How desk yoga can help the average office worker
There is always some new craze in yoga for us to share on social media. At one point, people were filmed laughing as they did it to decrease stress further. Others found a challenge in trying out poses in hammocks. Then there are those that like to go to the countryside and do yoga with goats. These gimmicks can make yoga seem inaccessible to the average worker in an office. However, there is one alternative type of yoga that is ideal for this demographic: desk yoga.
Why is yoga such a good idea for office workers?
Humans weren’t built to sit in front of computers for hours on end. We are meant to be more active to stay in peak condition. Yet, modern society says that a productive worker in an office 9-5 is a successful one. So, we keep on slaving away and putting our bodies under strain. Too much time in these conditions can lead to:
1) Neck stiffness and tension – such as text neck
2) Postural issues around the shoulder, spine and hips
3) Pain in the neck, back, hips, legs and more
4) Circulation issues
5) Increased stress levels
6) Headaches caused by some of the above. If you suffer from headaches, please take a look at my other blog on Headaches, which may help.
Yoga can help with all of these issues. The right poses can help to correct issues with joints and posture. You can target specific areas with tension, stiffness and muscle problems for quick relief. Regular sessions can then lead to improved pain relief, flexibility and overall health. Also, the breathing practices and focus on relaxation help with stress levels.
The problem for some workers is that they feel as though yoga isn’t an option. Either they don’t have the experience and ability to do it or they don’t have the time. Desk yoga could be the solution. It doesn’t require any previous experience or skill and you can perform at any time.
You don’t need a fancy studio downtown to perform yoga.
Let’s get rid of some of the pretentiousness around yoga for a moment. The stereotypical ideal presented to us is often that of the perfect, peaceful yoga class with complex poses and plenty of matcha tea. The reality is that you can apply the basics of yoga to any situation or location. It all comes down to finding a safe, beneficial position that will alleviate your symptoms – while also watching your breathing. Therefore, it is possible to perform yoga at your desk. You can still make a cup of matcha tea for afterwards if you want to.
So how does desk yoga work?
There are three different ways that you can perform yoga within the confines of your office workspace. You can either:
1) stand up within your cubicle and perform some stretches
2) try some modified poses with your desk as a support
3) use your chair for some modified seated positions
4) a combination of the above.
Simple stretches within your cubicle area.
Some yoga poses don’t require too much movement or space. You can stand up from your chair and stretch out plenty of limbs and muscles without attracting too much attention. These poses can be great for dealing with shoulder, neck and back issues. Standing for a while also promotes circulation and can refresh you if you are tired.
The crescent moon pose is all about gentle stretches from side to side. The forward bend is a little more effective when it comes to stretching out the spine and shoulders. You may be surprised at how quickly your back clicks into place as you roll your body forward and bend towards the ground. Clasp your hands together behind your back with straight arms for the best effect. This pose – also referred to as the standing seal pose – can also improve circulation to the brain and reduce headaches.
Using the desk as a support.
Supports are something that you will find in many yoga classes. Beginners that struggle to reach the ground on their poses can rest their hands on a block. It is all about ensuring that your pose is comfortable and safe while still providing some physical and mental health benefits. Therefore, there is absolutely nothing wrong with using a supportive structure in the office. Your desk is just the right height to lean against and will hold its position. This is great for modified poses when you can’t get down on all fours on the ground.
Many people will use this as a way of providing support while performing cat and cow poses. You can also push against the desk while performing an upward dog from another angle. Keep your arms straight on the desk and lean your hips into curve your spine. This can help to correct issues with spine and back – potentially improving your posture in the long-run.
Another option that may not be as well-known is Desk Chaturanga. Chaturanga is essentially a yoga push-up – just gentler, and with greater emphasis on form. You can achieve the same effect with your body at a diagonal angle from the desk. The next step up from here is Desk Planking.
Using a chair for modified seated positions.
There are plenty of positions in yoga where it helps to sit down and work the neck or arms. Sitting cross-legged on the floor is also a great way to ground yourself in moments of relaxation. There is no reason why you can’t do this in an office chair as long as it is comfortable enough for you. This restorative pose is a good starting point for a quick stress-relieving break. Bring your legs up, rest your hands with your palms up, close your eyes and take some deep breaths. This change of leg position may also help with circulation problems.
Alternatively, you can try some other adapted desk yoga poses from your chair. The crescent moon pose is perfect while standing up. But, this isn’t always the best option at work. You can achieve some of the same benefits for your shoulders, neck and upper spine from a seated position. Place your feet flat on the floor, straighten your spine and raise your hands to the ceiling. Lean to each side for a few breathes to stretch yourself out and relieve discomfort.
Then there is the seated Figure 4. Place one leg onto the other with your ankle resting on your knee. Keep the other foot planted on the floor. Roll your body forward and let your arms hang to the floor. This can help to stretch out the spine but may also act as a correction for those that with one leg crossing the other too much.
Creating a more complex daily routine.
The more you practice, and the more that you get comfortable with desk yoga, the more complex your regime can become. It all depends on your personal comfort levels and your underlying health issues. It might be enough to try some light seated poses now and then when you have a stiff neck. Or, a few standing poses might be enough when you feel tired. But, those with more complex issues could benefit from a more diverse plan. Experiment with poses and see what works. You can then create a daily plan to ensure that you see the best results. You can also challenge yourself to hold the poses for longer, stretch further and rest more often.
Find the approach that suits your needs as well as your space.
The approach that you take here may depend on your available space and proximity to other co-workers. A cubicle area does provide a little more space and privacy for you to create that more complex regime of stretches. However, this might be more difficult in a confined area. Work with what you have available to you in terms of space and equipment.
At the same time, you need to be mindful of the other people in your office. The last thing that they want is you encroaching on their workspace or distracting them as you bend and stretch. On that note, be careful about what you wear. Some office clothing might not be made for deep lunges or downward dogs. If you have a grumpy boss that doesn’t approve, ask if you can do some poses in a conference room instead. Or, you could form a yoga club to get others to join in with you.
Start off slow and see which poses work for you.
You don’t have to rush into some complicated routine of stretches and poses each day. Start with some simple options in your chair or against the desk that target specific problem areas. Small, consistent efforts should be enough to help you find relief from stiff muscles, sore joints and stress. You may also find that your circulation, flexibility and posture improve in the long-run. If you find that it is beneficial and fun you can work on diversifying the poses and improving your form. Go in with an open mind, go easy on your abilities and enjoy yourself.