Even if you remember to stand up and stretch out from time to time, working at a desk all day can leave the body feeling achy, stiff, and at worse, in real pain.
Sitting in a chair all day is profoundly bad for the human body, but there are a few things that we can do to counteract the effects.
Stretching is often overlooked. We tend to think of it as something we do before we go out for a run and maybe after finishing, but most of the time we don’t consider it as a useful technique in itself. Stretching comes with numerous health benefits, including the strengthening of muscles, improving posture, helping with digestion, and even an improvement of mental health, especially when combined with breathing techniques.
A few stretches in the morning don’t take too much time to do but can have a huge influence on how your body feels for the rest of the day. Here are 5 stretches to help you get going.
A yoga favourite, downward facing dog does wonders for the lower body, but also strengthens the upper body, increases circulation, and improves your posture.
To do it, begin on all fours, preferably on a yoga mat or even a blanket. Start by lifting your knees slightly and tucking your toes, then extend your legs back and push up at the same time, so you finish in a rough v-shape.
If when you get to this position your calves feel tight, you can always peddle a little on your toes, a little like you would on a bike. This is a great way to loosen up the leg muscles.
For those suffering from a bad lower back, cat-cow should really be part of your everyday routine.
Again, begin on all fours and make sure you keep your hands shoulder-width apart and your knees directly below your hips. Start with a deep inhale while also curving your lower back and raising your head towards the ceiling - creating the “cow” part of the stretch.
Then, on a slow exhale, bring your abdomen in, arch your spine and tuck your head and pelvis down - creating the “cat” part. Repeat this process ten or 20 times.
The combination of stretching and breathing will leave you not only nicely loose but also incredibly calm.
When our body feels sore at the end of the day our initial instinct is to think about muscles, but if you’re sitting down the majority of your time, the problem is likely to at least be partly down to your spine.
We don’t move our spines anywhere near as much as we are supposed to, but a few spinal twists are certainly a good start. This will not only stretch out your spine but also releases tension in the lower body and even aids digestion.
Start by lying face-up on the floor then bring your left knee up towards your chest. Hold here a second, with both hands pulling the knee closer, before moving it over to your right side and shifting your gaze to the left.
This should create a nice twist in the body. Hold here for ten seconds before reversing the process until you are flat on the floor once again, before swapping sides and repeating the process but going the opposite directions of course.
Cobra is one stretch that does absolute wonders for the lower back. Start by lying on your stomach and placing your hands flat underneath your shoulders. Slowly raise your chest and head up off the ground while keeping the elbows tucked in by your side.
This should leave the top half of the body with a nice curve, while the lower half, hips, groin, and legs remain flat again on the floor. Hold this stretch for 15-20 seconds, before lowering slowly back down to the floor.
Our last entry here is a little different, in that it isn’t so much a single stretch, but a short routine that has been practised for thousands of years.
Sun salutations, or Surya Namaskar in Sanskrit, is a series of stretches that are designed to be done together, over a ten or 20 minute period. Sun salutations can be done fast, which provides good cardiovascular exercise, or slower, which allows you to focus on deeper stretching while linking with your breathing.
Sun salutations are an excellent way to start the day as it gives the body a quick full-body stretch, but can also be done in the afternoon if you need to revitalise a tired body.
As mentioned earlier, stretches are often seen as just something we do before more rigorous exercise. Not only is this completely wrong, but not stretching then sitting in a chair for the entire day will almost certainly lead to problems in the body.
Like anything, it’s about finding what’s best for you and this will no doubt include what parts of your body feel achy at the end of the day and also in the morning. Take some time for yourself each morning and do some stretching - your body will thank you for it.