By AJ Cadavedo
In this age of smartphones, tablets and countless mobile devices—we often find ourselves looking down at our screens and ruining our posture on a daily basis. Not to mention sitting down for more than 10 hours a day in front of our computers, being totally immobile, and not thinking of the health risks. Our modern lifestyle is making us stressed, tired and totally unhealthy.
Yes, you know that exercise is good for your health—and yes, you’ve been meaning to visit a gym since the beginning of the year. But have you actually done anything about it? We don’t blame you—the first step is usually the hardest.
For busy people who can’t afford the one-and-a-half hour a day for a full yoga class, there are stretches you can do in the comfort of your office—relieving pain in your neck, shoulders and back. Here’s an 8-minute sequence that doesn’t need a mat or an instructor. Just remember to take it easy when you start doing the stretches; work your way into deeper postures when your body is ready.
Release tension with mindful breathing.
When you’re too busy or drowned by work, sometimes you forget to breathe normally. Even if you think that breathing is an automatic impulse, there are moments when you’re not aware that your breath becomes shallow and irregular.
Sit straight, your hands on your thighs, your shoulders expanded and your eyes shut. Take deep inhales through your nose while slowly pointing your chest up, your belly soft and engaged protruding forward, your neck relaxed, and your eyes following a line upwards, to the ceiling. Count up to five while you push air down to your throat, lungs and diaphragm, holding your breath at the last count.
As you exhale, push the air out through your nose while you drop your shoulders, neck and head forward, creating an arch in the spine and pushing your belly button to your spine. At the end of your exhale, slightly contract your stomach muscles to push the remaining air out.
Repeat this breathing exercise without pause five times.
Relieve arm fatigue with finger and arm stretches.
Upward Bound Fingers Pose
Start by grasping your hands together, fingers interlaced and palms facing front. Put your elbows up shoulder level and place the back of your hands in front of your chest. Sit straight and engage your abdominals to protect your spine. Take a deep breath in and then exhale as you push your hands forward until you lock your elbows. Inhale again, bringing your hands in front of your mouth and exhale while stretching your arms to a 45-degree angle. Inhale one last time and pull your hands back to your forehead, then exhale, stretching your arms up over your head, your eyes slightly looking up, neck relaxed.
Don’t forget to breathe in and out with the same length, core engaged. Change the clasp of your hands and repeat the sequence again.
Loosen your upper body with neck and upper back stretches
Sit or stand straight, engaging your core—navel to the spine. Put your left hand on your left shoulder, your right hand on top of your head, tilt your head to the right slowly pulling your shoulder in the opposite direction. Count up to ten and switch sides. Put your palms together and your thumbs under your chin, slowly pushing your head up until it drops back. Do the opposite movement by interlacing your fingers at the back of your head, pushing your chin to your chest. Breathe normally and relax your neck and head the whole time.
Align your spine with a standing side bend or half-moon pose
Stand straight, feet shoulder-width apart in front of your desk. You can use a chair as support on the side. Put your right arm up while your left arm is holding the back of your chair.
With your fingers stretched out and engaged, slowly bend to the side and reach your arm to the opposite direction. Continue breathing as you hold the pose for 15 counts.
Engage your core, pull your navel in to your spine, relax your jaw and slightly gaze up to your elbow. Slowly inhale back to your original position and prepare to do the same on the other side.
You can bind both your hands over your head and point your index finger to the direction of your bend. Do a half moon pose with both sides of your body on the next set.
Achieve a healthier spine with seated torso twist.
Sit upright in your chair, your knees together, feet flat on the floor. Your head must be directly above your neck, your chest and shoulders expanded. Twist to the right putting your right hand at the base of your seat and your left palm placed on the side of your right thigh. Twist as much as you can while still feeling comfortable, not pushing your spine too much. Continue breathing as you hold the pose for 10-15 seconds. Slowly go back to the center, and then continue on the other side.
Strengthen your back with forward bends
Sit with a straight back on a sturdy chair and open your feet shoulder-width apart. Put your hands on your lap and relax your elbows and arms. Straighten your spine and, with your head directly above your neck, bend forward as you exhale. Pull in your lower abdomen, engaging your core. Let your arms reach the side of your chair or your feet—whichever is more comfortable. As you inhale, straighten your spine and lower your body towards your thighs as you exhale. Do this for 20-30 seconds.
If you feel more flexible, perform this stretch while standing up—your feet together and your weight distributed equally on your toes. If your hamstrings are tight, put a slight bend on your knees and continue to direct your butt to the ceiling. Inhale while stretching your spine and exhale while directing your chest towards your knees. Do not overstretch your lower body and continue to lengthen your back with your abdominals engaged.
Slowly go up with a deep inhale and release with an exhale.
If you want to get the best results and change your body, full yoga practice is still ideal. You’ll find that releasing tension and pain in your muscles through yoga is quite addicting. Regular practice will also help you detoxify your organs, improve your sleep and help you carry out your daily tasks better as you get stronger and better from inside out.
What are you waiting for? Take that first step and start feeling better!