The warning that "sitting is the new smoking" is as frightening as it is true. Research proves that sitting for too long at your desk makes you more likely to contract heart disease, cancer, Type 2 diabetes, and other chronic health problems. Experts of all kinds are urging us to use a standing desk whenever possible, or at least stand for 10 minutes every hour and move around for a couple minutes out of each hour, too. But here's yet another tip that will ward off the chronic aches and pains we often experience from office life: take a few minutes out of your day to sneak in the best office yoga poses.
Bustle spoke with Jessamyn Stanley, renowned yoga teacher and body positive activist from North Carolina, who encourages everyone to incorporate more movement into their day, no matter what line of work they're in. "Humans were built to move around," she says. "Unfortunately, our society has evolved in such a way where actions... have been all but eliminated unless it’s specifically an athletic environment." Stanley insists that it doesn't have to be this way, though. All it takes are a few minutes and a few simple yoga postures to make your office hours less miserable and keep your body pliable. The more flexible you become, the less likely you are to be in pain later on when you get home.
Just like there are countless modifications for yoga postures in your favorite Hatha class, there are a few different ways you can stretch in your office. You can stand up beside your desk to do these poses, use the chair you sit in throughout the day, or commandeer a bit of space in your break room. Stanley gave Bustle the scoop on all the ways to get the job done.
Here are the five best yoga poses for the office, each with a standing, sitting, and break room option.
1. High/Low Lunge Pose
Your hips need all the release they can get after being cramped up in a seated position for so long. This posture stretches out your groin and quads, strengthens your knees, and tests your balance.
How To Do It Standing: Step your right foot forward into a high lunge, then lower your back left knee to the ground. Make sure your right knee is directly over your ankle. If you feel balanced enough, stretch your arms up to the sky as you sink lower into your lunge. You should feel a yummy stretch in the front of your left hip, your psoas muscle. Keep your chest lifted. Stanley recommends holding this for 3-5 breaths, then switching sides.
How To Do It Sitting: Get into the same posture using your chair as support in your right hand. This time, lift your back knee off the floor so you're in a high lunge. Keep your right hand on the seat and lift your left arm in the air. Supporting yourself on the chair, side stretch over to the right as you're in the lunge. This will give you a boost of flexibility in your left side body.
How To Do It In The Break Room: Use a wall for this posture, especially if you're new at this, because it can help you gain some much-needed balance. Position yourself in a low lunge with your front right toe pressing against the wall. You can press your fingertips against the wall for extra support, but be sure to keep your chest lifted. Lift up the back knee if you feel strong enough.
2. Forward Fold
Give your hamstrings, calves, hips, and lower back a break with this gentle forward fold. This pose can help relieve headaches, stress, and anxiety. Furthermore, bringing your head temporarily below your heart improves circulation and gives you a boost of energy. Soon, you'll be running around the office with so many off-the-cuff, brilliant ideas, your boss won't know what to do with you.
How To Do It Standing: With your feet hip-width distance apart, put your hands on your hips and slowly fold over your legs. Stanley instructs, "Keep your knees soft so your sit bones point up to the ceiling and your hip points roll forward into the upper thighs." If you feel any pinching sensations in your lumbar spine, bend your knees even more. Let your head dangle completely. If you can't touch the floor with your fingertips, grab opposite elbows and let gravity do its work. Stay here for several breaths.
How To Do It Sitting: This variation is super easy, and incredibly relieving. When you're seated in your chair, fold over your legs and let your head dangle between your knees. Let the arms hang free (they may or may not reach the floor). Stanley tells Bustle this can be repeated several times, in sync with your breath.
How To Do It In The Break Room: Take advantage of the wall space in your break room. Stand facing the wall and come down until your hands are flat against the wall, with your torso parallel to the floor and your legs perpendicular, so your body makes a perfect upside down "L". This is especially useful for those with lower back issues. Extend through your lumbar spine and keep your heels rooted into the ground.
3. Warrior 2
It doesn't often get marketed as such, but Warrior 2 is an effective inner hip opener — think of it as a free spa treatment for the groin area. Additionally, it gets major blood flow going to your lower body, toning up your thighs and ankles and easing your lower back pain.
How To Do It Standing: Step your left foot three to four feet back and turn the foot out to 90 degrees. Raise your arms parallel to the floor with your palms facing down, center your torso over your hips, and turn your gaze over your right fingertips. "Bend the right knee forward over your right heel and strengthen this position by pressing the outer left heel into the floor," Stanley says. Stay with it for several breaths and switch sides. And, yes, it should burn a little bit.
How To Do It Sitting: To get into the seated version of Warrior 2, Stanley recommends you sit sideways in your chair facing the right. Keep the right leg in sitting position as you bring your left leg behind you, straighten it, and put the sole of the left foot flat on the floor. Bring your arms out like you would standing, and align your torso with the front of the chair.
How To Do It In The Break Room: Wall space can be a great tool in this posture for both support and alignment. Perform this posture facing a wall, and aim to align your hips exactly parallel to the wall space the whole time. You can even position yourself close enough to the wall so that you can put your hands on it for support as you get deeper into the inner hips.
4. Pigeon Pose
Here's the outer hip opener your lower body craves after being cramped up at your desk for so many hours. Several angles of your pelvic region get the royal treatment with Pigeon pose — buttocks, hip flexors, and hip rotators — and there are a few different ways to perform it.
How To Do It Standing: Bring your feet and legs together, and bend your knees as if you're about to go into Chair pose. Put your right ankle on top of your left knee (balance with your hand against a wall if you need to). You should already feel the stretch in your outer hip, but if you need more, bend your standing knee a little bit deeper until the sensations kick in.
How To Do It Sitting: Sit at the edge of your chair with your feet flat on the floor and your knees at 90 degrees. Place your right ankle over your left knee so your right shin is parallel to the floor. All you have to do is slowly fold over this figure four shape, keeping your chest lifted and your neck in line with your spine.
How To Do It In The Break Room: Hopefully, you'll have some extra floor space so you can do the full expression of this posture. Start on all fours, then slip your right knee toward your right hand as your extend your left leg behind you flat on the floor. The farther away your right heel is from your groin, the more intense the stretch. Walk your fingertips out as far as is comfortable, keeping your chest lifted and lower back extended. Hold for several breaths and switch sides.
5. Side Stretch
A typical office job will leave you quite stiff in your upper body, robbing the sides of your torso of the length it needs to feel comfortably flexible. The simplest of side stretches will extend your spine. This posture even gets into the muscles around your ribcage, which allows you to take deeper, more relaxing breaths throughout the day.
How To Do It Standing: Either bring your feet together or hip-width apart, depending on your flexibility. Reach your arms into the air, interlace your fingers, and stretch to the right. Be mindful of your hips and shoulders, both of which should stay in one line. Hold for a few breaths on each side.
How To Do It Sitting: Come to the edge of your chair with your legs at a 90-degree angle. Let your right arm relax by your side as you stretch your left arm up to the sky and stretch over to the right. Try to keep both hips rooted into the chair, and don't let your upper body collapse.
How To Do It In The Break Room: Go to a corner where you have a good amount of floor space. Sit cross-legged on the floor. Walk your right hand out to the right and place your elbow and forearm on the floor. If you can't reach down all the way, place something like a couple of books on the floor so you can rest your forearm on them. Reach your left arm up and stretch to the right, lengthening your left torso. If you feel any tension in the neck, look down towards the floor.
Trust me, it takes longer to read through the instructions for these yoga moves than it does to actually do them during your lunch hour. It shouldn't take more than a few minutes, and you'll feel more energized and prepared for whatever comes at you at the office.