Many people in the workforce today face up to nine hours seated at a desk. Aside from fluorescent lights, blue light from bright screens, and the ever-dreaded cubicle, one of the most challenging physical aspects of working a nine-to-five office job is back, shoulder, and spine health.
According to Mayo Clinic, long periods of sitting have been linked to issues such as obesity, high blood sugar, high blood pressure, and metabolic issues. Another study from the University of California Los Angeles found that long stretches at a desk also create dangerous pressure on back muscles and spinal discs, causing back and neck stress.
But not many people have the option to opt-out of office work for a healthier environment—so, how can yoga be used to alleviate these daily pressures? After all, millions face the same challenges. Luckily for modern workers, some yoga experts have tackled the challenges associated with sedentary office work.
For example, London-based yoga instructor Lauren Gasser developed five simple exercises for poker players. Like office workers, they’ll face long hours before a table—but they’ll also face higher levels of stress while needing to make quick decisions.
Poker players who use Gasser’s ‘heavy head’ and ‘backwards arm cross’ will be able to revitalize their minds and bodies without ever leaving the table. Similar exercises can be adapted for the office, allowing employees to subtly tend their physical health throughout the day. Let’s dive in for a closer look.
General Tips for Spine Health
Yoga exercises are a great way to tackle physical health, but they won’t get to the root of the issue, which is how the standard is arranged. Those looking to dive straight to the foundation of spinal health can rearrange their current seating arrangement.
Here are a few basic tips for creating an ergonomic work setting:
- Keep your seat at eye level with your screen so that you won’t be looking up or down. This will ‘save your neck’ from additional stress.
- Arrange your screen directly in front of you. Again, this will minimize pressure on your neck.
- Opt for a remote keyboard to type from your lap. Instead of raising your hands and hunching your shoulders, a keyboard kept on the lap removes shoulder strain.
- Keep feet flat on the floor to keep the spine straight.
There are a few other trends that are worth noting when it comes to building an ergonomic workspace. In the last decade, standing desks have become a popular solution for those struggling with spinal health.
Keep in mind that it’s best to slowly transition to a standing desk if switching over, starting with 30 or 60-minute intervals.
Additionally, sitting on the floor and using a low desk or surface has also become more common.
Though switching to a floor desk might not be an option for every office, many professionals have found it better for their posture and core muscles. Most options extend 15 inches from the floor and can also be switched into a tilted position, while others are lightweight enough to be fully mobile.
Now that we’ve covered the basics of healthy sitting positions, let’s dive into three yoga poses (all of which are Harvard-approved) that are discreet enough to be done in the office and helpful enough to combat hours of slouching before a computer.
Roll one shoulder at a time, slowly. Move your shoulder up, back, then to the front. Repeat three times per shoulder, alternating back and forth for around two minutes.
Sit up straight in your chair to align your head with your spine (if this is difficult, imagine a ruler connecting them). Drop your ear toward your shoulder, then take a few deep breaths to let your neck muscles stretch. Repeat with five breath intervals for around one minute.
Move to the edge of your chair and shift your legs so they face diagonally, in the same direction. Move your arm to the opposite side of the chair as your legs, then take a few deep breaths to stretch the spine. Hold for around ten breaths, then switch sides for around two minutes.
A Question of Lifestyle
Office-friendly yoga poses are a great way to save the spine or back during a particularly grueling day but, as mentioned above in the section covering ergonomic desk set-ups, it doesn’t get to the root of the issue. For many facing back and spine health due to a sedentary work lifestyle, regular yoga training might be a better solution for long-term wellness.
Consider signing up for a local yoga center to attend classes more regularly. According to an in-depth study from Vox, a regular yoga practice can reduce inflammation in the body, improve strength and flexibility, and even boost a person’s awareness of their physical health.