Sitting at a desk all day working at a computer really takes its toll on your body. From the actions of compressing your hip joints to rounding your thoracic spine, sitting for eight hours per day can drastically affect the health and vitality of your skeletal, muscular, and autonomous systems. It is important that during your workday, you take the time to stand up and move around to recirculate your blood flow and stretch your tired muscles. Yoga is an excellent practice to reverse some of the effects that your desk job may produce in your body. The next time you’re feeling tight hips, a weary neck, or extreme tension in your lower back or shoulders, try one or all of these 10 yoga poses to help alleviate your pain:
10 Balasana / Child’s Pose
Feeling tension in the lower back? Child’s pose is your position for relief. This one is simple and sweet. Begin by kneeling on your knees and sitting your seat down to your heels. Then, hinge from your hips to lean your torso forward over your legs and relax your forehead to the floor. You can extend your arms forward in front of you or surrender the hands down by your sides. Either way, relax into your shoulders. You can either have the knees touching or further apart: whichever feels better in your body. If you have tighter ankles, you can roll up a towel and place it underneath the ankles to alleviate some of the pressure against that joint. If you have tighter hips, you can sit onto a blanket or pillow to connect the hips and the heels. Wherever you are, this should feel like a resting posture, so relax and release into the openings as you round the lower spine and stretch the massive muscles across your lower back.
9 Ustrasana / Camel Pose
Do you have a super tight chest from hunching over and typing all day? Stretch your pectoral muscles with this wonderful heart opening posture – camel pose. Begin kneeling on your knees with your feet hip-distance apart. You can either tuck the toes under or point the feet back. Relax your tailbone down toward the floor. Activate and engage your abdominals by drawing the low belly in toward your spine and up toward your ribcage. Take your hands to hold your sacrum (the triangular space below your low back and above your tailbone.) Roll your shoulders down the back and squeeze your shoulder blades toward each other, puffing up in your chest. Press your hands into the sacrum with a pulling down motion to extend your hips forward in space and help relax your tailbone toward the floor. Lift your heart up toward the ceiling and open through your chest as you keep drawing the shoulder blades together. Continue to extend the hips forward, lift the heart up and over, drawing the shoulder blades toward each other on the back body. If you feel comfortable, you can release your hands to catch a hold of your ankles. Maintain a firm and actively engaged core and keep the upper back moving up, expanding through your heart center and reaching toward the sky. Hold for a few deep breaths to open and release your chest, and then come out the way that you came in and relax into a child’s pose.
8 Uttanasana / Standing Forward Fold
The lower back takes a great deal of the stress on your body from sitting in a chair all day long. Want to stretch those aching muscles? Do a simple forward fold! Come to a tall, straight standing position with your feet either touching or hip-distance apart. Reach and extend your arms up over your head and then hinge from your hips and lead with your chest to dive forward over your legs. If you bend into your knees, you will get a deeper stretch through the lower back. Relax your hands wherever they reach: you can place them on the floor, on blocks, or on your shins or let them just dangle. Try to relax the weight of your torso down toward the floor. Let gravity do the work for you to release the spine. After holding with bent knees for a few deep breaths, you may want to work toward straightening and extending through the legs (but take your time here – the legs don’t ever need to be perfectly straight). To come out, reverse the way you came in. Draw your hands to your hips and lead with your chest to rise back up to stand.
7 Supta Padangusthana / Reclined Hamstring Stretch
Tight hamstrings tend to pull on the lower back, creating even more stress to your hips and spine. To relax and loosen the hamstrings, lie down flat on your back with a yoga strap or towel. Bend into the right knee and draw the leg in toward your chest. Hook your strap or towel around the ball of your foot and then relax your shoulders down toward the floor. Work toward reaching and extending the right leg straight up toward the sky as much as possible. Keep the knee bent as deeply as you need, or if it’s available, you can straighten and extend completely through the leg. Hold for a few long, deep breaths, breathing into the stretch and then gently release and switch sides.
6 Garudasana / Eagle Pose Arms
The shoulders tend to absorb a lot of the tension from sitting at a desk job everyday. A great way to release the upper back and shoulders is to take eagle arms. Sit in any comfortable position and give yourself a hug crossing the right arm underneath the left. Walk your hands toward each other on the back and soften your shoulders down away from your ears. You can stay like this or, if it’s available to you, you can bring the backs of your hands or the front of your hands to meet keeping the cross of the arms at the elbows. If you take this bind, reach your elbows up toward the sky and then press your forearms away from your face. Feel a rounding through the upper back as your shoulder blades move apart from each other and keep relaxing the shoulders away from your ears. Soften your breath and breathe into that opening through the back body and then, when you’re ready, release and switch the cross of your arms to work the other side.
5 Viparita Karani / Legs Up The Wall Pose
Low back still aching? This pose is exactly how it sounds and it provides some serious relief to the back with little to no effort at all. Sit on the floor with your right hip touching the wall. Place your hands behind you and lean your weight toward the hands to swing and extend both legs up the wall. Lie down onto your back and walk your sit bones as close to the wall as you possibly can (ideally they will be touching the wall). Allow the weight of your legs to relax down toward the floor. Allow the blood to drain from your legs and your lower back to melt and relax toward the mat in this simple but highly effective inversion. Extra bonus: if you want to stretch the inner hips and thighs as well, you can open your legs out wide into a V-shape letting gravity do all of the work for you as your legs slide down the wall and relax toward the floor.
4 Baddha Konasana / Bound Angle Pose
Tight hips can create pain not only in the hip joint, but reaching into the lower back as well. A great release? Bound angle pose. Sit down onto the floor and draw the souls of your feet to touch. Try to walk your hips as close toward your feet as you can reach creating a narrow diamond shape with your legs. Let your knees become heavy and relax down toward the floor. As you inhale, lengthen and extend your spine and as you exhale, hinge forward from your hips to fold over your legs. You can even gently press your arms into the thighs to deepen that opening. You can also create this same shape in the legs and lie down onto your back, allowing the weight of your legs to just relax toward the floor for a reclining variation.
3 Neck Stretches
The neck tends to bear a lot of the tension created from sitting in a desk staring at a computer. Tension from the neck can run all the way down the back affecting the health of your whole spine. To relax and release the neck can actually be quite simple and restorative, and can even be done while sitting at your desk. Begin by sitting in any comfortable position. Inhale lengthen your spine and reach the crown of your head up toward the sky. As you exhale, relax your right ear toward your right shoulder. Try to keep both shoulders surrendering down away from your ears. You can stay here, or if you would like, you can rest your right hand onto the top of your head. Be cautious not to push or pull here, but just allow the extra weight of your arm to move you deeper into that stretch. When you’re ready, gently return the head back to center, and switch sides.
2 Paschimottanasana / Seated Forward Fold
The whole back body takes on a lot of stress from sitting for long periods of time everyday. Another great release is yet another simple forward fold. Sit down on the floor (or if you have tighter hamstrings or any lower back issues, elevate your hips sitting onto a yoga block or a stack of books). Reach your legs straight forward in front of you (you can either bend at the knees or straighten the legs completely – do whichever feels better in your body). Inhale to lengthen the spine reaching your arms up toward the ceiling, and exhale, hinge from your hips and lead with your chest to dive forward over your legs. You have two options here: you can either keep a flat back position or round the spine. Both options are great; they will just simply stretch different parts of the body. You can rest your hands wherever they reach. You can touch the floor, you can hold your feet, or you can wrap a strap or towel around the toes. Try to relax the muscles of your back body as you surrender into this forward fold.
1 Adho Mukha Svanasana / Downward Facing Dog
The whole body becomes stressed from working at a desk job. A great way to counteract a lot of the damage is to practice this one yoga pose that works with the whole body. If you practice only one pose after a long day at work, make it a downward facing dog. This pose stretches so many parts of the body, including the shoulders, wrists, back, and hamstrings. Start on all fours in a tabletop position. Place your hands shoulder-width apart and spread your fingers wide. Align your shoulders directly over your wrists. Place your knees hip-distance apart and align your hips directly over your knees. Tuck your toes underneath and draw the low belly in toward your spine. Lift your knees up off the floor and extend your hips up high toward the ceiling. Try to reach your fingertips forward in space and soften your shoulders down away from your ears. Lengthen and extend the whole spine reaching your tailbone toward the sky. Relax your heels down toward the floor (even if they don’t touch, just work the action of reaching toward the floor). You can have the knees either bent or straight here, work with whichever feels better in your body. Try to create the shape of an upside-down V. Relax into your breath and breathe into all the openings happening within your body as you lengthen and extend the arms, the back, and the legs, softening into this full-body stretch to alleviate the damage created from your desk job.