We evolved as walking beings, exploring our world by foot. Hunting down our protein, gathering our berries. For thousands of years.
Later on, during the pre- and industrial era, work would entail manual, physical labor. Towards the mid 1900s when the need for administrative jobs arose, there was still room for movement and physical activity during your (much shorter) work days (we would walk to work, we would walk to collaborators instead of shooting them an email etc.). And then… technology happened. It has us prisoners, tied to a desk for most of the day. Then strapped to a sofa for whatever is left of the day zapping mindlessly through thousands of channels, or playing video games, or refreshing our Facebook feed. We even skip the trip to the market in favor of a meal delivery order placed via an app. We have reached the epitome of sedentary.
Nowadays, physically active jobs make up less than 25% of the workforce, and there is a reported increase of sedentary jobs of 83% since 1950. Also, to be noted, according to a 2014 Gallup poll, the average work week consists of 47 hours, almost 14 hours more than 20 years ago, with 18% of those surveyed putting in 60+ hours. 42% of those surveyed work 40 hours a week, 50% working more.
Studies have shown over and over again how a sedentary life affects our lives and our health.
- Psychological effects – we are more prone to stress and disturbed sleep, and have a higher risk of anxiety and depression; our brain’s capacity is affected because of the decreased circulation of oxygen in our bodies
- Physical conditions – eye strain and as a result headaches and migraines, carpal tunnel syndrome and hand/wrist tendonitis, chronic neck, shoulder and back pain, strained muscles and ligaments, loss of muscle mass and flexibility
- Diseases – metabolic syndrome, high blood pressure, heart attacks and strokes, diabetes, poor circulation in legs, disk issues as a result of an inflexible spine, cancers (highest risk for breast and colon cancer)
- In a 13-year long study, it has been shown that a sedentary life dramatically increases the risk of death.
What you can do to save yourself, you ask?
In an ideal world we’d make the time for healthier routines: we’d walk more, we’d take regular breaks away from our desk, we’d allow a full hour for enjoying our lunch, would engage in an hour-long physical activity, we’d trade TV watching for nature walks and mindful living.
In the world we live in, the least one could try is to incorporate a couple of 15-minutes breaks in their work day to stretch a bit, to focus on the tension accumulating in their body and mind and work towards releasing it before going back to hunching over the computer.
Find below a brief sequence you can do right at your desk. All you need to do is turn off your monitor and push your chair a couple of feet away from your desk. I also compiled a list of 30+ easy yoga poses that you can combine for a different sequence. Give them a try.
Just 10 minutes of stretching and mindful breathing practiced a couple of times a day will bring you benefits which may be unnoticeable at first, but with consistent practice you will find yourself more comfortable in your body, less achy, better engaged in your work and less prone to stress and anxiety. Deep, mindful breathing calms your central nervous system, centers your attention and sharpens your concentration. Your mind is relaxed, your body is relaxed. Reducing the amount of cortisol, the stress hormone, in your system will allow for harmony restoration within your body, relaxing your muscles and internal organs. Stretching will help release the grip of the fascia, the hardening tissue wrapped around our muscles and organs, and you will regain flexibility and mobility. Your circulation and heart function will improve, and so will your metabolism. Your blood pressure will lower, your heart rate will slow down. Studies have shown that yoga improves the immune system.
- Mindful Breathing. Sit comfortably with a tall spine. With your eyes closed, take long, deep, smooth breaths through your nose. Detach yourself from the outside world and focus on the coolness of the breath traveling down into your lungs, and the warmth of your breath as it leaves your body. Try to even out the length of your inhales and exhale. When your mind wanders, to help quiet it down, tell yourself, with each inhale, “I am breathing in…”, “I am breathing out…”. Practice this for at least three minutes.
- Wrist and Forearm Release. Start by gently rolling your wrists, a few times in one direction, then in the other. Right arm stretched in front of you, palm facing down; use your left hand to press your right fingertips towards your body. Switch sides. Then bend each wrist in opposite direction by pressing your fingertips towards the inside of wrist. Right arm stretched in front of you, palm facing down; use your left hand to press your left fingertips towards your body. Switch sides.
- Eye muscle stretch. Sit comfortably in your chair. Cover your eyes with your palms without touching your eyelid. Take three rounds of deep, full breaths. Release your hands down. Roll your eyes in one direction, then the other. Inhale, stretch your arms in front of you, interlace your fingers, thumbs up, right in line with your nose. Motion your hands up and down at a slow pace and let your eyes follow the movement without moving your head. Do this five rounds. Exhale, lower your arm to your side. Inhale, left arm stretched in front of you, thumb up in line with your nose. Motion you thumb to the left and back to center and follow it with your eyes while keeping your neck and head still. Do this five rounds, then switch sides.
- Neck Tension Release. Sitting on the chair, roll your neck a few times to one side, then the other. Nod and shake your head a few times. With a straight back, interlace your fingers behind your lower back and place the back of your left hand on your right hip bone. Gently lean your head to the right. Switch sides.
- Side Stretch. Sit at the edge of chair. Interlace fingers in front of you and stretch your arms up towards the ceiling, palms upward. Inhale, lengthen your side body. Exhale, lean to the right, and hold for a few breaths. Inhale, back to center. Exhale, lean to the left, and hold for a few breaths.
- Seated Cat/Cow. Bring both feet flat on the floor, knees over your ankles. Bring your hands onto your knees. Inhale, arch the back and look up towards the ceiling. Exhale, chin to chest and round your spine.
- Seated Eagle Arms with Thread the Needle. At the edge of your chair, keeping the right foot flexed, bring your right ankle on top of your left knee. You can use your right hand to gently push the right knee down for a deeper stretch. Inhale, lengthen through the spine. Extend your arms out to either side, parallel to floor. Inhale, bring arms forward, crossing right arm under the left, wrap forearms and bring the back of the hands or palms to touch. Elbows should be in line with your shoulders. Shoulders away from your ears. For more of an active stretch, on an inhale lift the elbows slightly, on an exhale, bring your elbows to shoulder level. Switch sides, on both legs and arms.
- Table Pose on Desk. Facing away from your desk, place your hands on the desk wrapping your fingers around the edge. Walk feet slightly forward, then push your hips forward, open your chest and gently lean your head and neck backwards. When ready to come out, exhale, gently raise your head, step your feet back and come to standing.
- Half Dog on Desk. Place your hands on the desk and fold your body into a 90 degree angle. Hips are over your knees, knees over your ankles. Actively press your hands, your finger knuckles into the desk. Drop your head between the arms for a good shoulder stretch. Press your heels into the floor; even lift your toes slightly to stretch your hamstrings. For a dynamic movement, bend and straighten the knees with your breath.
- Seated Revolved Twist. Sit at the edge of your chair, feet hip-width apart, knees over your ankles. Inhale, lean forward with a long spine and place your right fingertips between your feet. Exhale, twist from your navel and reach your left hand up towards the ceiling. Switch sides.
- Seated Hamstring Stretch. Sit at the edge of your chair, facing a wall or a folder cabinet. Place your right foot on the floor at the wall, keeping your knee straight, and bend your left leg normally. Either place a scarf or a tie around the ball of your right foot or hold onto the sides of chair. Lengthen your spine, lift the sternum, and relax your throat, neck, and shoulders. With a straight back, bend slightly forward from the hips. Switch sides. You can stretch both hamstrings at the same time, placing both feet at the wall and wrapping the scarf around both feet.
- Seated Psoas Stretch. Come at the edge of your seat, and scoot over to the right so you are sitting on your left sit bone only. Your left leg is bent, knee over your ankle. Slide your right foot back pushing through the heel, coming into a seated lunge. Back knee is slightly bent. Tailbone is rooting down. Upper torso is tall. If comfortable, straighten the back knee. Switch sides.
- Standing Pigeon. Stand facing your desk. Stand tall, grounded through all four corners of your feet. Shift your weight onto your right foot, bending the left knee slightly. Gently, bring your left knee up and place your left shin onto the desk parallel to edge of the desk. You can lean onto your fingertips or hands, inhale, lengthen your back. Exhale, walk your fingertips forward, and bend from the waist over your left leg. When ready to come out of the pose, exhale, walk your hands back towards your body and gently roll up. Release your leg, shake it off and switch sides.
- Forward Fold. Inhale, reach your arms forward and up. Exhale, fold over with soft knees. You can let your arms hang or grab opposite elbows with your hands. Sway side to side if that feels good. Neck is relaxed, head hanging in its own weight. Slowly straighten the knees. You can interlace fingers behind your back for a shoulder stretch. Release your arms, put a small bend in your knees and slowly roll back up one vertebra at a time, rolling your shoulders back, and letting your head be the last to come up.
- Senses Meditation. Sit comfortably. Place your hands with palms facing your face, the tips of middle fingers touching. Closing the eyes, place your middle fingers gently along the length of your eyelids – tips of fingers will touch the inner corners of your eyes. Place index fingers along the line of your eyebrows, rest ring fingers on the corners of your nostrils, and rest little fingers on upper lips or at the corners of your mouth. Finally, close the flaps of your ears with your thumbs. Let your eyes, ears, nose, and tongue become completely passive. Let your eyes look within. Listen to the soft sound of your breath and let go of all cares and concerns about work, school day, life. Let yourself linger here as long as you are comfortable. When you release the hands, sit with eyes closed for a few more moments, letting the peace of your inner self come with you, back to the outer world.