6 Easy Stretches You Need To Do Right Now To Seriously Improve Your Life (No, Really, Do Them Now. I'll Wait.)

At the end of most workdays, I feel like a lump of silly putty; a hunched over, tightly wound ball of clay with a head poking out the top. I’m sure I’m not the only one: Most of us spend the day sitting, working on computers or staring ahead at the front of classrooms, letting our bodies sink low in our chairs and our heads stick out in front of us. No wonder our bodies feel awful by the end of it. While there are many things we can do to combat the effects of sitting constantly, like working at standing desks and having “walk and talk” meetings, there’s something simple and easy that you can do right now to make yourself feel instantly better: a bit of good old-fashioned stretching. Stretching—not only after work outs, but throughout the day and before and after work—is a great way to neutralize all of that time you spend slouching at your desk, and it can go a long way toward easing the aches and pains that keep you awake at night.

Keep reading for a basic sequence of stretches that you can try out right now. They’re inspired by classic yoga poses, but you don’t have to be a yogi to enjoy them. Just be sure that you stretch properly: Don’t strain or bounce as you stretch—just sink steadily and slowly into pose, and breathe deeply and evenly. Remember, these simple stretches are supposed to feel good. You may feel a pleasant tension as you approach your limit, but if something actually hurts (not “hurts so good” but “OH MY GOD THAT IS PAINFUL”) ease back until it feels more comfortable!

Try this sequence of stretches to improve your day. It shouldn’t take more than about 10 minutes.

1. Half-Moon

Stand with your feet directly beneath your hips, with your tailbone slightly tucked and belly firm. Sweep your hands overhead and interlace your fingers. As you exhale, extend your hands to the right, creating a slight crescent shape with your body; Let your right hand gently pull your left hand further to the right. Keep both arms extended and your neck relaxed as you breathe evenly. Do the same thing on the other side.

2. Forward bend

Lower your hands and fold forward, keeping your flat and hinging at the hips. Drop you hands to the floor. If your back is rounding or your hamstrings feel tight, bend your knees until your belly rests against the upper thighs. Grasp your left elbow with your right hand and your left elbow with the right, and breath deeply into the stretch. Let your head hang, completely relaxed. After a few breaths, put your hands on your hips and hinge upward, keeping your back flat as you return to standing.

3. Open the chest

Standing with your feet hips’ distance apart, tail tucked slightly and belly firm, interlace your fingers behind you. Keeping your palms close together, lift your hands away from your body, feeling the stretch across the chest and opening in the shoulders. If you want to deepen this stretch, fold forward, letting your clasped hands rise above you.

4. Cat and Cow

Move to all fours, with your wrists directly below your shoulders and your knees below your hips. Start with a flat back and a neutral neck. As you inhale, arch your back so that your belly drops toward the floor, and your sitting bones move up toward the ceiling. Look up to the ceiling. As you exhale, reverse the stretch, dropping the head, letting the sitting bones move downward as your spine curves upward to the sky. Repeat 4 or 5 more times, following the natural rhythm of your inhales and exhales.

5. Thread the Needle

Lying on your back, bend your knees so that your feet rest on the floor, hip distance apart. Bring your left ankle to rest on your right thigh. Flex both of your feet and lift your right knee in toward the chest. With your left hand, reach through triangle shape you’ve made between your legs to hold onto either the back of the right thigh or the right shin. Bring your right hand around to grasp the left. Repeat on the other side. This pose is a great way to open up the hips.

6. Reclining Twist

Still on your back, bring your knees, one at a time, to your chest. Inhale, and, as you exhale, let your knees fall gently to the right. If this feels too intense, put a pillow (or a balled up sweater, or whatever you have handy) underneath the knees. Extend your hands out to the sides, and look to the left. Repeat on the other side. (Keep in mind that the woman in the GIF above is doing this pose very quickly. You’ll want to hold each side for about 30 seconds.)

Images: Amy, Tiffany Berry(2), Jasmine Kaloudis/Flickr; Giphy(3)