The Five Best Yoga Poses for a Great Work Day (And when to do them!)

This post appears in a slightly different form on the Sterling College blog, Working Hands Working Minds!

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Quick, do a body scan. Are you hunched over your keyboard while you read this? Are your shoulders sneaking up to your ears?

If you have ever suffered a headache, neck cramp, or poor indigestion bad posture may be the culprit. According to the Cleveland Clinic, posture isn’t just about how well you can walk with a book on your head. How you sit at the computer matters too.

I admit, I frequently find myself slumped in my chair throughout the workday even though I’m a trained yoga instructor!

Sitting for too long causes certain muscle groups to tighten over time while the opposing muscle groups weaken from lack of use. If this becomes the norm, poor alignment can begin to wreck havoc on your life.

Our goal is to stretch and loosen the tight muscles to help them to relax, while strengthening weaker muscles to invite them into alignment. This leads to better posture, less pain and even greater happiness!

As an added bonus, good posture on the job means all your muscle groups are working more efficiently aiding in the conservation of energy. Your brain will use all that saved energy for important tasks like thinking clearly!

I rely on a go-to set of yoga poses to reboot whenever I find myself in a slump. If I’m really on my game, I’ll do a few of these poses throughout the day. They work to keep the spine nimble and the mind strong whether done before, during, or after the workday.

Let’s dive in!

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When you arrive at work try…

Neck circles

Why?: All too often we act like our bodies are just vehicles to transfer the brain from place to place. Acknowledging the physical connection of brain and body via the neck helps to mentally reconnect us to what’s happening to us physically. The state of the body affects the mind’s capacity to function; we are one integrated whole even if we don’t always feel like it. Starting out the day moving the neck reminds us to pay attention to everything going on below the head, too.

Moving your neck in circles is a simple movement that also helps to link activity and breath.

Check in: Are you holding your breath while you read? Thought so.

A quick neck circle will improve the connection between how you move and how you breathe. Besides, it’s an easy way to give yourself a cheap neck massage–who doesn’t love that?

How to do it: The neck is sensitive, as you’re probably well aware, and it’s important not to be too aggressive with your movements especially early in the morning.

Start with your eyes facing forward, head level. Imagine a clock in front of you and circle the clock slowly with your nose. Try to go one full rotation on an inhale and one full rotation on the exhale. Do a few rounds in each direction.

After responding to your email try…

Cat/Cow Curls 

Why?: You got into a groove as you hit reply over and over and over… But you probably weren’t paying attention to your posture or breathing while you responded. By now, you’re slumped forward in your seat creating compression on the spine which prevents adequate blood flow and can lead to a late afternoon back ache. Do some cat/cow curls on your chair to prevent this from happening. These movements soften and lubricate the spine creating space between the vertebrae, which increases circulation.

cat cow curls

How to do it: Sit forward on the edge of your chair, feet planted firmly on the floor. As you inhale, lean forward and jut out your chest looking up at the ceiling. As you exhale, curl your back, tuck the chin and gaze toward your belly. Move between the two positions as you inhale and exhale.

Before a meeting try…

Number 4 Pose

Why? Sitting for long periods tightens the hips and can cause pain in the legs or back. The last thing you want to be doing in an important meeting is fidgeting to get comfortable! Take a moment to unwind before you sit for a long period again.

And there are bonus points for this pose! The Number 4 closely resembles one of the high-power poses described by Amy Cuddy in her now famous TED Talk on the power of body language. Sitting in a position like the one in the picture below on the left just prior to a meeting can help you communicate with confidence. Try it out and report back here in the comments!

high power pose

How to do it: Come to the edge of your chair, sit tall with feet flat on the floor toes pointing forward. Keep ankles aligned under your knees. Cross your right ankle over the left knee keeping the right foot flexed to protect the joints. With a long spine, lean forward over the legs. You should feel the stretch in the hips. Do the same stretch on the other side.

For the power pose: Sit forward in your chair, cross one ankle over opposite knee. Lean back in your chair and lift arms up interlacing fingers behind your head. Add a small smile for good measure. Remember you’re awesome!

Before you break for lunch try…

Knee to Chest

Why? Before you break to eat you’ll want to prep the body for the food you’re going to consume by initiating the digestive process. Massaging the internal organs activates the digestive system, like taking your computer out of sleep mode. An added benefit of this pose is that it will stretch out the hips again which you’ll need after sitting through that meeting.

How to do it: Sit tall in your chair feet planted flat on the floor. Lift one knee up and hug it to your chest as best you can. Hold for 10-15 seconds then switch sides. Do a couple rounds with each leg.

After your last task of the day try…

Seated Spinal Twist

Why? A seated twist stretches the ribs and activates the respiratory muscles, aiding in deep breathing. It also massages the internal organs helping you to digest your lunch.

Additionally, as you twist and look behind you, you have the opportunity to acknowledge all that you accomplished during the day. Give yourself some praise for a job well done!

yoga-at-work

How to do it: Sit tall at the edge of your chair, chin parallel to the floor. Firmly plant your feet and keeping them facing straight out in front of you. Take a deep inhale and on the exhale twist toward the right bringing left hand to your right knee or thigh. Place the right hand behind you on the seat or the top of the chair for support. With each exhale see if you can move a bit deeper into the twist by squeezing the belly into the spine. Be aware not to torque yourself just for the sake of going deeper! Hold for at least 30 seconds then switch sides.

#natanyayogadaily

#natanyayogadailyDuring times of transition and uncertainty I always find solace in my yoga practice. It’s during the times when things are easeful and going well that I’m apt to lapse and slide into the mindset that I can skip a practice… or three… or ten. But when things are feeling particularly stressful I know that the best remedy involves my bare feet, a sticky mat, and a deep breath. Yoga attunes the mind as much as the body and I’ve come to rely on the early morning (or late night) moments to find my emotional center. Some days recently I’ve woken tired and cranky and it’s been hard to get out of my warm bed to face the day. The last thing I want to do is get up to spend 20 minutes on the mat when I could press snooze instead. But being accountable to show up has been such a blessing.

If you follow me on Instagram (@natanyahaviva) you’ve noticed I’ve been posting pics of my yoga practice and tagging them with the #natanyayogadaily hashtag. Sharing my daily practice has become not just an enjoyable ritual, but a major support as well.

In the next month or so Simeon and I are planning on downgrading our phones. No more iPhone means no more Instagram. Though IG is usually a giant time suck for me (one that I very much enjoy), I will especially miss sharing my personal hashtag posts, #natanyayogadaily and #simandnatgetmarried.

Perhaps I’ll find another way to share those special updates here on the blog. In the meantime though we haven’t downgraded yet! For now I’m updating regularly at @natanyahaviva.