All workers need healthy movement during the day to stimulate blood flow, keep muscles limber and avoid nagging aches and pains that come with sitting in one place too long. It's not always practical, however, to get in a full workout in your office. Instead, these simple exercises can be done at any time of day, while still in your cubicle. Check out the five ways employees are using desk stretches in practicing mindfulness and treating their bodies — without ever leaving their desks. Yoga at work is especially beneficial to your upper and lower back.
1. Chair Twist
Harvard University mentions this popular exercise as a way to stretch and tone your upper back. To begin, sit tall in your chair and place your left hand on your right knee. Then, grab the back of your chair (on the left side) with your right hand. Take a deep breath inward and stretch in a twisting motion, just enough as you feel comfortable. Return to a normal seated position and repeat on the other side.
2. Neck Stretch
While this exercise focuses on your neck, there are benefits to your posture — and, therefore, your back. Sit up tall in your chair, with a little space between your back and the chair. With your head aligned with your spine, move your right ear down toward your right shoulder. (Don't lift your shoulder or turn your head to the side.) Breathe in and out slowly, and return your head to a straight position. Repeat on the left side.
3. Seat Cat/Cow
This stretch works out your upper and lower back, as well as your shoulders and chest. Start by sitting up straight with your feet on the floor and your knees bent at 90 degrees. Grab your thighs and breathe in slowly; at the same time, push your chest out and your shoulders together as far as is comfortable. Your head may tip back slightly; this is OK. Breathe out, allowing your back to arch (like a cat) and shoulders to come forward. Repeat both motions another two to three times, remembering to breathe.
4. Standing Arm, Back and Hammy Stretch
If you're looking for a way to stretch your complete upper body and legs, this is a great option. You'll need to stand up and walk behind your chair. (You should be at a distance to reach out your arms and hold on the back of your chair.) Stand with your feet about shoulder distance apart and put your arms straight up in the air. Keep your back straight and slowly bend forward at the waist. Stop when you can grab the back of your chair. Hold the pose for a few breaths and then slowly straighten back up again. Be sure your chair cannot roll away during this exercise.
5. Seated Lower Back Stretch
This is a very simple exercise you can do many times a day. Be sure your chair is moved away from your desk, and while seated, widen your legs about hip-distance apart with your feet planted firmly on the floor. Bend at the waist, and let the weight of your body pull your entire upper body down toward the floor. Allow your body's weight to "hang" and relax your head and neck. (It's OK to round your back.) Take a few deep breaths and allow your upper body to come back up slowly.
How long should you do these desk stretches? A full minute per pose is adequate, with a minute between stretches to return to a relaxed position. The entire series should take no longer than 10 minutes. Done once in the morning and once in the afternoon, these desk stretches can go a long way to keeping your body healthy and your mind at ease.
These exercises aren't just good yoga at work. Try them at home, and see the difference in your posture, flexibility and stress levels.