots. Soft bones also result from sitting because activities that put pressure on the bones such as walking and running cause the bones to grow thicker, denser, and stronger. According to the Washington Post, scientists partially attribute the surge in osteoporosis cases to lack of physical activity.
Unfortunately, the trouble doesn’t stop there.
Our postures become terrible when we spend our days sitting, which creates a whole host of problems. Typically when we sit in chairs, we aren’t sitting with our backs ramrod-straight, shoulders relaxed, lower back supported, and torsos not leaning forward at all as we should be. We’re usually slumped and hunching forward.
Constantly craning the neck forward toward a computer or tilting the head to cradle a phone strains the vertebrae of the neck known as cervical vertebrae. When we slouch or crane the neck, the shoulders and back are also affected. The forward slumping of the body overextends the shoulder and back muscles as well.
Generally, spines that don’t get enough movement become inflexible and weak. When we sit for prolonged periods of time, the disks in the spine are squashed unevenly and can lose the sponginess that soaks up fresh blood and nutrients to keep the back healthy. Over time, this can lead to disk damage. In fact, people who sit more are at a greater risk for herniated lumbar disks (Washington Post).
There’s good news: there are many ways to relieve your pain at work, without quitting your job.
You may work in an office, but that doesn’t mean you have to sit all the time. One way to drastically reduce sitting time is to try a standing desk. You don’t need to stand all day, but this is a great way to get you on your feet more. Standing desks can lower the risk of obesity and cancer, and improve posture (Huffington Post).
Another way to change the way you sit is to get an exercise ball. You can alternate between sitting in your chair, standing, and sitting on an exercise ball. Sitting this way forces your core muscles to work, strengthening your abdominals and your back muscles to improve your posture.
Even if a standing desk or an exercise ball aren’t viable options for you, there are plenty of other ways to stay active. Set a timer to remind yourself to get up every so often—we recommend once per hour—to get a drink, use the bathroom, or chat with colleagues. Instead of eating at your desk, go for a walk to a nearby restaurant or park and eat food there. Then you get the added bonus of sunshine and vitamin D!
Researchers at the University of Illinois found that taking breaks is actually better for your productivity (ScienceDaily). They found that taking breaks brought the participants back to work with a renewed energy and sense of purpose.
Breaks can also serve as creative fuel, and physical movement keeps us from being mentally stagnant (Huffington Post). So the next time you’re tempted to stay in your seat, remember that a short walk will make you even more effective and creative when you return—plus, your body will thank you!
Additionally, you can even do a full body workout at the office. We have an awesome full body yoga routine you can practice in your chair!
Learn how to stretch your legs at work here!
Practice your breathing at work.
In your chair, rest the palms on the thighs or knee caps. Take one round of deep, long breaths. Then take the fingers to the rib cage and feel the rib cage expand out of the pelvis on the inhale. Exhale, and repeat the cycle for at least ten breaths.
Practice your posture at work.
As you work, become conscious of how you’re sitting. Are you slumped forward, jutting out your chin and hunching your shoulders? Is your spine rounding forward? First, take notice of where your body is. Then, ground down through your sitting bones and actively push the spine through the crown of the head. You will feel your spine straighten as you roll your shoulders back.
Throughout the day, take notice of how you’re sitting. Did you shift back into your old posture? Don’t beat yourself up, as it takes time to change your habits. Simply notice and adjust.
Neck pain sufferers: relieve your neck pain easily at work.
It’s easy for the neck to feel cramped in the typical office environment. Relieve your pain by taking slow, deep breaths in tune with slow, gentle neck rolls. Roll the neck from the center to the right, and back to the center, and to the left. Repeat to each side up to four times.
Please avoid rolling your head all the way to the back. Doing so puts unnecessary pressure on your cervical spine and may pinch arteries and nerves depriving the brain of oxygen. Make sure you are actively breathing into and out of this stretch.
Practice this stretch with me here.
A 2012 study found that frequent, daily neck and shoulder stretches were more effective at easing neck and shoulder pain than anti-inflammatory drugs or even seeing a chiropractor. So skip the ibuprofen and opt for frequent stretches instead!
Relax your tense shoulders.
As we’ve seen, the shoulders are another problem area and closely connected with the neck. You can relax tense, tight shoulders at work with a full rotation of the shoulders. You can do this movement either seated or standing. Just make sure that you tune into the breath to connect the breath with the shoulders and rotate them into both directions.
Relieve common back pain.
Back pain is one of the most common issues in the office. Both slumping back in your seat and slouching forward mean that your spine is out of alignment, which puts strain on the ligaments and muscles (The Muse).
There are a few different things you can do to relieve your pain that don’t involve popping any pills! Try a seated cat-cow pose by gently rocking the pelvis back and forth with your breath. As you inhale, bend the back and open the chest, your back being arched in the so-called cow pose. As you exhale, round the back and bend forward slightly in the so-called cat pose.
Practice it with me here.
Focusing on improving your posture will also help with back pain, as will abdominal exercises. A strong core takes pressure off of the back and makes it easier to maintain a good, healthy posture. You may also want to look into lumbar support for your desk chair.
One of the biggest issues workers must deal with isn’t physical pain, it’s stress.
Stress may be a bigger issue than all of the above combined. But, of course, yoga can come to the rescue! Try this sequence to de-stress during that big project, before your important meeting, or simply anytime you’re feeling overwhelmed by the daily demands of your job.
While seated in your chair, take a mini back bend. Lean against the back of the chair to open the chest. Stay here for at least 5 breaths. If your lower back feels a bit sensitive when doing that, please use a pillow or a coat to support your low back. Add some cushioning for the lower back to stay pain-free.
Then move into an upright seated position. As you inhale, lift both arms up. As you exhale, rest the palms on the thighs. This is a great way to get the blood flowing. Repeat this motion at least 5 times.
On your next inhale, return to a neutral position. As you exhale, bend forward. The legs should be wide enough so that you can bend forward between them, as if you’re in child’s pose in your chair. Stay in this gentle inversion pose for as long as you would like. This is another great way to get the blood flowing in the opposite direction. In fact, inversions are believed to improve brain function, release neurotransmitters, balance hormones, and release endorphins (Wanderlust). This pose can also be helpful for stress relief and anxiety.
Join us for this simple yoga exercise for back pain relief. Learn how to do the child’s pose, also called balasana, at work.
You may repeat this simple seated flow as many times as you would like. Afterwards, notice how different you feel. Do you feel more peaceful, less stressed, and less foggy?
Our lifestyles take a serious toll on our well-being. Our bodies were never meant to be sedentary. They are designed for movement. There are many ways to relieve your pain at work, without quitting your job.
Yoga has chiropractic benefits. It helps you counter the negative effects of prolonged periods of inactivity and poor posture and may help your body feel better. There are many yoga poses you can practice at work.
If you are in pain, the best therapy is to decompress. Gentle stretches and breathing techniques may help you relax and decompress the shoulders.
Do you spend many hours at your computer? Have your neck and shoulder began to bother you? Does your neck crouch forward throughout the day putting strain on your whole body?
But wouldn’t you actually want to relieve your neck and shoulder pain and fix your posture as well?
I do personalized healthy yoga. Let me help you with a healthy yoga sequence customized to you! Click here for your online quiz. What do you have to lose except your pain?
Info about Me
I’m Chi. I’ve always been passionate about healing and empowerment.
I work as a catalyst for personal transformation. I help you explore the best version of yourself, and yoga is a fantastic tool to accomplish that goal. I am a certified yoga therapist and a classically trained jazz vocalist, and I hold a Ph.D. in Communications. I look forward to practicing with you!
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Bronfort, Gert; Evans, Roni; Anderson, Alfred V.; Svendsen, Kenneth H.; Bracha, Yiscah; Grimm, Richard. Spinal Manipulation, Medication, or Home Exercise With Advice for Acute and Subacute Neck Pain: A Randomized Trial. Annals of Internal Medicine. http://annals.org/aim/fullarticle/1033256/spinal-manipulation-medication-home-exercise-advice-acute-subacute-neck-pain. [Accessed April 2018]
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