If you work in an office, you know how much of the day is spent sitting. Studies show that sitting for long periods with no activity can lead to heart disease, diabetes, and a host of other ailments. Being active is the best way to avoid getting these diseases, or to at least minimize their effects. Even just walking for 30 minutes a day can help reduce the risks of heart disease, diabetes, injury, and other risks associated with inactivity. However, for some people that work long hours at a desk job, this might not seem practical or even possible, because of the combination of muscle pain and fatigue that comes with sitting for lengthy periods. It is a vicious cycle that perpetuates the myth that if you work a desk job, you can’t be in good physical shape.
The good news is that being chained to a desk does not necessarily mean being condemned to a lifetime of health issues. Even in small cubicles, there are plenty of ways to get exercise, and one of the best ways is a yoga routine! This is because yoga is a practice that promotes mindfulness, which is a state of cognitive self-awareness.
Everyone should have some kind of mindfulness routine for the office. Studies prove that workers who have a mindfulness routine are healthier overall, plagued by fewer of the ailments that can occur because of stress, allergies, or just the sharing of space with co-workers. In addition to yoga, tai chi, meditation, pranayama, and most martial arts incorporate meditation and concentration with physical activity or movement, which in turn gives you a deeper awareness of yourself, including your body. As a result, you stay healthier through a combination of conscious effort, subconscious habit, deep relaxation, and the awareness to act preventatively when you start to feel something wrong. Any practice that lets you do all of that at your desk--plus is recommended by the Center for Disease Control to prevent diseases--is something everyone should try at least once!
If it is hard to imagine downward-dogging in your office attire, you are absolutely right. No one wants to be rolling around the floor in their office, but experienced yogis know that you don’t have to. These moves don’t even require you to kneel down, so if you feel too embarrassed to do them at your desk, you can always do them in the bathroom, supply closet, or empty office. You don’t need a whole lot of space to do these nine poses or some of their variations, and you’ll face your workday refreshed and focused. Even if you get plenty of exercise, these asanas will relieve muscles sore from sitting too long, craning your neck, or otherwise working at your computer.
Mountain Pose (Tadasana)
Stand with your feet together, your bottom tucked under your hips and your spine straight. Relax the arms by the sides.
The Mountain Pose is similar to Corpse Pose, in that it is the resting pose for standing poses. Take this time to breathe, relax, and let your mind go. You will return to this pose between each of the other poses.
Tree Pose & variations (Vrksasana)
From Mountain Pose, lift the arms so they are in prayerful position, palms together. Lift one leg and put the flat of your foot on the inner thigh of your other leg, pointing the knee away from you.
Variations include raising your arms over your head, palms together, as well as holding the arms straight out to the sides. This pose challenges balance, which is a matter of concentration as well as physical exertion. The posture of the raised leg really opens up the hip, giving a good stretch to the oft-overlooked hip flexors.
Triangle Pose (Trikonasana)
From Mountain Pose, step out with your left leg so your feet are shoulder-width apart. Raise both arms out to your sides, and lean the torso over to one side so the hand is touching the foot. Hold this for a few breaths, then raise the torso again. Repeat for the other side.
A variation of this involves twisting the torso at the hips so that when you lean down, the hand from one side is touching the foot from the other, but it is important to keep the hips squared in both versions of the pose for maximum benefit.
Warrior II Pose & variations (Virabhadrasana)
From Mountain Pose, step out with your left leg so your feet are shoulder-width apart. Raise both arms out to your sides. Rotate your feet to they are both facing one direction, and lunge slightly in the same direction, so your knee is directly over your ankle. After holding this on one side, return to neutral and repeat for the other side.
There are three Warrior poses, so for clarification, this is Warrior II. Warrior I lunges forward with arms pointed straight up, and Warrior III has you standing on one leg, holding your arms overhead, and balancing your body perpendicular to the floor (this variation might be a little challenging to do in an office setting). All three of them are great standing poses that bring a sense of strength and empowerment along with the physical benefits.
Standing Half-Moon (Ardha-Chandrasana with Pada-Hastasana)
From Mountain Pose, reach the arms up over the head and put the hands together, as though diving. Using the hips, lean the body to one side and hold it for a few breaths. Lean to the other and repeat.
This one can also be done in a chair for benefits to the back, but the really good benefits are to the hips and sciatic muscles, so try to do it standing up! This is one of three poses that are must-dos in the office.
Standing Half Bow Balance (Natarajasana)
From Mountain Pose, step back with one foot. Reach the hand on the same side down and back, and raise the back leg so you can grab your ankle. Keeping your leg rotated so your knee is pointing downward, raise the back leg and continue to hold the ankle. With your other arm, reach forward.
This one can be a little challenging, so don’t be afraid to use your desk or chair to help you balance while you practice it. If you don’t wear pants to work, find a private place to practice. The benefits to your lower back and the front of your thighs and hips are well worth it, plus the balancing practice is good for concentration.
Single Forward Leg Bend & variations (Parsvottanasana)
From Mountain Pose, put the arms behind the back and lace the fingers together. Step one foot forward so your legs form a 45-degree angle. Fold the torso forward over the hips so your head is resting on your knee. After holding this pose for a few breaths, raise the torso, switch legs, and repeat.
This is second of the three yoga poses you should make a point of doing, even if you don’t do any others. The stretch to your back, spine, and legs can soothe the stiffness from sitting in an office chair.
Eagle Pose & variations (Garudasana)
From Mountain Pose, lift your arms and put one elbow over the other.. Wrap your hands around so the backs of your hands can touch. Lift one leg and wrap it around the other, bending the standing knee to maintain balance. After holding this position for a few breaths, return to Mountain Pose and repeat with the other arm on top and the other leg as the standing leg.
The Eagle pose is great for opening up the back, shoulders, hips and thighs, all areas which get stiff and tight from sitting in a chair all day. The arm poses are complicated and may require some practice, but there are plenty of variations to build up to the standard asana.
Wide Leg Forward Bend (Prasarita Padottanasana)
From Mountain Pose, step out so the legs are spread wide. Fold at the hips so the torso drapes over them and your head is pointed toward the floor. Reach down so the hands are touching the floor.
This is the third of the most important of the asanas for desk-bound people, because it provides a deep stretch that compliments the other two. It also has the benefit of relieving stress and calming the mind.
Even if you do get exercise, since these poses are so suited for the workplace, you can still do them between phone calls and trips to the copier. The stiffness and soreness associated with sitting for a long time can be relieved by these nine simple asanas. Variations of them can be done while sitting in your chair, and all of them can be done right at your desk. You can feel the benefits within days of starting, so don’t wait to bring yoga to your cubicle!