11 yoga poses you can do at your desk

These straightforward stretches will help counter those long hours spent hunched over your computer

Working from home? Then it is likely that you are sitting at the kitchen or dining-room table (or on a sofa or your bed) as you take your calls and draft your emails. And, chances are, you are hunched over in an awkward position. 

For millions of people, working from home has become the new normal. For many, however, this novel way of working is an ergonomic nightmare. Although we need to embrace the change, there is no need to embrace the pain that comes with it. Whether you are an office or remote worker, sitting for more than eight hours a day in front of a computer can wreak havoc on your body.

It destroys your posture, and leads to neck, shoulder and lower-back pain. It also increases your risk of developing obesity, heart disease, diabetes and strokes. Numerous studies show that regular yoga practice can help reduce neck, shoulder and lower-back pain – but it can also increase energy levels, relieve stress and improve productivity.

So here is a sequence of 11 simple yoga poses that you can do at your desk at any point in the day. Remember to breathe normally throughout the stretches, and never hold your breath.

Neck stretches

These are great for relieving stiffness and tension in the neck and shoulders.

Step 1: Neck extension (backward)

Gently extend the neck by looking backwards while keeping the shoulders and back static. Once the head has gone back as far as it can, hold for 5 to 15 seconds then return the head to a neutral position.

Step 2: Neck flexion (forward)

Bring your chin to your chest. Once the head has flexed forward as far as it can go, hold the stretch for 5 to 15 seconds before returning to a neutral position.

Step 3: Lateral neck flexion (side to side)

Slowly bend the head to one side toward the shoulder. Keep the shoulders and back static. Hold the stretch for 5 to 15 seconds then repeat in the opposite direction.

Step 4: Neck rolls

Let your chin drop towards your chest. Relax and let the head hang heavy. Exhale. On an inhale, begin to circle your head to the right side, then to the back, then to the left side and exhale as your chin drops towards your chest. Continue slowly circling for five rotations and then switch directions and circle the other way five times.

Triceps stretch

This movement will improve flexibility, lengthen muscles and increase your range of motion. It also helps to prevent tight muscles, loosen connective tissue and boost circulation.

Raise your arm straight up, then bend it behind the head. Use the opposite arm to push your elbow downward while putting resistance through the elbow. Hold for about 10 to 30 seconds.

Release the stretch and repeat on the other side.

Cow / Cat stretch

These simple and gentle poses will stretch the spine and loosen back muscles. They are effective for spinal flexibility and work wonders for lower, upper and middle back stiffness. They also softly stimulate and strengthen the abdominal organs.

Cow pose (Bitilasana)

Perch on the front edge of your seat if you can, with both feet flat on the floor. Place your hands on your knees or on the chair and straighten your arms as much as you can. On an inhale, arch your back, start lifting your chest as you look up towards the ceiling.

Cat Pose (Marjaryasana)

On the next exhale, draw your belly towards your spine, round your back as you push the floor away with your palm and let your head drop forward. Release the crown of your head towards the floor with gaze towards the thighs, but do not force your chin to chest. Repeat the cat-cow movements on each inhale and exhale for five to 20 breaths.

Cow / Cat with eagle arms

This pose stretches the shoulders and upper back, and is also great for focus and concentration.

Step 1: Sit up tall and place your feet flat on the ground. Stretch your arms straight forward, parallel to the floor, and wrap the right upper arm underneath the left one. Bring your palms to touch and lift your elbows up, but make sure your shoulders stay down. Hold for 10 breaths.

Step 2: On an inhale, arch your back, lift your chest, look up towards the ceiling, and aim to point your elbows up. Hold for five seconds.

Step 3: On an exhale, round your back, let your head drop forward and point your elbows toward your stomach. Hold for five seconds.

Step 4: Continue these movements, slowly and gently, for 10 deep breaths.

Step 5: Unwind your arms and repeat with your arms reversed.

Seated figure four

This will help stretch the muscles around your hips and glutes, and relieve stiffness in the lower back.

Step 1: Keep your feet flat and back straight. Bring your left ankle over the top of your right thigh.

Step 2: Place your left hand on your left knee and push your left knee away from you. Keep your foot flexed for a deeper stretch.

Step 3: Hold for 20 seconds to one minute.

Step 4: Release to switch legs and repeat on the opposite side.

Seated spinal twist  

This move will improve flexibility, stretch the back muscles and hips, and massage abdominal organs.

Step 1: Keep your feet flat and back straight. Place your right hand behind you, on the top of the chair, and place your left hand on the right armrest, or lower. Your body will naturally turn.

Step 2: Take a deep breath and as you exhale use your left arm to pull your body. Look over your right shoulder.

Step 3: Hold the position for 10 breaths to one minute, pushing deeper into the position as you exhale. Rather than using the force of your grip to get deeper, twist keeping the entire length of the spine.

Step 4: Inhale and place your hands on your thighs. Repeat on the other side.

Shoulder extensor chair stretch

This pose helps to increase blood flow to shoulders and boosts mobility and flexibility.

Step 1: Place both hands shoulder distance apart on the back rest of a chair.

Step 2: Take a big step away from the chair, keeping feet hip-distance apart, and knees and hips in one line. Drop your chest towards the floor.

Step 3: Move the legs further back, as required, to increase the stretch.

Step 4: Hold the pose for at least 15 seconds to one minute, then stand up and relax.

Step 5: Repeat two to four times.

High crescent lunge chair

This pose helps the front of the body to expand, which increases energy and reduces fatigue. It also stretches and strengthens the thighs, hips and glutes while creating stability and balance.

Step 1: Hold on to the back of a chair. Step your left foot back and bend the right knee to 90 degrees.

Step 2: Keep the back leg strong and active by lifting your heel and drawing it forward so it aligns directly over your back toes.

Step 3: Square your hips so they are parallel the chair. Keep your head at a neutral position, gaze to a single spot and back straight at the centre.

Step 4: Take steady breaths in and out through your nose. Hold for three to five breaths and then switch sides.

High crescent lunge twist

This pose stretches the entire body. Twisting the torso applies pressure to the internal organs. This tones them and increases their ability to detoxify the body. This pose also helps to improve your balance and increases your energy level.

Step 1: Form your high crescent lunge, with your right leg at the back and your left knee bent at 90 degrees in front of you. Inhale to lengthen your torso to an upright position.

Step 2: Exhale and twist with your right hand on the chair and left arm extended outwards behind you. Gaze back over the middle finger of your left hand.

Step 3: Hold the pose for five to eight breaths. Stand up and switch sides.

Nerry Toledo is an independent yoga instructor in Dubai. For more information, visit www.nerryfit.com