Sitting has become the new smoking. Studies suggest that long hours of sitting may increase chances of chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes and even some cancers. Longterm sitting weakens the legs and gluteal muscles, and shortens the hip flexors. Also, when we sit for long hours, the gravitational pull on the spine can compress our intervertebral discs. This can lead to serious back issues.
Most of us work in jobs that require long hours of sitting. If you have desk that converts from sitting to standing, you can alleviate many of the ill effects of sitting. But while these desks are becoming more popular and available, they’re not yet the norm. So how can you help alleviate the effects of too much sitting?
Try This 5-Minute Yoga Break
First, set your intention. Resolve to take a yoga break. Set the alarm on your cell phone to remind you every 30 minutes to stand up and move.
If I only have time for a short asana practice on any given day, I like to practice poses that move the spine in all the directions it is capable of moving out of neutral. These include: flexion (bending forward), extension (bending backward), rotation (twisting) and lateral bending (side bending). Axial extension (lengthening the spine) is also important so that you can practice all the other movements safely.
None of these poses require yoga props, although it’s easy enough to keep a yoga strap in your office desk in case you want to use it for Talasana. A non-skid yoga mat can provide stability, but you can practice without one. All these poses can be practiced in a dress or skirt!
- Desk Dog – Axial Extension + Forward Bending: I like to start with lengthening the spine. This can increase the effectiveness of the other movements. Place your hands on your desk top. The walk your feet back until your torso is parallel to the floor. Now reach your arms forward and your hips backward, lengthening the spine in between. Stay for 5 to 10 breaths, continuing to lengthen as your breathe.
- Talasana (Palm Tree Pose) – Lateral Bending: There are few movements we make in daily life that stretch the sides of our bodies. That’s probably why lateral bending feels so good. Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) with your feet parallel and about hips-width apart. Raise your arms up toward the ceiling. Either hold on to a yoga strap or grasp your right wrist with your left hand. Then ground the right foot and bend to the left. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths. Then release your arms and move to your second side.
- Urdva Hastasana (Upward Salute Pose) – Backbending: Upward Hands Pose is not usually a backbend, but it’s nice to add spinal extension to the pose in a yoga break. Stand in Tadasana. Raise your arms up toward the ceiling, and then extend them outward at about a 45-degree angle. Ground your feet and lift your sternum up toward the ceiling, backbending your spine. Lengthen the back of your neck and let your jaw release. Stay for 5 to 10 deep breaths, then return to Tadasana.
- Chair Sukhasana – Spinal Rotation: Return to sitting in your chair, but sit sideways so that your right side is next to the back of your chair. Turn the torso toward the back of the chair and grip the back with your hands. Do not try to keep the hips square. Allow the right hip to draw back so that it moves along with the twist. Use your hands to assist the rotation, but be careful not to force the twist. Instead, breathe and relax into it. Take 5 to 10 deep breaths. Then return to the center and turn your body 180 degrees to practice the second side with your left side next to the back of the chair.
- Savasana (Relaxation Pose): Return to sitting in your chair, but sit on the front edge. Tilt your pelvis forward so that your spine can be in its natural curves. Take a few deep breaths, relaxing into your body on the exhalation. Then return to your work, relaxed and refreshed!