Stiff shoulders. Aches in your lower back. Tightness in your hips. Sound familiar? Sitting at a desk, hunched over your keyboard all day can cause discomfort and may even lead to long-term pain.
But you can loosen up those tight muscles and help counteract the side effects of the modern work life with movement and stretching.
“Doing these stretches can lead to a better night’s sleep. And you’ll come home carrying a lot less work stress.”
To celebrate Yoga Month, we talked to Elisa Barretta, a volunteer with the Cedars-Sinai Employee Wellness Program, to learn a few simple yoga stretches you can do at your desk to keep you feeling flexible and relaxed throughout the workday.
Chin lift neck stretch
While sitting at your desk, begin by “grounding” the soles of your feet flat on the floor to create a solid foundation. Push your feet into the ground, shoulder-width apart, resting your hands lightly on your thighs.
Lift your chin up to the ceiling for 5 breaths, then drop it to your chest. After a few times, add arm movements—on your first inhale, extend your arms out to your sides and then overhead, touching your palms together at the top. While you exhale your fifth breath and drop your chin, bring your palms to your chest.
“This is a great stretch for your neck and upper back,” says Elisa. “These areas tense up after extended periods of typing and sitting in front of the computer.”
Seated cat cow
While “grounded” in your desk chair, inhale and puff your chest out, lifting your chin as you inhale. Then exhale as you tuck your chin to your chest, rounding out your back and bringing your shoulders forward. Repeat, inhaling to come back to a lifted chest and chin, and exhaling to round.
“Seated cat cow helps counteract that hunchback shape that we get by sitting at our desks and leaning forward all day, even on our drive home,” says Elisa. “This stretch gets movement going through the spine and shoulder blades.”
While seated, grab your right leg and cross your right ankle over your left knee. Rest your hands lightly on your right shin. Inhale, puff out your chest, and lean forward with a straight back for 5 breaths. Repeat on the other side.
“The hip flexors shrink as we sit all day,” says Elisa. “This stretch will keep your hip muscles longer, which will help you be more limber and relaxed.”
Hand and foot stretches
While seated, begin by making fists with your hands and extend your arms in front of you. Lift your feet off the ground, pointing your toes away from you. Make circular motions with your wrists and ankles—10 times in each direction.
Next, extend your right arm with your right palm facing out, fingers pointing up. Then, use your left hand to pull gently back on your fingers for 5 breaths. Switch sides and repeat.
Turn your wrist so your fingers point to the floor and your palm is toward you. Push gently on the back of your hand. Switch sides and repeat.
Lastly, lift your feet 6 inches from the floor. Shoes are optional. Reach your toes toward the ceiling with your toes spread apart for 5 breaths, then bring your heels together and point your toes to the floor for 5 breaths.
“These hand and forearm stretches are great for counteracting the stresses of typing and scrolling through our phones all day,” says Elisa. “And we need to give our poor feet a rest after being stuffed into uncomfortable work shoes!”
What other benefits can you expect after doing these yoga exercises at your desk?
“Doing these stretches can lead to a better night’s sleep,” says Elisa. “And you’ll come home carrying a lot less work stress. Set a reminder on your phone or laptop to stretch every 2-3 hours.”