As part of National Workplace Wellbeing Day, we spoke to Liz Costigan of the Positive Fitness Project. Liz is a vastly experienced yoga teacher and fitness trainer.
Liz shared some expert advice on a topic that a lot of us can relate to. This post is one of our most extensive to date but for office workers it could be one of the most valuable articles we've ever produced.
Yoga Poses To Undo The Damage Of Desk Sitting
We’ve all heard of, maybe even experienced, the dangers and negative effects of sitting at a desk all day. Stiffness in the neck, lower back pain, tight shoulders, and hip problems can all come from extended periods in a sedentary position.
For a lot of us, sitting at the desk is a fact of life. Sometimes our line of work requires us to be at a computer all day and it’s hard to avoid it.
One proven way of combating the negative effects of sitting at a desk is by following a restorative yoga practice. Deep stretches, twists and other yoga poses can help to realign the body, release tension and undo a lot of the damage caused.
You don't have to join a yoga class to start reaping the benefits. Liz guides us through 8 Yoga Poses to Undo The Damage of Desk Sitting that you can perform from the comfort of your own home.
1. Seated Twists And Desk Exercises
How To Do It
You can perform the below three exercises while sitting at your desk. Liz’s advice would be to do them all at least once in the morning and once in the afternoon. This will help to loosen out the back, shoulders, neck, and spine.
Seated Twist - While sitting at your desk, take your left hand and place it onto your right thigh. Then place your right hand behind you on the back of your chair. Perform the twist by turning towards your right side.
Once in that position take 3-5 breaths before returning to centre and do the exact opposite on the other side.
Ear to Shoulder - You can loosen out the neck and shoulders by performing this simple pose at your desk. Keeping your upper body straight, drop your right ear down towards your right shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths before returning to centre. Then drop your left ear towards your left shoulder. Hold for 3-5 breaths. Return to centre.
Shoulder Roll - While sitting at your desk, roll your shoulders forward for 3-5 breaths. Then roll your shoulders back for 3-5 breaths.
Benefits of Desk Exercises - What Liz Says
These three exercises allow you to loosen out your spine, neck and shoulders. These areas can become very stiff from being in the same seated position over a prolonged period of time.
2. Cat-Cow Stretch
How To Do It
Come onto all fours and perform a cat-cow stretch. Place your hands and knees on the floor and sit in a table-top position. Create a table top by keeping your back straight with the hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips, both at 90 degree angles.
From this position you inhale, lifting your chin and tailbone. Then exhale, rounding your spine and dropping your head inwards towards your chest. Alternate between cat-cow positions slowly over the course of 3-5 inhales and exhales.
Benefits of Cat-Cow Stretch - What Liz Says
This is a great pose for stretching out the back at the end of a long day. It is especially effective when you have been sitting at a desk for hours on end.
Side note: This pose is also great for dealing with headaches.
3. Downward Facing Dog - Adho Mukha Svanasana
How To Do It
Downward facing dog is a great pose on two levels. It is really good for stretching and also strengthening the body.
You perform the stretch by placing hands and feet on the ground. Hands are positioned shoulder-distance apart. You then come into an inverted ‘V’ shape with feet on the floor. From there, reach your pelvic sit bones up to the sky while driving your heels to the floor. Ground down into the hands and feet.
Benefits of Downward Facing Dog - What Liz Says
By lifting your hips up, you open up space in the spine, the back of the legs and hips. By dropping your head to the heart it helps to clear the head after a stressful day.
In all, the position is a direct inversion to the position you occupy at your desk. This helps to undo some of the damage caused throughout the day. Great for your hips, back, spine, hamstrings and not to forget Liz says - “it’s good for the heart”.
4. Standing Forward Bend - Uttanasana
How To Do It
From a standing position you bend over and bring your forehead towards your knees. To create a deeper stretch, interlace your fingers, behind your back at the base of the spine. If you have any lower back issues, be sure to keep the knees soft.
Benefits of Standing Forward Bend - What Liz Says
A forward bend gives you a soothing feeling in the lower back, taking the strain off the lumbar region. If you are sitting all day long, this stretch is great for releasing tension. It is also very good for anxiety and relaxation.
5. Yoga Squat - Malasana
How To Do It
A yoga squat is much like a traditional Chinese squat. Hold your hands in prayer at the heart centre. Stand with your feet a little more than shoulder width apart. Point your toes outwards in a ten to two position which will open up the groins slightly. Drop down into a deep squat position, using your elbows to push the knees outwards. Hold that position for 3-5 breaths before returning to a standing position.
Benefits of a Yoga Squat - What Liz Says
Putting yourself into such a deep squat, causes a massive release in the entire body. A great pose to alleviate the tension caused by sitting at your desk all day. The yoga squat, stretches and releases the backs of the legs and hips also.
6. Fish pose - Matsyasana
How To Do It
Start by laying down on your back, legs stretched out and together, toes pointing away. Bring your hands under your hips so that your lower back is propped up slightly. Keeping your head on the floor, lift your chest up so that it is above the shoulders. Begin to drop your head back further as you lift your chest up. Consciously try to draw the chin and throat back behind you. Hold for 3-5 breaths.
Benefits of Fish Pose - What Liz Says
A “gorgeous pose that can be a little bit complicated to come into but great for releasing tension, fatigue, anxiety.”
When you are working at a desk all day you are very much hunched over with chin to chest. Fish pose causes a real release of tension and helps to open up the chest and lungs. Tension is also released in the neck, throat, the head, the heart, and all other areas that are hunched over throughout the day.
7. Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
How To Do It
Lie down with your chest touching the floor. Place your hands on the floor either side of your head. Keep your arms tucked into your body. Push your hands into the floor and lift up your head and upper back. Keep your lower back and lower body on the floor. Try to avoid getting a pinching sensation in the lower back.
Hold this pose for 3-5 breaths. Then release the stretch by going into child’s pose. Do this by sitting back onto your heels, spread your knees outwards and drop your head onto the floor.
Benefits of Cobra Pose - What Liz Says
A “very beneficial pose to perform at the end of the day.”
Both cobra pose and child’s pose are incredibly soothing. The two poses combined open up and lengthen the back and releases tension in the hips. Cobra pose is very accessible for most people. It helps to release energy in the back which can become very tense from sitting at a desk from 9-5.
8. Half Pigeon - Eka Pada Rajakapotasana
How To Do It
Start on your hands and knees. Bring the right knee forward and lengthen the left leg back. Place your right leg inside your hands so the toes are facing to the left.
The intention is to have your right leg at a 90 degree angle. This might not be possible for everyone but you can work up to that over time. When in this position, sit up tall and feel the stretch in your glutes and hips. Hold for 3-5 breaths before switching to the other side.
Benefits of Half Pigeon - What Liz Says
Liz considers half pigeon pose to be the very best pose for stretching the glutes and hips. Simply put, it is the best pose for people that sit at a desk all day long. It improves flexibility and overall range of motion. It helps to open up the hips, which are closed all day when you are seated.
We hope you all got as much value out of Liz's advice as we did.
For office workers and those that spend their day sitting at a desk, this post is one we definitely recommend bookmarking and returning to regularly.
Performing these exercises for even 10-15 minutes a day can produce powerful results. If you have friends that work in an office, please share this post and spread the International Workplace Wellbeing Day love!