For millennia, yogis and yogini’s have been collectively chanting, sweating and bending themselves into pretzels not only to flex their muscles, massage their minds and reinvigorate their souls, but also to offer the benefits of their practice for the betterment of all beings. Alas, modern man—in his infinite wisdom—has come to center his world around the computer. This means many a wonderful thing: the ability to Skype with international friends, online shopping and e-learning.
It’s important, though, to recognize our bodies’ need for movement. When we don’t move, we not only lose flexibility and slump our shoulders, but we also inhibit our circulation. This blocked blood flow, blocks the flow of prana (life force) or qi (“chee”) as it’s called in Chinese medicine. Blockages equals a plethora of ailments—lack of lymph drainage, lethargy, excess muscular/emotional tension amongst others.
But what to do—you’re working toward your degree, working in an office—there’s no escape. There is Yoga. Yoga, done on the mat, at the beach, or at your desk can provide a compensatory series of stretches and strength balancing postures to help re-balance the computer-weary body. The ancient practice, born in India, has fantastic physical benefits for the mind, body and spirit: the whole kit and caboodle. Yoga coordinates breath with movement as it asks you to release and surrender rather than strive and “do”. To bring yoga to the computer-bound, we’ve polled the yoga community and compiled experts’ suggestions for alleviating the elearner’s common cramps and preventing potential complaints.
Lindsey Lewis, My Yoga Online
Lindsey Lewis, the Wellness Program Coordinator at My Yoga Online provides a comprehensive guide to surviving the study slump. In her essential guide to desk-yoga Lindsey writes:
- Take seven minutes for yourself to practice these simple stretches targeting muscle tension and fatigue caused by sitting at a desk. It’s best to remove glasses, shoes, and socks for these stretches, if you can. Make sure you stay balanced: do these exercises on both sides. Also, breathe deep. See if you can match your movement to your breath.
- Cross one leg over the other, thigh on top of thigh, or—if you can—ankle on top of knee. Inhale and extend tall through the crown of your head; exhale fold forward, hinging from your hips and drawing your belly button in and up so your core stays supportive and strong.
To release the neck Lindsey says:
“Think about drawing a figure eight with the crown of your head. As you exhale, drop your chin towards your chest; keep exhaling as you draw your chin towards your right shoulder and drop your head back only as far as feels comfortable for you. Inhaling, drop your chin back towards your chest, and then roll it towards your left shoulder, behind you, and back towards your chest. Repeat 10 times.”
Read the whole guide here, along with other yoga, Pilates, meditation, dance and health tip videos.
Rachel, the Suburban Yogini
Rachel, the Suburban Yogini, also shares tips for those confined to the computer:
- Head and shoulder circles – rotate the shoulders a few times in each direction, working with the rhythm of the breath, role the head slowly in semi circles (ear to shoulder – chin to chest – other ear to other shoulder and back again) a few times.
- Stretch the arms out to the sides and up interlocking the fingers and pushing the palms up towards the ceiling. On an exhale, keeping both sitting bones on your chair, stretch over to the right. Inhale back to centre and exhale to the left. Repeat twice more to each side and then release the arms down.
- Take the right hand onto the left side of your chair and the left hand on to the back of your chair and twist to the left on an exhale. Hold for 5 breaths and release. Repeat to the other side.
- Hold on to the back of your chair at about waist height. Open the chest and roll the shoulders back and down. Bring the focus to the heart centre and breathe. Take at least 5 breaths here.
- Exhale and fold forward, abdomen on your thighs, release the head and neck and allow the lower back to release. Stay here for about 5 breaths (if colleagues are looking at you in a peculiar fashion you can always pretend you’ve dropped something on the floor!)
Lexi, Lexi Yoga
Lexi, of the health/yoga blog Lexi Yoga, comments that:
“When spending a lot of time studying or working in front of a computer, there is a tendency to hunch your back, and ruin your posture. It’s important to take breaks to stretch your spine to avoid back pains and improve your posture. Having a strong back can help prevent any future aches and pains. I recommend a series of yoga postures that should be practiced daily. Yoga can also improve blood circulation throughout your body, which is needed for students or individuals who sit for long periods of time.”
Here is a video of Melanie demonstrating some yoga postures to strengthen your back and give your body a nice stretch.
Emma, The Joy Of Yoga
Emma, blogger at The Joy of Yoga elaborates on the core problem:
“The real issue for people who sit at the computer for hours every day, and believe me I count myself in there, is that it’s basically one long forward bend. Actually, most everything we do during the course of a normal day is a forward bend. Tying our shoes, washing the dishes, folding the laundry… all these things require a forward bend at the stomach or hips (usually the stomach). The best thing you can do to help your body, and restart your brain, is to do a small, gentle back-bend.”
Here’s her solution:
- Scoot all the way forward in your seat (a hard seat is better).
- Take both hands, fingers facing forward behind your sitting bones.
- Pushing your stomach as far forward as you can, inhale and try and drop your head back to rest on the top of the chair. You might not to able to reach, but the idea is to open your chest as much as possible.
- Hold for 5-10 breaths. As you come back to a normal seated position, exhale. If this hurts your neck, you can drop your chin towards you chest, and just focus on pushing the chest forward and up.
Paul McCartney, The Beatles
Regarding eye strain, leave it to one of modern music’s greatest bards to school you in how to preserve your eye-sight. Needing no introduction: Paul McCartney on “eye yoga”.
Rachel, The Capricious Yogini
Rachel, the Capricious Yogi, provides a good rule of thumb for balancing the stagnancy of sitting with sufficient stretching:
“For every hour that you sit at the computer, you should move and stretch for at least 10 minutes. When you stay in one position too long your muscles shorten, which leads to stiffness and bad circulation. By getting up and moving around, you undo the stiffness, encourage blood flow to the muscles, and give your eyes a rest.”
Rachel elaborates on her favorite asanas to throw off the desk-blues:
- Standing Forward Fold: Stand with feet hips distance and fold from the waist, try not to lock the knees. Relax the neck and allow the hands to dangle towards the floor. Close your eyes and focus on each inhalation and exhalation allowing gravity to pull you closer towards the floor. Stay here and breathe for about 2 minutes. Standing in a simple forward fold will stretch the hamstrings, release tension in the low back, and bring fresh blood and oxygen to the brain.
- Shoulder Opener (the anti-computer hunch): Either standing or sitting, take hands behind the back, interlace fingers working towards a fist. Keep rotating the shoulders back towards one another to open across the chest. Begin to lift the hands away from the back to feel a deeper stretch in the shoulders. Inhale and exhale slowly while continuing to stretch and open. Stay here for about 5-10 rounds of breath.
Lisa B. Minn, The Pragmatic Yogi
Lisa B. Minn, the lady behind The Pragmatic Yogi, concurs that:
“The number one thing that people working all day at a computer can do is to back away from the computer, squeeze the shoulder blades back/inhale, exhale/relax. Repeat 3-5 times. Most importantly, they should do this very often. Ideally, every 20 minutes but at LEAST every hour. Set a timer to chime as a reminder and eventually it will become an automatic habit. This exercise often works very well for physical therapy patients with neck and shoulder pain […] I’m sure it would work even better to make it a habit before any pain sets in.”
Roseanne, It’s All Yoga Baby
Roseanne at It’s All Yoga Baby offers another tip for opening the shoulders/arms, the Eagle Arms:
“Stretch your arms in front of you, then cross one over the other. Bend your elbows and wrap your forearms around each other, until your palms touch (or, come close to touching). This opens the shoulders, stretches the forearms, and prevents repetitive strain injuries. Simple shoulder neck rolls are great to do also.”
Joni, The Accidental Yogist
Joni at The Accidental Yogist interviewed L.A. teacher, Steven Espinosa, about desk-yoga. Her post offers some innovative tips including:
- Reach over your head with your right hand and hold your left ear. Use your right hand to gently bend your head to the right. Feel the stretch along the left side of your neck. Hold and breathe. Repeat on the other side.
- Clasp your hands and place them on top of your head. Try to get your elbows to point as far back as you can. While pushing down with your hands, push up with your head. This should give both your neck and your shoulders a nice stretch. Hold; release.
Release more tension here at her full post.
Sara, Do Restorative Yoga
At the end of the day, after you’ve sat, studied and hopefully stretched—one is pretty cooked (some might even say burnt). Even if one’s about to bop in to bed, it’s important to restore the body/blood flow so the body can nurture itself while sleeping. Sara of Do Restorative Yoga provides an awesome suggestion for reinvigorating a sedentary body. Sara says:
“Take a break from [your] studies to go upside down by taking the pose ‘Legs-on-a-Chair.’ This will help relieve stress, get rid of neck and back pain and it will help send any fluids that are stuck in the legs and ankles back to the heart to be recycled.”
Check out the full article for specific instructions on Sara’s adapted shoulder stand.
Finally, the playful Holly Westergren (aka H. West) comments on both the physical and spiritual consequences of desk confinement:
“This next generation has lost the art of relating to others simply because they are always hooked up to some kind of virtual reality. So, the first thing I would tell your audience is to take more breaks from the computer and get out into the world, connect to real people.”
“About computer hunchback—your spine is your lifeline, people. And if you sit for hours at a computer, slaving away at your studies, feeding your mind but ignoring your body, something’s gotta give and that something is usually your back. To keep the back healthy while you’re in super stressed out study-mode try these exercises:”
- Neck Rolls and Self- Massage:Drop your chin to your chest and slowly roll your head towards your right shoulder. Drop your chin back to your chest then slowly roll your head to the left shoulder. Continue to make half-circles with the neck, breathing slowly. When you’re through, take a moment to massage your neck yourself. You don’t need to wait for someone else to do it! Use your fingers to knead away the tension in the upper back and to improve circulation to this tense area.
- Shoulder Stretch: Sitting up tall in a chair with your feet on the ground, raise your right hand above your head, bend your elbow and reach the right hand down your back. Now take your left hand and reach it around your back and try to get both hands to interlock. If they don’t reach, don’t worry, just try your best. Draw your belly into towards your spine and sit up nice and straight. Keep your chin parallel to the floor. Take ten deep breaths here, breathing in through your nose and out through your nose, with a closed mouth. Switch sides. You will feel an opening in the chest as well as great stretch and relief for the shoulders.
- Put Your Books On Your Head:No, really. Try it. There is no better way to find balance and proper postural alignment than to try this old trick. At the very least, it will make you laugh at yourself, which will relax you and remind you not to take whatever your doing so seriously that you miss out on life, laughter, and joy.
- Close Your Eyes, Sit, and Breathe:You know those moments when you want to throw your laptop in the ocean and pull your hair out? Even 5 minutes of sitting still and concentrating on your breath can do wonders for the nervous system and overall mood. Take a moment to put everything you are worrying about in perspective. Give thanks for all the blessings in your life. Feel peace in your heart. Breathe.
Indeed, if nothing else breathe. As with many things in this world, we only do as much as we need to in order to survive—which means we use about 30 percent of our actual breath capacity. Yoga abounds in specific types of breath work which each facilitate different benefits. The 2 forms below are the most accessible forms of yogic breathing:
- Kalabati: Also known as “breath of fire” (fierce, right?) this breath renovates, cleans out and totally energizes everything. After inhaling and exhaling completely, inhale half way. From there, begin releasing short, sharp exhales through the nose alone. As you do so, allow the inhale to become passive. The punctuated exhales, via the nose, are supported deep from the pelvic floor with diaphragmatic support. Close your eyes, imagine all the toxins fleeing your system, the endorphins releasing. A couple rounds, faithfully attending to the details, and you just might incur yourself a natural high…of sorts.
- Alternate nostril breathing: This breathing can prove really calming as it balances energy by balancing the body’s right and left sides. There are fancy finger mudras one can use if she wishes to be super-yogini, but at the end of a long day, it’s just important to rejuvenate the lungs. Simply close off the right nostril, inhale for 4 to 8 counts through the left, close off the left (so that the breath is retained for, ideally, however many counts you inhaled for), than exhale through the right. Repeat this cycle, on the opposite side, by inhaling through the right. Continue for as many cycles as bring you peace—trying to strive for a minimum of 5.
Implementing all of the above, at once, is Herculean and not necessary. If you do get around to it all: A+–your gold star will ship out shortly. For the rest of us mortals, pick and choose what appeals to you, start there and be with that. Steal away from the computer for at least 7 minutes to decompress and soon it won’t be enough—you’ll be a full-fledged yoga-addict. Yes, you’re online degree is critical to your career, but you are critical to…you!…to living fully. So shanti (peace) and Namaste (the light in me honors the light in you)—and now (sigh) back to the computer.