Yoga stretches you can do at work

Woman who works in office and sits all day

By Kelley Voegelin, RYT

Whenever I ask my students for a show of hands for how many of them spend most of their day sitting at a desk, the majority of hands quickly fly into the air. But unfortunately, if you spend most of the day sitting, you will experience negative side effects — physically, mentally and energetically.

Physical tension manifests in the neck, shoulders and back after you’ve spent the day hovering over your keyboard, with your head pushed forward to stare at your computer screen. Hours of computer work also brings on major energetic stagnation and mental fatigue.

Get yourself out of the doldrums of desk life with these nourishing stretches that will help you feel better and more balanced every day.

Opening the upper body to relieve “computer scrunch”

Clear the tension in your neck and shoulders with these simple and subtle stretches.

Neck Rolls

Bring your head to balance right over your spine and inhale gently. Exhale as you slowly drop your right ear to your right shoulder. Hold there for 3-5 rounds of breath, inhaling into the left side of your neck. Allow your shoulders to soften down from the sides of your neck. Inhale, slowly come back to center, then exhale and repeat on the opposite side.

Then bring your chin to chest, slowly roll your head from left to right and then turn your face skyward, drawing a rainbow with your nose. Do 3 rounds in one direction, and then rotate in other direction.

NOTE: Do these seated or standing, and always when stretching the neck, move mindfully and slowly to keep the cervical spine safe.

Eagle Arms

Woman doing Eagle Arms yoga pose

Extend your arms in front of you with palms facing up. Slide your right arm under the left and, from the elbows, wrap your forearms around each other until either the backs of the hands or palms connect. Move your elbows up with forearms away from your face. Close your eyes or soften your gaze. Take 5 rounds of breath into the shoulders and the back of your heart. Release gently and do a few shoulder shrugs and rolls, with a big sigh out through your mouth. Then switch sides.

Caring for your back when you’re at the desk

Unsupportive desk chairs and bad posture from computers and cellphones lead to rounding of the spine. Regain healthy flexibility of your spine with these moves.

Cow/Cat

Woman doing Cat Cow yoga pose

You can move your spine through these two classic shapes right in your chair without getting on your hands and knees.

Plant both feet firmly and evenly on the floor. Place your hands on the edge of your desk or on your thighs. As you breathe in, send your heart forward and softly arch your entire spine. As you exhale, press into your hands and round your back, spreading the area behind the heart. Undulate between these two shapes for 5 or 10 rounds. Afterward, sit with a neutral spine and take a sweet deep breath.

Camel

woman doing Camel yoga pose

Sit with the feet rooting into the floor or get out of your chair and stand up tall! Bring your hands to your low back, nudging your tailbone toward the earth. Squeeze your elbows and shoulders back and unfurl your heart upward. Keep the chin tucked slightly or open up your throat area, whichever feels safest for your neck. Spend 5 breaths in this backbend. Take a few moments to reset in a neutral position and then do another round or two.

Spinal Twist

Woman doing a spinal twist yoga pose

Twisting frees stagnation in the spinal column and brings strength and flexibility to the back. Keep your feet on the ground and your seat connected to the chair, then rotate your body to the right. You can bring your hands to the back of the chair, or push off from the edge of your desk. As you twist along your spine, try to keep your chest open and your head balanced above your heart. Take 5 gentle breaths in and out through the nose. Switch sides. Note: this would be a challenge in a swivel chair — best to spine in a stationary seat.

Release your hips and legs after hours of sitting

Sitting too much shortens muscles and makes them weak and tight. The following stretches help create space in your hips, quads and hamstrings.

Ankle to Knee

Woman doing Ankle to Knee yoga pose

This seated Pigeon Pose variation is great for hips and low back and can be done discreetly in your chair.

Anchor your left foot to the floor and cross your right ankle over the top of your left knee. Flex at the right ankle so your toes point toward your outer right knee.) Encourage your right thigh to drop slightly. Deepen the sensation in the hip by leaning your torso forward a bit. Take 5 to 10 rounds of breath and then switch sides.

Dancer Pose

Woman doing Dancer yoga pose

This standing balancing pose stretches the quads.

Stand up tall and bring a little more weight and grounding to your left foot. Bend the right knee, and bring your right foot up behind you, then catch it with your right hand. Point your right knee down (not out to the side) and tilt your tailbone down as you lift up the front of the pelvis. Balance on one foot or hold onto the desk or chair with your other hand. Take 5 breaths into your right quadriceps then switch sides.

Standing Forward Bend

This is the simplest pose and it stretches your hamstrings and back. Just get out of your chair and fold forward over your legs, bending your knees as much as you need to. Your hands do not have touch your toes and can land on your shins, the back of your chair, or the edge of the desk.

Be aware of the consequences of desk work

If you pay attention, you might notice certain tendencies and patterns in your desk posture and daily routines.

Do you:

  • Tilt your head and scrunch your neck and shoulders when on the phone?
  • Cross your legs the same way all day, every day?
  • Hike up the shoulders when typing or using the mouse?
  • Never rest your eyes and brain by taking breaks and keep going until your head feels like it’s going to fall off?

Noticing your desk posture can help you discover why you have tension in specific areas. Kindly guide yourself to break old postural patterns in order to realign your body and its energies toward balance and freedom.

And remember that it’s necessary to take breaks, stand up and walk around! Pepper these yoga stretches into your daily schedule. Look away from the computer screen for a few minutes every half hour. Take a few moments for yourself to just listen to your breathing.

Want more ideas for easy stretches that feel great? Here are 5 yoga poses for every body.