Most of us who want to be active don’t have too much trouble finding ways to make this happen on the weekends. You’re up and about meeting friends, shopping, participating in sports, going to yoga or spin classes, running around with your kids, even cleaning the house or getting chores done—all of which can be very energetic.
Come Monday however, you’re likely to find yourself much more sedentary. You’ll be sitting or standing still while commuting to work (on long bus or train rides or driving). Then you get to work and you’re desk-bound all day, or sitting during long meetings. When we sit still for long periods of time, we often end up with physical discomfort, headaches, and stiff muscles, and without the opportunity to stretch and breathe deeply, we don’t get to shake off stress.
So how do you keep yourself from holding onto stress at work, both physically and mentally, and how might you help avoid letting stress build up in the first place?
If you don’t have time to take a walk away from your office, you might want to try chair yoga. Yes, you can do yoga in a chair. It’s relatively easy; you don’t need to go to a class, use any special equipment, or wear a special outfit. All you need is a chair, and it does not even need to be a certain kind of chair, although one without wheels might work best, so you don’t roll around while practicing.
You do not need to make a big time commitment to practice chair yoga. Just a few minutes goes a long way. You can gain benefits from even five minutes of practice or less. Yoga can increase comfort by relieving neck and shoulder tension, lower back discomfort, and eye strain/headaches, and can also increase circulation. Because yoga helps shift the nervous system from “Fight or Flight” to “Rest & Digest” mode, even a few minutes of chair yoga can help reduce stress and anxiety. Practicing a little pranayama, or yogic breathing before a big presentation can relax you and help you shift from stressed to calm and centered very quickly. You can take three deep, full breaths in half a minute. I know this because I timed it during a particularly long meeting once.
Chair yoga can be done at work, but it can also be adapted for train rides, waiting for your doctor’s or dentist’s appointment, or for sitting on a park bench.
For added stress reduction, you might want to start Monday off with chair yoga, since starting a new habit on a Monday ensures a higher likelihood that you will continue all week.
So let’s get started. The Department of Integrative Health Programs at NYU Langone Medical Center collaborated with DeStress Monday to make two videos, available on YouTube, in which I instruct a chair yoga class. The videos are constructed so you can do one in about 10-15 minutes, or both in under half an hour, but you could simply choose one or two sections if you have less than 5 minutes to spare. Any amount of time spent breathing deeply and stretching will be of benefit and help reduce stress.
Here are the links:
Meanwhile, here are a few simple chair yoga exercises to do at your desk in about 5 minutes, or even less:
Centering while seated –Take a moment to get grounded: With your feet planted firmly on the floor, feel the ground beneath you. Sit up in your chair, breathe deeply and feel the length in your spine. Notice 90 degree angles at the front of the ankles, backs of the knees, hip joints and under the jaw.
Close your eyes, bring awareness within – shift back and forth gently until you feel centered.
Breathe: Simple Pranayama, The 3-part breath –
Relax – scan from the top of your head down to your toes – consciously release any tension you may be holding letting it fall away.
Inhale – belly expands, ribs expand, collarbones rise.
Exhale – collarbones fall, ribs contract, belly toward the spine.
Inhale – feel your whole torso filling from the bottom to the top like a cup fills with water, or a balloon with air.
Exhale – feel your torso emptying from the top to the bottom like water is pouring out of the cup, or the balloon is deflating.
Continue for 3-6 breaths, depending on how much time you have. Count the breaths from 6 (or 3) to 1.
Just breathe … sit for a moment and enjoy the feeling of breathing deeply.
This is often enough to shift from stressed to calm and centered, but if you have a few more minutes, you could move your spine and stretch. The spine moves into flexion and extension, lateral flexion (side to side) and rotation. When we sit for a long time at the computer, we usually only sit in forward flexion. Moving the spine can re-energize the whole body.
Flexion and Extension – Seated Cat/Cow stretch.
- Sit up tall (aligned as above).
- Inhaling, tilt your pelvis forward, let your belly come forward, then drop your shoulders away from your ears, and with your chest facing upward, look up to the ceiling. Your torso will be in the shape of a “C”.
- Exhaling, reverse this shape – tilt your pelvis backward, bring your belly toward your spine so your spine curves toward the back of the chair, round your shoulders, and look down. Your torso will be in the shape of a “C”, reversed in the other direction.
- Continue, with the breath, a few times. If you like, you can keep your eyes closed and enjoy the feeling of your spine moving.
Lateral stretches –
- Sitting nicely aligned toward the front of your chair, press your right hip down into the chair, cross your left arm over and anchor it on the outside of your right thigh, and raise your right arm up alongside your ear with your open palm facing inward.
- Inhale, press your right hip and shoulder downward, and keep pressing them downward as you exhale and lean/stretch over toward the left, as if someone is pulling your fingers.
- You should feel this stretch in the muscles between your ribs, and all along the right side of your body.
- Inhaling, bring your arm back to center, and exhaling, lower it down.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Do this sequence again on both sides, if time permits.
Spinal Twists –
- Again, sitting nicely aligned toward the front of your chair, inhale both arms up alongside your ears, as if you were opening a pair of wings. Have your palms facing each other, and your upper arms alongside your ears.
- Exhaling, lower your arms and twist to the right. Place your right hand on the armrest or seat of your chair, and your left hand on your outer thigh.
- Inhale, lengthen your spine, feeling your tailbone move toward the earth, and the top of your head toward the sky.
- Exhale, and twist a little bit more. Careful not to strain.
- Inhale, raise your arms back up alongside your ears as you twist back to center, and then exhaling, lower your arms.
- Repeat on the other side.
- Do this sequence again on both sides.
Ultimately, remember that the most important element of practicing yoga – in a chair, on a mat, or anyplace – is to enjoy yourself, have fun and feel good – there should be no pain in yoga. If it feels good, do it, if not, ease off!
The information available through this site should not be interpreted as medical or professional advice. All medical information, from this or any other source, needs carefully to be reviewed with your trusted health-care provider before being acted upon in any way.
Amy Eberhardt MPH, LMT, CPMT, CIMT, CYT, Integrative Health Practitioner and Health Educator, Department of Integrative Health Programs NYU Langone Medical Center.