Updated: Feb 19, 2020
Taking a short yoga stretch at the office is proven to have many health benefits including reduced stress, improved productivity, relieved tension in the neck, back, shoulders and hips, as well as improved posture.
I have compiled a list of 6 simple yoga poses you can do at your desk that are also not awkward to perform in the presence of judgemental colleagues :)
How often do you come back home with a pain in the back, shoulders, neck, or tension in the hips after a long day at work?
Do you also spend around eight hours a day at your desk, only taking non-sitting breaks when it involves getting more coffee from the canteen?
There is a high risk that your lack of movement throughout the days is slowly creating long-term damage to your physical and mental health. Perhaps, you are already feeling the effects of stress, and lack of movement, or it may be on the way of manifesting itself in more subtle ways in the future.
Either way, it is not too late to do something about it.
When I was working a typical office job, I had great luck of having a certified yoga teacher in my team. Once a week, we would have a lunch yoga session where she would give us the best exercises to release tension in our back, hips, neck and arms - the parts of our body that have a tendency to become stiff due to sitting jobs.
Although the lunch yoga sessions were only once a week, those days, I used to feel the benefits immediately.
Not only did I feel as though a lot of tension has been released physically, everywhere in my body, but also mentally. I felt more productive after the lunch yoga session and more ready to tackle my tasks than during the days I didn't have yoga.
Here's why it is great to do yoga when taking a break at the office:
It reduces stress
Practicing yoga during your break gives you a great chance to be mindful and tune in to the present moment and the thoughts that tend to run on autopilot during a workday.
Bringing your awareness to your breath and the movement of your body, as you perform yoga poses, takes your attention away from your thoughts and instead helps you focus on each feeling at the present moment.
Moving with your breath as well as doing some breath exercises that are often practiced in yoga calms down the sympathetic nervous system, which tends to be over-activated in stressful situations at work.
A study found that as little as 15 minutes of desk yoga at the office helps to reduce stress (1).
For more information on how to reduce stress, check our my earlier blog post about five scientifically-proven ways to reduce stress.
It boosts productivity
Yoga is a form of physical movement, and movement increases blood circulation. As we sit for extended periods of time, our blood circulation tends to decrease, which may lead to less oxygen being accessible for our brain. Less oxygen accessing the brain makes us feel sluggish and tired.
By practicing yoga, our blood circulation increases, giving better access of oxygen to the brain. We therefore become more alert and full of energy.
Our motivation to complete tasks increases as the energy levels go up, which makes us more goal-oriented and productive (2). It also helps us to be less distracted.
Therefore, taking a small yoga-break could actually be more beneficial to our energy levels than taking a coffee break.
It improves posture
Bad posture is no news for us with desk jobs as we tend to spend a lot of time sitting down, curving our spine, crossed legs, resting our heads on one hand and possibly hunching over our computers.
Neck, back and hips end up being very tense due to prolonged hours of sitting at our desks without getting up and moving.
There are a number of yoga poses that are very effective in relieving tension in our joints and strengthening the small muscles that are responsible for improving our overall posture. I have compiled a list of easy yoga poses that you can do at your desk to relieve the most affected areas below!
For more health benefits of practicing yoga, check out my previous blog post about six proven health benefits of yoga!
So, by taking short yoga breaks, you can both relieve tension and pain in areas affected by sitting down, as well as prevent further complications by improving your overall posture.
Yoga is great to do daily at the office. However, if you aren't as lucky as I was and don't have a yoga teacher at your workplace, you may have to learn how to do the poses yourself. That's why I compiled a list of easy and mindful yoga poses below, that you can try right now, if you are reading this post at the office (I'm flattered that this what you chose to do on your break), or are at home and have a desk nearby (I'm sure you do).
It's also likely that you are sharing the office with some colleagues and do not have a separate space, where you could practice full yoga flows alone and undisturbed.
Don't you worry, I do know how awkward and even embarrassing it can feel to do proper yoga poses by your desk.
That's why I compiled a list of poses that are "judgemental colleagues-friendly", so you don't have to feel uncomfortable and skip yoga stretches with all its benefits altogether.
Here are a few poses you could do daily at the office:
1. Release tension from your wrists
Bend your wrists in all directions and move them in circles. Then use the other hand to press the wrist up and down, stretching it out further.
Hold your hands in front of your chest, palms facing outward, with your elbows horizontally pulling away from each other. Grasp your wrist with your middle finger and thumb and gently pull the elbows apart. You may feel a small space in between your hand and the forearm, as the wrist releases tension.
Shake your hands in all directions to release the remaining tension. Start by holding your hands in chest height, with your palms facing downward. Shake your hands in this position for a while. Then do the same, but with palms facing upward.
2. Roll your shoulders, also engaging your neck and back
Roll your shoulders up and backward. Imagine massaging your back with the two bones of the scapula and open the chest as you roll the shoulders backward, while inhaling. Exhale as you start rounding your spine forward.
Roll your shoulders and neck in the forward direction. Exhale as your spine curves forward and your shoulders are moving forward and down.
Repeat this a few rounds and focus on your breathing as you perform each movement.
3. Backbend while sitting down
Put your hands up as you inhale and bend your spine backwards, reaching up and slightly back with your hands, without leaning back on your chair. As you exhale, look up to the ceiling, or behind you if you can bend that far and stay in this position for a few breaths.
Repeat as many times as you'd like to.
4. Twist your lower back
Sit in the chair and inhale elongating your spine - imagine that there is a thread dragging you upwards to the ceiling from the top of you head.
Exhale twisting your back backwards, to one side of the chair. Hold on to the armrest of the chair, or behind you. Make sure you are feeling the twist on the lower back and mid-spine the most.
Stay in this position for a few breaths and then change sides.
5. Back release
Stand up, away from your desk. Bend forward and let your back, neck, shoulders and head relax and just hang loose. You can have your arms hanging down, or grab onto your opposite elbows and stay in this position.
In order to fully make sure you are fully releasing the tension, shake your head yes and nod your head no a few times.
Stay here a few breaths and then slowly roll up, one vertebra at a time, starting from your lower back. Your neck and head should come up last.
6. Hip release
Sit up straight in your chair. Put your outer right ankle on your left thigh, making a figure four, or a variation of a pigeon pose.
Have your right hand rest on your right knee and your left hand on your right ankle.
Keeping the back straight at all times, exhale by bending forward from your hip as much as you can.
Stay in this bend for a few breaths, then change sides.
Doing these quick yoga poses at work several times a day, especially when you start to feel your energy levels are about to go down can often be more effective than taking a coffee break.
That's because yoga tunes you in in to the present moment, taking your attention away from the autopilot train of thoughts to your breath and the way your body is moving. This in turn relieves stress and improves your productivity.
Being a form of a physical exercise, yoga improves the blood circulation and breathing that tend to be quite bad as we sit down for prolonged periods of time. This leads to increased energy and even better posture, preventing future problems of the areas mostly affected by desk jobs.
Stay tuned for more science-backed evidence and tips on mindfulness that I will post in this blog, by subscribing to my mailing list.
I am very interested to hear your opinion and tips on what you'd like to read about in this blog, so you are more than welcome to leave a comment here, or contact me on email@example.com :)
Laura | MSc in Medical Science, Creator of The Greater Mindfulness
1. Melville, G. W., Chang, D., Colagiuri, B., Marshall, P. W., & Cheema, B. S. (2012). Fifteen Minutes of Chair-Based Yoga Postures or Guided Meditation Performed in the Office Can Elicit a Relaxation Response. Evidence-Based Complementary and Alternative Medicine, 2012, 9. https://doi.org/10.1155/2012/501986
2. Sjøgaard, Gisela & Christensen, Jeanette & Justesen, Just & Murray, Mike & Dalager, Tina & Fredslund, Gitte & Søgaard, Karen. (2016). Exercise is more than medicine: The working age population's wellbeing and productivity. Journal of Sport and Health Science. 5. 10.1016/j.jshs.2016.04.004.