You don't always have to take a lengthy movement break when you're busy at the office or seated on a long plane ride. And you don't have to roll out your mat and put on a pair of colorful leggings to practice yoga. There are several poses you can do sitting in a chair! And the benefits are more than just a mental break from your to-do list.
"Recent studies in people with mild to moderate chronic low back pain suggest that a carefully adapted set of yoga postures may help reduce pain and improve the ability to walk and move," according to the National Institutes of Health. And approximately 25 percent of Americans are physically inactive, reporting no physical activity outside of their regular job in the last 30 days, according to the annual report from America's Health Rankings.
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Movement is medicine, especially as more and more people are working at desks behind a computer screen for hours a day. It doesn't matter how many poses you're able to do. Even a few minutes of practice a day — whether it's through breathing, mindfulness and meditation or asana (poses) — is powerful.
If you're having a hectic workday and you're glued to your office chair or you want to stay active without putting weight on your lower body, stay connected to your body and breath with these yoga poses to help you release tension.
1. Upward Hand Pose (Urdhva Hastasana)
If you're feeling that 3 p.m. dip in energy, Staci Dooreck, author of SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga for Everyone! recommends this quick one-minute pose to re-energize.
- Inhale and lift your arms overhead shoulder-width apart, palms facing each other.
- Exhale as you lower your arms.
- Repeat five to 10 times or hold the arms overhead for three to five slow, deep breaths, then exhale as you lower them.
2. Seated Cat-Cow (Marjaryasana-Bitilasana)
This pose is a staple in promoting spine health. It's important to move your spine fully and actively through flexion and extension to release fluid over the joints and maintain mobility.
- Sit upright toward the edge of your chair with feet flat on the floor.
- Inhale and arch your spine, gently dropping your head back to open the throat.
- Exhale and flex your spine, drawing your navel to your spine and moving your shoulder blades away from each other.
- Sync movement and breath as you perform a few rounds of this pose.
3. Seated Forward Bend (Uttanasana)
Sitting in a chair for long period of time can compress your spine, particularly the lumbar spine. Gain traction with Uttanasana, a forward bend that flexes and elongates your back.
- Sit in the center of your chair with knees bent and wider than shoulder distance apart, feet on the floor.
- Inhale as you lift and draw up out of the pelvis.
- Exhale and hinge forward at the hips, allowing the crown of your head to come toward the floor and releasing your cervical spine.
- Place your hands beside your feet and take five to 10 robust breaths.
4. Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)
This pose opens the hips and stretches the groins and adductors. For an added bonus, fold forward to stretch your lower back.
- Sit up tall and bring the soles of your feet together. Let your knees open to the sides and feel a stretch in your inner thighs.
- You can gently press your elbows into your inner thighs to increase the stretch along the adductors.
- To deepen the pose, inhale and sit up tall, then exhale and hinge at your hips as you fold forward, maintaining length in your spine.
5. Chair Supported Warrior 2 to Reverse Warrior
Warrior 2 is strong pose for opening the hips, building strength in the legs and improving spinal alignment and core strength. You can do it either standing behind your desk or sitting at the edge of your chair and allowing the chair to provide some support.
- Come to the edge of your seat. Align your right leg so that the side of your inner thigh is parallel to the right edge of the chair.
- Extend your left leg out to the side away from the chair. Your right heel should line up with the arch of your left foot.
- Press down into the floor to activate your legs. Draw your navel in toward your spine, stack your vertebrae and lift your breast bone upward to open the chest.
- Spread your arms out to the sides parallel to the floor, palms facing down.
- Relax your shoulders and breathe for five to 10 cycles.
- To reverse your warrior, bring your left hand down to your outer thigh and extend your right arm up and over to elongate your waistline and feel a deep side body stretch.
- Hold for a few breaths and repeat on the other side.
6. Spinal Twist (Bharadvajasana)
Feeling a little bloated after lunch? Twists are beneficial for aiding healthy digestion as well as detoxification. They also help to decompress the spine and strengthen your abdominal muscles and obliques.
- Sit sideways on your chair.
- Inhale and sit up tall, engaging the pelvic floor and lifting the breast bone while being mindful not to hyperextend your back.
- With an exhale, twist by turning your ribcage, shoulders and head toward the chair and look over your shoulder.
- Breathe deeply for five to 10 breaths.
- Repeat on the other side.
Read more: 10 Yoga Poses for a Better Night's Sleep
7. Chair Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)
"Many people are overstressed, overworked and sitting all day. It's a recipe for dysfunction," says Cody Storey, movement and mobility specialist. One of the main problem areas when it comes to loss of movement quality is the hips. Find external rotation of the hips with Chair Pigeon pose.
- Bring one ankle over the opposite thigh and bring the knee into a 90 degree angle.
- Externally rotate the femur and feel a stretch along the back side of your glute and hip.
- Press your knee toward the floor to deepen the stretch.
- Hold for five to 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
8. Cow Face Pose (Gomukhasana)
Tight shoulders and hips? This pose hits both! Try this pose to reclaim mobility in both the upper and lower body.
- Cross your legs so your knees are stacked (right leg on top), then draw the heels up alongside your hips.
- Reach your right arm up toward the ceiling and bend at the elbow, reaching your fingers down your spine.
- Bring the opposite arm up your back from the bottom, bending at the elbow.
- If possible, clasp your hands together.
- Sit tall and breathe for 10 breaths.
- Gently release and repeat on the other side.
9. Scale Pose (Tolasana)
Turn your core on! Activating your core is essential when it comes to good posture, alignment and deep breathing. A strong midsection helps hold your spine erect to avoid slouching and all the aches and pains that may result from it. This pose is challenging, but also playful.
- Cross your legs at your ankles to come into easy sitting pose.
- Place your hands on the seat or on your arm rest, wrists directly under your shoulders.
- Pull your knees toward your chest and draw navel to spine as you press into your hands, straighten your arms and lift up out of your seat, hovering for a few breaths.
- Slowly release back down.
- Take a breath or two and repeat two to five times.
10. Alternate-Nostril Breathing (Anuloma Pranayama)
If you're stressed and the yoga asanas alone aren't doing it for you, try this pranayama (breath regulation) practice to recenter. A regular practice of alternate-nostril breathing decreased the impacts of chronic stress, according to a 2019 review published in the Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine.
- With your right hand, curl the index and middle finger in toward your palm.
- Extend the thumb and keep the ring and pinkie finger together.
- Place your thumb on your right nostril and apply pressure to close the right nostril.
- Breathe in through your left nostril.
- Exhale through the right nostril as you close the left nostril with your ring finger.
- Repeat for two to five minutes focusing on your breathing.
- When finished sit quietly in meditation for a few minutes.
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- National Institutes of Health: Yoga eases moderate to severe chronic low back pain
- America's Health Rankings: 2018 Annual Report
- Staci Dooreck, author of SunLight Chair Yoga: Yoga for Everyone!
- Cody Storey, movement and mobility specialist
- Journal of Ayurveda and Integrative Medicine: Effects of yogic breath regulation: A narrative review of scientific evidence