April 24, 2020 — 4 p.m. EST
I don’t have a desk at home and I usually opt for my comfy couch over the kitchen table to get my work done. After six weeks (and counting) working from home, my posture is worse than ever and my back and neck hurt from hunching over my laptop for hours on end. Since I’m adapting to a new way of life, I wanted to see if there was anything I can do to improve my newfound muscle tension. I decided to reach out to a yoga teacher to see if there were yoga poses for back pain and bad posture that I could try, since I’ll be working from home for the foreseeable future.
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I spoke with registered yoga teacher Barbara Bell (500 hour RYT) who explained to me that the new pain definitely wasn’t in my head. “If we sit too long at a desk or look down at a computer or cell phone, the head shifts forward; the curve of the cervical spine is compromised,” she said. “Eventually the muscles become strained, headaches can occur, vertebrae shift out of alignment, and nerves are pinched; it is a big mess.” If you’re feeling the same pain as me, Bell tells DoctorOz.com that there are a lot of simple and low-impact moves that anyone can try right now as a way to combat their aches and pains from working at home. Here’s how you can get started:
Stand Up & Walk Around Frequently
“One of the best things you can do [to counteract sitting too much] is to stand up and walk around,” says Bell. While it sounds simple enough, I know that when I’m focused on work, hours can fly by and I’m still sitting in the same position. You have to make a conscious effort to move around every day. Bell suggests walking around for a minute or so once every hour. If you think it’ll be hard to remember, set alarms on your phone.
When you’re up, practice standing in “tadasana”, or “mountain,” which is a basic standing pose in yoga to help improve your posture. Bell recommends performing this pose while taking a side view look at yourself in the mirror so you can see your body lining up and standing tall.
You can also perform a pose while standing to relieve pressure off your muscles. Stand up straight with your feet about 15 to 18 inches apart and bend your knees slightly. Then, slowly bend over and gently touch opposite elbows with your hands. Rest your folded arms on your thighs, your face parallel to the floor. “If you do not have issues with high blood pressure or dizziness, let the top of the head hang toward the floor,” says Bell. Take a few breaths in this position and slowly perform the moves in reverse until you are standing tall again. “Keep the knees bent to protect the low back. Let your head be the last thing to straighten up, then straighten the knees, and stand tall.”
10 Yoga Poses to Try
To combat pain in your lower back and stretch out your hip flexors, hamstrings, and back, you can perform a sequence of yoga poses. Bell says it’s important to perform these in order to prevent yourself from injury.
First, lay on your back (on a yoga mat, if you have one) and stretch out with your arms overhead and your legs straight and flat on the floor. If your lower back hurts when you lay down like this, keep your knees bent with the soles of your feet on the ground instead. “Starting with the right leg, pull knees one at a time up to chest and roll onto your side. Get onto hands and knees to start this sequence:”
- Cat/Cow Pose
- Balancing Table Pose
- Happy Baby Pose
- Reverse Pigeon Pose
- Gate Pose
- Locust Pose
- Thread the Needle Pose
- Bent Knee Twist Pose
- Child’s Pose
When sitting and looking at a computer, you tend to lean in and forward. This can shorten the collarbone muscles, says Bell, and also tighten up the shoulders. To counteract this, try giving yourself a posture adjustment using a yoga strap (which you can order online) or you can use neckties or a terry cloth belt from a robe in a pinch (as long as what you choose measures 9 feet long). Here’s how to perform the move.
When & How Often Should I Be Doing Yoga Poses?
Bell believes you should try to get up and do a yoga pose every hour. “We’re kinetic, we’re always moving,” says Bell, which is why it’s important to make time for movement if you’re sedentary for a bulk of your day.
“If your body is telling you ‘I’m fatigued,’ it probably needs to change its position and needs a mental health break. Listen to your body,” says Bell. If you don’t have time to do a series of poses frequently throughout the day, you can try out this “legs on a chair” move, which Bell recommends if you’re feeling stressed, tired, or like your body needs a movement change. If you have more flexible hamstrings, Bell says you can also perform this move on a wall.
Fresh Air & Breathing Exercises Can Help Too
“Get out and get some daylight and fresh air,” recommends Bell as an addition to daily yoga poses. If you don’t feel comfortable going for a walk around the block, or are physically unable to do so, opening some windows in your house and sitting or standing outside your front door can also work.
Bell also recommends breathing exercises, which can be done during your stretching periods throughout the day or whenever you want to de-stress. The first one you can try is square breathing. For this exercise, pick a count to use for your breathing and use that number to direct your breathes during the exercise. For example, if you pick the number four: inhale for four counts, hold for four counts, exhale for four counts, and stay empty for four counts. Repeat this cycle for a minute.
Another exercise is yoga breathing. First, inhale and observe how long a good inhale takes before it becomes uncomfortable. Once you’ve found that number, inhale for that long, hold it briefly, and then make the exhale twice as long, and repeat. If you are unable to double the exhale, it’s okay, do the best you can. “If you are new to ‘breath practice’ do not over do it,” explains Bell. “Be kind to your lungs, do not over inhale or overextend their capacity. Developing a breath practice takes patience, time, and kindness.”