Does your neck freeze when you look up at the clock and see there are five or six hours left in your workday? Before you reach for a painkiller, there is something you should try. Yoga. Not your mother’s kind, where you stand on your head, but a more gentle and mindful approach. You can ease muscle and mental tension with a few exercises that you can do while sitting in your chair or taking a five minute breather in the bathroom stall. The health benefits of yoga are well known, and it is a low-impact exercise. Here are some yoga hacks which nearly anyone can do whether at a desk, in your car, or at home.
Warning: As with any exercise, do it only as far as you are comfortable, and be gentle with your body. Check with your doctor before starting any new exercise regimen. Yoga is not meant to be exhausting or physically painful. These exercises can be repeated 3-5 times.
Good for small spaces, and even something you might be able to attempt from your desk chair, Mandukasana involves sitting in a kneeling type pose and leaning forward. Start on the floor, with a good thick carpet, towel, pillow or yoga mat under your body to give it support. Bend your legs at the knees and tuck them underneath you so that you are sitting on your calves in a kneeling position. Left palm on belly button, right palm on left hand. Now press both hands on your abdomen. Exhale and bend yourself forward as if you are trying to touch the ground with your forehead, keeping hands on abdomen. Stay there for ten to fifteen seconds and then bring your upper body back up on an inhale.
Modified Mandukasana: start sitting in your chair. Position your hands as in the usual Mandukasana. Be careful when bending forward to only go as far as is comfortable. If you are able, try folding your legs crossed or straight as though kneeling underneath you while sitting in your chair. Make sure your head does not hit your desk or other furniture. This position may not be possible for everyone, so just give it your best shot.
Cat-Cow Modified Bend
Begin sitting in your chair, both feet flat on the ground, even distance apart. Rest your palms on your knees. On an inhaled breath gently arch your back (like a cow’s arched back) and look up toward the ceiling. As you exhale, round your spine (like a cat’s rounded spine when startled) and let your head drop forward.
With both feet flat on the floor and even distance apart, sit in your chair, pushed away from your desk with enough room to lean all the way forward. Clasp your hands behind your back, over your head, fingers gently laced together. Now straighten your arms. Inhale and hold. Feel your torso gently bend at the waist as though it’s on a hinge, body bending forward and hands over your back. Exhale and rest your upper body on your thighs.
Bend your arms with your fingers pointing at the ceiling. Try to make a 90 degree angle with your bent arms. Now bring your right arm over your left arm. Rest right elbow inside left inner elbow and let your palms gently touch. Gently lift your elbows, trying not to lift your shoulders. Reverse and repeat.
A basic tenet of yoga is the breath. The breath is the foundation of all other poses and the tempo at which those poses are formed. Sectional breathing focuses on regulating your breath and releasing muscle tension. Sit comfortably, head up and even with spine, back against your chair, feet flat on the floor and not crossed. Put your palms on your abdomen, fingers barely touching, heels of hands facing sides of body. Breathe into your hands, feeling your abdomen rise as your breath comes in. Exhale, feeling your abdomen deflate like a balloon. Take six even breaths.
Now bring your hands up onto your ribcage with thumbs on the back ribs. Breathe into your ribs, as above. Repeat six times.
Finally, bring your hands to the front of your shoulders, fingers touching your collarbones. Breathe into your collarbones and feel them rise and fall, filling your upper body and making your shoulders rise toward your head as your chest expands. Repeat six times.
Half Lord of the Fishes (adapted), a.k.a., Seated Back Twist
Sit sideways in your chair, the back against one side. With both feet even distance apart and flat on the floor, begin to gently twist toward the back of your chair while holding the back with both hands. Turn the chair’s back to your other side and gently twist that way while holding on to the back.
Bring your left ankle up until it is resting on your right thigh, keeping your right knee lined up with the right ankle. Hold for five breaths. Switch sides and repeat. For a more intense stretch you can bend forward while holding this pose.
Remember to Breathe
You may find now that your shoulders, arms, legs and back are stretched you no longer feel quite as seat-bound and pained. These poses can help wake you up or energize you throughout the day, and will definitely improve your posture and breathing—both important in jobs with mental work and sitting involved.
BY YVONNE DICK