Although yoga has been around for thousands of years, it’s become increasingly popular recently and has undergone quite the makeover. There are intense, sweaty styles of yoga that make the muscles of even the fittest people tremble; there are gentle forms of yoga that are suited for beginners; and there are even specialty yoga classes for athletes (think runners, swimmers, cyclists), people with arthritis, kids and even pregnant women.
Yoga offers many benefits, from reduced stress to improved strength and flexibility, but it can also be intimidating to some people. You may feel that your just “don’t bend that way,” won’t be able to keep up with others in a class or have physical limitations that will prevent you from moving down to (and up from) the floor. Enter chair yoga. This gentle style of yoga can be done from a (mostly) seated position that also incorporates the breathing and mind-body benefits of a traditional class.
Sitting at a desk for hours on end places unnecessary strain on the lumbar spine, overstretches the mid to upper back, and shortens the chest and hips—leading to neck, shoulder, and low back pain. Try this simple office yoga sequence when you cannot get to your favorite class.
1. Seated Neck Rolls
Benefits: This warm-up pose releases tension from the neck, which is particularly important if you spend a lot of time sitting. Avoid this pose if you have any issues or injuries to the neck or cervical spine.
Begin by sitting up straight in a chair. Gaze up to the ceiling, keeping your neck long. Bring your left ear down toward your left shoulder and hold (not pictured).
Roll your head down toward the ground and bring your chin to your chest. Hold and finally, roll your head to the right and bring that ear to your right shoulder (not pictured). Inhale and exhale through the nose in a slow and controlled manner. Repeat twice.
For a deeper stretch, extend the right arm down toward the ground and hold while your left ear is toward your left shoulder (and vice versa). You should be relaxing your neck muscles and using the weight of your head to stretch. Do not attempt to force your head lower with your neck muscles or your hands. Stop immediately if you feel any discomfort. Repeat five times on each side, taking long, slow and even breaths through the nose.
2. Sit and Stand Chair Pose
When we’re seated all day, the underused glutes and hamstrings lose their motivation to help us get back up, and we rely on the upper back and even the neck (eeeek!) to hoist the body to a standing position. This two-part pose helps awaken these leg muscles.
Begin seated with your knees bent 90 degrees and your feet flat. Press down from your heels, trying not to move the feet in toward your chair or use your arms, and make your way up to standing.
From standing, slowly sit straight back down, refraining from leaning forward and/or from shifting the hips to one side or the other. Repeat 5 to 10 times.
3. Seated Cat/Cow
Benefits: This complementary pair of poses stretches the entire spine and improves spinal mobility. By arching the back in “cow” pose, you stretch the front torso and chest. In rounded-back “cat” pose, you help to stretch the back of the torso and shoulders. If you have any neck or cervical spine issues, keep the neck in line with the torso throughout these poses.
Begin by sitting up straight in a chair. Roll your shoulder blades back and down, arms relaxed at your sides. Pull your belly button in to your spine to engage your abs, and keep your feet flat on the floor, if possible.
As you inhale, arch your back (leading with the chest) and look up toward the ceiling. Lift the chin and allow your arms to relax next to you. As you exhale, round your spine and let your head drop forward. Tuck the chin and allow your shoulders to roll. Repeat five times, moving fluidly from cat to cow with each breath.
4. Seated Crescent Moon Pose
The side body tends to collapse when hunched over a computer, contributing to neck and shoulder discomfort. Seated Crescent Moon fixes that so you can return to your seat with a taller spine, a clearer head, and sharper focus.
Lift your arms overhead and stretch your fingers wide. Lean to the right, taking 2 to 3 deep breaths. Repeat on the left side for another 2 to 3 deep breaths.
5. Chair Raised Hands Pose
On an inhalation, raise your arms toward the ceiling.
Allow your shoulder blades to slide down your back as you reach upwards with your fingertips. Anchor your sit bones in your chair seat and reach up from there.