6 Yoga Poses to Counteract Long Periods of Sitting
By Sarah Taylor
Over the last few weeks you may be working in a new, perhaps space-limited environment. You may not be going to the same yoga classes you would normally, your schedule completely upended. You may be spending more time sitting than usual, adjusting to working from home, home schooling and/or simply taking a pause from work during this time. Anytime our movement patterns change, it can cause us to experience discomfort, soreness or in some cases even pain in our bodies. Good news is, there are simple stretches and yoga poses you can do to help alleviate any uncomfortable sensations and prevent future aches and pains from creeping up!
What muscles get tight when you’re sitting for long periods of time? Most commonly our hamstrings, hip flexors, shoulders, neck, upper and low back.
What do we often forget about when sitting for long periods of time? Activating our core muscles and the muscles of our upper back.
Here are six poses you can do in 5 minutes to help you find a sense of normality and groundedness at any point in your day and to counteract the effects of sitting more and moving less.
TIP: If possible, it’s great to lay your yoga mat out near your work space or in a common area as a daily reminder to move your body! If that’s not possible, these stretches can be done anywhere you have a few feet of open floor space.
Pose 1: Standing Forward Fold
From a standing position, fold forward while keeping a soft bend in the knees. Take opposite elbows with opposite hands. Maybe sway side to side. Shift your weight forward into the toes and back into the heels until you feel the weight is centered on the foot. Hang for a handful of breaths, keeping your head heavy and the back of your neck fully relaxed. When ready, slowly roll your way up to a standing position, keeping your knees bent as you lift.
Option 1: While in the forward fold, clasp hands behind the back and draw the hands away from the sacrum (low back) to add in a shoulder stretch.
Option 2: Take a seated forward fold. Sit up tall, legs extended long in front of you. Feet flexed. Gently fold the torso over the legs. Fold only as far as you can with the spine straight. Bend the knees as needed to fold further without rounding the spine. If possible, grab your big toes with your peace fingers, pulling your torso closer to the thighs.
Pose 2: Standing Figure Four
From standing, shift weight into the left foot. Cross the right ankle the left knee, keeping the right foot flexed. Sink the hips back and down until you feel moderate sensation in your outer hip. Draw hands to heart center. Take 5-7 deep breaths right into the sensation and then repeat on the other side.
Option: Take the same shape from a seated position.
Pose 3: Downward Facing Dog
Flatten your hands on the ground (bending knees as much as you need to do this) and step your feet back, lifting your hips up to the ceiling to make an upside down V shape. Keep the knees bent, begin to straighten the legs or peddle in and out of your heels to more gently warm the backs of your legs. Draw your belly button into your spine. Take a few generous inhales and exhales, noticing your breath getting deeper and smoother. Step the feet back forward toward the hands after a few breaths and slowly roll up to a standing position.
Pose 4: Plank
Plank is the best way to quickly access and engage the muscles of the core. From Downward Facing Dog, shift your body forward until your shoulders arrive over your wrists and your heels are over your toes. Feel your tailbone lengthen toward your heels and pull the muscles of your low belly up and in. Press into the hands and feel the space between the shoulder blades puff up between them to also engage your upper back muscles. Take a few deep breaths, allowing the muscles of the core to warm and fire and then slowly lower to the ground.
Option: Take the knees to the mat. Draw the low belly in, feeling your belly button pull in towards the spine. Breathe.
Pose 5: Prone Shoulder Stretch
Start on your belly. Stretch the right arm out to a T. Come onto the fingers of your left hand. Gently roll towards the right, outstretched arm, stretching the front of the right shoulder and chest. Draw the right shoulder blade onto the back. You can lift your left foot and step it behind you for support, using the toes of the left foot as a kickstand. Take 5-7 deep breaths, allowing your head to stay relaxed and then repeat on the other side. After the other side, gently push yourself up to a seated position.
Option: Take the right arm to a 90 degree angle or “cactus” arm for a more intense shoulder stretch.
Pose 6: Gentle Neck Rolls
From a cross-legged seat, sit up nice and tall and then allow the right ear to fall towards the right shoulder. Slowly roll the head down to center and then roll the left ear up to to the left shoulder. Go back down the other way, completing a semi-circle. Feel free to do a few more semi-circles to more fully release and relax the neck, avoiding full circles as that may strain the neck.
After this practice, when you are back in your chair or in your car, try drawing your shoulder blades together and down the back. Integrate the essence of your on-the-mat practice with your off-the-mat life by sitting tall, with an open heart and an open mind!