Simple Exercises That Can Help Get You Through Your Workday
by Lillian Donner
It is no secret that sitting at a desk can be hard on your body. Those whose jobs require them to sit in front of a computer for long hours may experience the all too familiar symptoms of body aches, back pain, tension headaches, fatigue and overall muscle tightness. Practicing yoga is an ancient tradition that has been known to promote flexibility, reduce pain, increase energy, strengthen core muscles, and clear the mind with deep cleansing breaths. If you can spare 5-10 minutes out of your workday, you can achieve the benefits of yoga without even leaving your office. There are modified yoga asanas, or postures, that can be done right at your work station. So take a few minutes and try the following postures, and you will return to work with more flexibility, increased energy, and a positive attitude.
Disclaimer: Ask your doctor or physical therapist if you have any injuries, surgeries, or severe pain before doing these exercises.
Breathing: Instead of breathing through the chest, try breathing through your lower abdomen by expanding your belly with each inhale. Many believe this type of breathing helps to calm down the mind and relieve symptoms of anxiety.
Pain: Yoga should not be painful. Stop immediately if you feel any pain while performing an exercise.
Mantras: Mantras can help you stay relaxed by quieting the mind. A mantra is a word, phrase, or image that you repeat to yourself over and over when you are feeling stressed. Continue repeating your mantra during stressful situations until the tension begins to ease. Eventually, your mind will begin to associate your mantra with calmness and serenity.
Posture: Bad posture is often a trigger for pain and discomfort. Avoid letting your head come into “forward head” position. Every inch that your head moves in front of the shoulders creates an extra 10 lbs of force on your neck!
Typing and texting can lead to a Repetitive Stress Injury (RSI) which cause a wide range of problems in the wrist joint and fingers. The following two stretches can help elongate and energize the wrist joints, forearm muscles, and hands to help limit the effects of an RSI.
1. Wrist Stretch 1
Standing in front of your desk, place hands on the surface with palms facing the computer and fingers towards the edge of desk. Lean slightly forward until stretch is felt in forearms. Hold 3-5 breaths.
2. Wrist Stretch 2
Reverse the direction with fingers facing computer and palms towards edge. Lean body in towards desk until stretch is felt. Hold 3-5 breaths.
Half Downward Dog
Downward dog can help relieve tension in the head and shoulders and improve flexibility in the hamstrings. This is a modified version that can be done at the desk.
3. Half Downward Dog on Desk
Standing in front of a desk, place palms on surface with your fingers spread wide. Gently walk feet back until stretch is felt in back, shoulders, and back of legs (hamstrings). Set your feet and knees about hip-width apart and allow your head to bow naturally, relaxing the muscles of the neck. Imagine creating length from your tailbone to the crown of your head, extending in both directions. Hold 3-5 breaths and walk feet back up to starting position.
Seated Cat/Cow Pose
This pose works to relieve back ache resulting from stiff shoulders and can also increase elasticity in your spine.
4 & 5. Arching and Rounding
Sitting up tall in a chair, take a deep inhale while lifting the chest and looking up towards sky. Exhale and slowly round shoulders and back, tucking chin in towards chest. Inhale and return to a neutral sitting position. Repeat 5-10 times.
Upper Trapezius Stretch
Sitting in front of a computer can cause neck muscles to tighten. Many of us are guilty of what we call “forward head” posture, which can put a tremendous amount of strain on your neck muscles. The following posture will help lengthen some of the muscles responsible for neck tightness.
6. Neck Stretch
Sitting in your chair, gently grasp edge of the seat and tilt your head in the opposite direction. You can add overhead pressure by taking your free hand and gently pressing down on the side of the head. Take 3-5 deep breaths while stretch is felt and return to starting position. Repeat to other side.
Long periods of sitting can cause the piriformis, a small muscle deep in the buttocks, to tighten and compress the sciatic nerve. Sciatic pain can often be felt in the low back, hips, and even down the leg and foot. The following two stretches will help target the piriformis and other muscles associated with sciatic pain.
7. Seated Hip Stretch
Sit upright on chair and cross foot on top of knee. Grab onto knee and ankle, and pull knee upward towards opposite shoulder. Hold 3-5 breaths and return to seated position.
8. Standing Hip Stretch Leg on Desk
A slightly more advanced version of this posture can be done standing with one leg placed on the desk. Try to align the shin with the edge of the desk as pictured.
One of the biggest culprits of low back pain are the psoas muscles. These muscles run from the lower spine and connect to the hip. When we are sitting, these muscles are in a constant “flexed” position, causing them to become tight and pull on the low back. The following stretch targets the psoas and other muscles associated with tight hips.
9.Standing Lunge at Desk
Stand in front of your desk with your feet hip-width apart. Placing your fingertips lightly on the desk for balance, step your right foot back as far as possible and ground the ball of the back foot into the floor. Make sure that your left knee in front does not go beyond the toes. You should able to see your first three toes of the front foot. You should feel a stretch in the front of the right hip. Hold 3-5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Twists are often performed in yoga to increase flexibility in the spine and help reduce stiffness in the neck and shoulders.
10. Seated Twist
Sit with feet together and twist towards your right. Your right arm can either rest on the back of the chair or behind you. Use your left arm to push right leg to twist deeper if needed. Keep shoulders rolled down and back and your chest wide. Hold 3-5 breaths, release, and turn to the other direction.
Lillie Donner is a PT aide at Sansum physical therapy office on Hitchcock. She is a certified yoga instructor and is currently studying to be a physical therapist.