Every time we turn on the radio we’re told sitting is the new smoking. And if you work in an office you know how uncomfortable sitting all day can be. But what are we supposed to do with that information when, for most of us, the majority of our day is spent in a sitting position.
The average day is spent sitting; starting with breakfast, continuing during our commute to work, then at our desk for eight hours, the commute again and finally collapsing on the couch, binge watching the latest Netflix series.
What’s the problem?
If we break down exactly why it’s bad for us, we can gradually build up methods to counteract the ill effects. Sitting for prolonged periods of time weakens the muscles of the back and core, and tightens the muscles of the hips and shoulders. This affects the natural curve of the back and our posture causing back, shoulder and neck pain. It can also decrease circulation causing a more serious range of health risks such as heart disease, blood pressure, diabetes and even cancer.
Take a break
So what can we do to counteract these problems?
Prioritise taking a movement break from sitting at least every hour. Stand up tall, reach through the tip of the crown, and stretch your legs, back, neck and shoulders. Take a gentle twist to both sides to get the circulation going and lubricate the connective tissue of your spine. Drink plenty of water to stay hydrated and help your circulation. This will also get you up moving more often for loo breaks!
5 yoga poses to try
Yoga is the perfect antidote to sitting as it boosts the circulation; gently opens up the hips; strengthens the back; stretches the shoulders; builds core stability; improves posture; eases fatigue; and eases the stress of a demanding job and everyday life challenges.
Try these 5 yoga poses to counteract sitting (refer to the handy illustration at the end if you’re unsure of any). As you move slowly through the poses pay particular attention to your back, neck, shoulders, hips and core muscles:
1. Downward Dog
Benefits: Stretches the arms, legs and shoulders; strengthens and lengthens the spine, warms up the body, gives the benefits of an inversion.
How to: Hands shoulder width apart, feet hip width apart, press into your hands, fingers spread. Broaden the collarbones, back of the neck long and relaxed, head in line with your ears. Lift your sit bones up high and stretch your heels down towards the ground. Top of the thighs press back, roll your inner thighs back and hug your outer hips to the midline.
Go deeper: Lengthen your arms away from you to stretch out your spine. For a more energetic downdog pull your feet towards each other to wake up the muscles of your outer hips, buttocks and legs.
Benefits: Strengthens the spine, buttocks, arms and backs of the legs, stretches the chest, hips and shoulders, helps corrects poor posture.
How to: Lie on your front, arm by your sides. Legs hip distance apart, roll your inner thighs up. Inhale, lift your head, upper torso, arms and legs. Reach your chest forward and up, back of the neck long, extend your arms towards your feet, palms facing each other. Strengthen the backs of your legs, lift them up and reach back through the balls of your feet.
Go deeper: Clasp your hands and extend them towards your feet for an extra stretch of the shoulders. Press your legs together and make yourself as narrow as you can to strengthen your outer hips.
3. Twisted Eight Crescent Moon
Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors, shoulders and legs, strengthens the outer hips and buttocks, strengthens and lubricates the joint of the spine, boosts circulation, builds core stability.
How to: From downward dog, inhale, step your right foot between your hands. Press into your feet to come up, reach your arms up high, shoulder width apart. Stack your front knee over your front ankle, press out through your left heel to firm your back leg, hug your outer hips to the midline. Twist to the right and reach your right arm to the back of your mat and your left arm to the front of your mat.
Go deeper: Keep your balance by pressing into your feet to create strong legs and a solid base. With every inhale reach up tall through the spine and with your exhale twist a little further using the strength of your core muscles.
4. One Legged King Pigeon
Benefits: Stretches the hip flexors, buttocks and groin; strengthens the spine, releases tension.
How to: From downward dog, place your right foot behind your left hand and your right knee behind your right hand, right foot flexed. Place your hands either side of your hips, walk your left leg out behind you in line with your left hip. Draw your left hip forward and your right hip back. Use a foam block under your right hip if it doesn’t comfortably reach the ground.
Go deeper: Using the support of your hands and your pelvic floor lift your hips up and hold for a few deep breathes. Gently release your hips back down and notice if your hips have released a little more towards the ground.
Benefits: Stretches the shoulders, chest and hip flexors, strengthens the spine, backs of legs and buttocks, energising, gives the benefits of an inversion.
How to: Lie on your back with arms beside you, knees bent, feet parallel and hip distance, heels close to your sit bones. Root through your feet and arms. Exhale, lift your hips up, roll your shoulders under and clasp your hands, sternum lift up and towards your chin. Hug your outer hips to the midline.
Go deeper: Press into your arms and extend them towards your feet to help lift your hips up. Press strongly into your heels to strengthen your legs and reach your knees away to stretch out your hips.
Ruth Delahunty is a 200hr Yoga Alliance certified teacher and founder of Yogaru.ie, a yoga lifestyle website that promotes a yoga way of living both on and off the mat. For more information visit yogaru.ie