I have horrible sitting habits. As I type this, my right foot is on the ground, while my left leg is folded in, with my left foot tucked under my bum. I’m leaning slightly to the right, causing my shoulder on one side to tense up and be a few inches higher than the other, while I simultaneously rock an ever-so-slight hunch in the middle of my spine… this can’t be good for me.
A few weeks ago, Kate Waitzkin shared 6 Stretches to Improve Your Flexibility, but let’s face it: all that stretching is so quickly undone after just a couple hours slumped over our desks and staring into our devices. I’ve heard amazing things about standing desks and really want to try one out, but until then, it’s all about finding time to stretch throughout the work day. Kate joins us again today to share her 7 favorite stretching exercises that can be done in the office. Click through, try them out, and let us know: What do you notice about how your sitting habits affect your overall well-being?
*props: chair with a firm seat
Sit on the edge of a your chair seat. Place your feet hip-width apart and rest your palms on your thighs to begin. Rest your weight evenly between your right and left sit bones and stack your shoulders over your hips. Inhale and lengthen up through the crown of your head. As you exhale, soften the sides of your neck and gently drop your shoulders away from your ears.
Stretch your arms out in front of you so your hands are at shoulder height, palms facing the floor. Cross your right arm under your left until your elbows are stacked. Now, bend both elbows and bring your forearms to touch. Either press the backs of your hands together or spiral your forearms and press the palms of your hands together. Lift your elbows to shoulder height and gently press your forearms away from your face. Breathe into the space and broadness across the upper back. Stay here for 8-10 breaths. If you have a healthy cervical spine/neck, consider lifting the elbows above the height of your shoulders and, keeping the back of the neck long, looking up towards the ceiling. Again, stay for 8-10 breaths. Release and repeat on the second side.
Seated Figure 4 with Shoulder Stretch
*props: chair and strap or towel
Sit on the edge of your chair seat. Place your feet hip-width apart and rest your palms face down on your thighs to begin. Rest your weight evenly between your right and left sit bones and do your best to stack your shoulders over your hips. Inhale and lengthen up through the crown of your head. As you exhale, soften the sides of your neck and gently drop your shoulders away from your ears.
Lift your right foot off the floor and cross your right ankle on top of your left thigh. Flex your right foot drawing your toes back toward your shin and gently encourage your right knee towards the floor.
Maintaining this work in the legs/hips, keep your chest gently lifted and clasp your hands behind your back while keeping a soft bend in the elbows. Bring your palms to touch and press your elbows towards one another as you lift your chest. If you find it difficult to clasp your hands or your shoulders are rounding forward, hold a towel or strap between your hands. Look straight ahead so your chin is parallel to the floor and gently drawing back/in towards the base of your skull. Stay for 10 breaths, release your hands, release your right foot to the floor. Pause and repeat on the second side making sure to switch the clasp of your hands, as well.
Standing Side Bend
Stand with your feet together bringing your big toes to touch and heels slightly apart. If you feel unstable here, take your feet inner hip-width apart. Let your arms fall to your sides and close your eyes for a few breaths. Notice the weight distribution in your feet and do your best to press down evenly through both feet. On an inhale, open your eyes and stretch your arms overhead. Clasp your right wrist with your left hand keeping your right palm facing the ceiling. As you exhale, root down evenly through both feet and as you inhale, stretch your arms toward the ceiling and your spine long. Gently lift your lower belly in and up and slide your tailbone towards your heels. Maintaining this connection at your core, exhale and side bend your torso and arms to the left. Keep your gaze at the horizon or, if your neck allows, look up underneath your right arm. Soften the sides of your neck and, with each breath in, come slightly out of the side bend stretching the spine longer and lifting through the crown of your head. Each exhale, move back into the side bend. Notice how working dynamically with the breath in this way allows you to easily deepen into the pose. Work in this way for 6-8 breaths then rise to center on an inhale. Once again, drop your arms to your sides, close your eyes and observe the difference between sides.
Before moving to the second side, reestablish the work in your feet and belly/tailbone as we did above. Repeat the movements above this time clasping your left wrist with your right hand and side bending to the right.
Sit on the edge of a your chair seat with your right hip and shoulder facing the back of the chair and your feet hip-width apart, facing to the right. Hold the back of the chair with your right hand and place your left hand on your hip. Gently move your hips and feet to the left until your left sit bone is off of the seat. Make sure your right sit bone is sitting well on the seat and, carefully, slide your left leg and foot back until your leg is straight and your toes are tucked under. You want to keep your right knee stacked over your ankle, so you may need to shift your seat and left leg back a few inches.
Once in place, press strongly down through your right heel, gently lift your lower belly in and up and slide your tailbone down towards the seat of the chair. Maintaining this, press back through your left heel as if into a wall behind you. Stay here or, if you feel stable, stretch both arms overhead with your hands shoulder-distance apart. Keep your gaze steady at the horizon, deepen your breath and stay here for 5-10 breaths.
To come out of the pose, place your left hand on your left hip and your right hand on the back of the chair. Keep awareness in the lower belly as you bring your left foot forward again to meet your right. Turn to face forward in the chair, close your eyes and take a few breaths noticing the effects of the pose. To take the second side, turn your body to face the opposite way, your left hip will now face the back of the chair. Moving slowly and mindfully, repeat the steps above.
Sit on the edge of a your chair seat with your right hip and shoulder facing the back of the chair and your feet hip-width apart, facing to the right. Close your eyes for a moment and do your best to press down evenly through your right and left sit bones. Keep this connection to your seat and inhale, lifting the crown of your head towards the sky. With this action, imagine creating space between each vertebrae of the spine. Open the eyes and, on an exhale, turn your torso to face the back of the chair and hold onto the seat back with both hands. Your right hand should be more-or-less in line with your right shoulder, your left hand with your left shoulder. Notice if your left foot and/or left hip moved forward and do your best to realign so your left foot is in line with your right.
Again, stay rooted through your seat and, as you inhale, lengthen your spine. As you exhale begin to twist your torso to the right. Most likely, your left hip will slide forward slightly. Allow this to happen, but do not actively twist the pelvis, rather start your twist from the navel and gradually move your twist up to your rib cage and then shoulders. Keep your gaze at the horizon or, if your neck allows, turn to look over your right shoulder.
Stay here for 5-8 breaths. With each breath in, lengthen your spine. With each breath out, twist more deeply. To release the pose, slowly unwind on an inhale. Turn to face forward in the chair, close your eyes and take a moment to notice the effects of the pose. Now, turn your body to the left and repeat the steps from the first side.
Standing Forward Bend Holding Elbows
Stand with your feet slightly wider than your outer hips. Make sure your toes are pointing straight forward, the inner edges of your feet parallel. Place your hands on your hips and generously bend your knees. Inhale and lift through the crown of your head growing your spine long. Exhale as you hinge at your hips and fold forward over your legs. Do your best to make a crisp fold at the hips rather than folding at the waist. Release your hands down and hold onto opposite elbows. If you feel any strain in your lower back, bend your knees more deeply. Let your head release completely so the top of your head aims toward the floor. Keeping your elbows clasped, bring your upper arms in line with your ears so your left and right side waists stay long. Keep your weight pressing evenly through your heels and stay here for 1 minute taking slow, deep breaths. Feel free to sway gently from side to side or stay as you are.
When you are ready to come up, bring your hands to your hips. Keep your knees bent and inhale as you rise halfway up bringing your torso parallel to the floor. Exhale here and draw your elbows toward your midline as you widen across the chest. Press down through both feet and inhale all the way up to stand. Drop your chin to your chest on your exhale and pause for a few breaths noticing how you feel.
Quiet Sit with Eyes Closed
Return to your seat. This time sit with your spine supported by the back of the chair. Place your feet hip-width apart and your hands face down on your thighs. Lengthen up through your spine and allow the sides of the neck to soften. Gently move your shoulder heads back in space until you feel a soft widening across the chest and, simultaneously, soften your front ribs in towards your spine. Close your eyes and soften your jaw. Bring your awareness onto your breath and try to make your inhales and exhales equal in length. Once you have found this, stay here for 10 cycles of breath noticing the sensation of the breath as it moves in and out through your nostrils and the subtle movements of your belly, ribs and chest with each breath in and out.
Open your eyes, widen your smile and take a moment to notice your surroundings and how you feel.