A couple of years ago, the media positively exploded with articles reporting the same thing: sitting is literally killing us. Studies had begun to emerge that indicated that not only was a lack of exercise damaging to our health, but a simple lack of movement was setting our bodies up for disease and early death.
A study published in the Journal Diabetologia, for example, analyzed 18 studies conducted on close to 800,000 people to determine the effect that our sedentary lifestyle was having on our health. Researchers found that those people who were most sedentary (i.e., they sat through most of their day) had a 112 percent greater risk of diabetes, 147 percent greater risk of cardiovascular disease, a 90 percent greater risk of cardiovascular mortality, and a 49 percent of all-cause mortality. That last one is perhaps the most alarming of all – those people who moved around less during the day were increasing their chances of early death by almost half.
What is perhaps more surprising is that we now know that sweating it out at the gym for an hour after a day of sitting at the desk doesn’t provide a solution. If your day comprises of 15 hours of sitting and only 1 hour of exercise/moving around, you’re still likely to find yourself in that high-risk group.
The solution, then, is simply to move more. That shouldn’t be too difficult, should it? Actually, it’s harder than you think! This is especially true for office workers, who are contractually required to spend the vast majority of their work day sitting at their desk. Throw in a long commute, and a few hours in front of the telly, and you’ve got a day of pure sitting.
Luckily, there’s a solution that doesn’t necessarily require you to leave your desk. Simple yoga poses can be performed while sitting at your desk that increase the blood flow throughout your body and ease the constant pressure on your organs and certain muscles. And while there’s really no replacement for getting up and walking around, doing these yoga poses on a regular basis will have you not only feeling better, but shifting away from that all-cause mortality group. Worth a shot, right?
Chair yoga poses to do while sitting
The beauty of these exercises is that they’re simple, anyone can do them, and they don’t require specialist equipment. You don’t need to run out and buy some fancy schmancy yoga chair, and you certainly don’t need to bring your yoga mat or leggings along to the office. Just save this post in your browser favorites, and try to perform the stretches at least once an hour, but preferably once every half hour.
1. Chair raised hands
Straighten your back, take a deep breath, and raise your hands towards the ceiling. Palms should be facing inward, feet flat on the floor, and your back should remain straight throughout. Hold for 15 seconds or as long as comfortable, continuing to breathe deeply throughout, then bring your hands back down to your lap.
2. Chair cat-cow
If you’ve done yoga before, you’ve probably encountered the cat-cow pose. It’s a simple but effective way to relieve tension in your back and neck, and encourage blood flow.
In the sitting version, place both feet flat on the floor and put your hands on your knees. Inhale, then arch your spine and roll your shoulders forward and down to form the cow pose. As you breathe out, move your spine in the other direction and thrust your chest out, bringing the head forward. This is the cat pose. Repeat this process four to five times, remember to breathe deeply throughout.
3. Chair spinal twist
This position is particularly good if your back is feeling tense or getting a bit sore. Stand up, then sit sideways on your chair so that the back of it is to your right. Twist your entire torso to the right, hold on to the back of the chair, and remain in this position for four to five deep breaths.
Return slowly back to normal sitting position, then repeat in the other direction.
4. Chair pigeon pose
It’s time to get that blood flowing in your legs. Return to your normal sitting position, and maintain a straight back with upright posture. Bring you ankle up and rest it on the thigh of your opposite leg, keeping the knee parallel with the ankle as much as you can. Breath in and out four to five times, then repeat this process in reverse with the other leg.
5. Chair forward bend
Sure, you might get a bit of a weird look from your work colleagues for this one, but take solace in the fact that your health is going to be dramatically better than theirs the more of these sitting yoga poses you do.
Breath out, then bend forward over your legs. If it’s comfortable to do so, rest the flat of your palms on the floor. If they don’t comfortably reach the floor, simply let them hang down loosely. The head should also hang down between your arms.
Inhale, then return to sitting position and raise your arms over your head. Then exhale, and return to the forward-bend position. Repeat four to five times.
6. Chair side angle
Now we’re starting to get a little more complicated in our yoga poses. If you’d like to keep things simple, the above five poses should be sufficient to offset all that time spent sitting. But if you’d like to improve blood flow even more, give this one a try.
Following the forward-bend, stay in the downwards position. Then move your left hand to the outside of your right foot, with fingertips touching the floor. Open your chest, and while exhaling slowly bring your right hand and gaze up to the ceiling. Hold for three to four breaths, bring your right arm down to the floor, and repeat on the other side.
If necessary, find a quiet spot to do your chair yoga poses
Much of the health benefits of yoga come from the deep relaxation of calm, collected breathing and slow, measured thoughts. If your office is in a constant state of turmoil, with people always walking by and a lot of noise, consider finding somewhere quiet and away from the action to do your chair yoga poses. This might be in a disused meeting room, or in your work cafeteria.
Set yourself reminders to make sure you do these poses on a regular basis. They might just save your life.
— Liivi Hess