You've heard the news. Extended time spent at office jobs are contributing to the rise in obesity and obesity related diseases. They also play a role in physical conditions conditions long before the weight sets in. Put more bluntly at a recent TedX conference and covered by WIRED magazine, sitting is the new smoking.
But, you're in luck. In addition to regular physical activity, awareness to the symptoms of these five common desk-related ailments and knowing simple steps to correct them can help you prevent injury. (Note: if injury has already set in, go see your doctor!)
#1 The Killer: Low back pain.
Compression in the lower spine can lead to reduced mobility in spinal joints, joint fusion and build up of scar tissue. Prolonged periods of sitting can also compress your sciatic nerve. Ouch! This major nerve descends from your low back and branches off into your backside and down your legs.
The fix: Frequent walking breaks or simple Sun Salutes.
As James Brown said, "Get up off of that thing and dance 'til you feel better!" Take a call standing up. Schedule frequent breaks to step away from the desk and walk around the office. Even quick trips to the water cooler can help (bonus, you'll stay hydrated). If you have the space, try a few Sun Salutations.
#2 The Killer: Tight Hip Flexors
Sitting down for long periods of time brings the muscles in the front of your hips (responsible for forward flexion at the hip joint, bringing the thigh up as in a knee raise) into a continual shorten and engaged state. Over time, the tissue itself can become stiff and unyielding, causing muscle imbalance and eventually injury.
The Fix: Kneeling Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
Start in a forward fold. On an inhale breath press your palms into your shins and lift your torso halfway with a flat back. Exhale and step your right foot way back, like a reverse lunge. When the ball-mount of your right foot is firmly fixed to the floor, drop your right knee down and stack your shoulders over you hips. Your thighs will be in a splits position, allowing you to find a stretch into the front side of your right hip. Spend at least 30 seconds on each side.
#3 The Killer: Carpal Tunnel Syndrome
Keeping your arms and wrists bent and your fingers engaged in repetitive movements all day long can cause carpal tunnel syndrome - a chronic painful sensation and stiffness in your wrists and palms cause by the pressure on the meridian nerve and tendons running through the passageway between wrist bones. Eventually, pressure on these nerves and tendons can become a serious injury. But, before a trip to the doctor becomes necessary, there are steps you can take to alleviate the pressure on your wrists. In fact, consistent yoga practice has been shown to have more definite improvement in grip and pain alleviation in carpal tunnel syndrome patients than acupuncture or chiropractic treatment (http://www.ninds.nih.gov/disorders/carpal_tunnel/detail_carpal_tunnel.htm).
The Fix: Gorilla Pose (Pada Hastasana)
Stand with feet hips width distance apart. Bend down at your hips and bend generously in your knees until the belly comes to rest onto the thighs (the degree of bend in the knees varies from person to person). When bent and stable, slip your hands palms-up underneath your feet until your toes make a connection with your wrists. If your toes don't reach, bend your knees more until they do. When your hands are fully under your feet, transfer your weight slightly into the ball-mounts of your feet, putting pressure on your wrists and wiggle your toes to massage your wrists.
The Fix #2: Prayer Hands Wrist Stretch (Anjali Mudra)
After Gorilla pose, rise back up and bring your hands to prayer position at your heart. Press your palms together firmly while pressing the wrists down. Adjust the pressure based upon the sensation you feel at the bottom of your palms and into your forearms.
#4 The Killer: Slumped Shoulders
Rounding over your desk, driving and constantly looking down to check your phone causes shortening in the anterior (front) shoulder muscles and chest muscles, and slack upper back muscles. Overtime, consistent poor posture can lead to a host of chronic back and neck pain due to this muscle imbalance. Plus, we all look more confident with great posture. Take time each day to open up your heart and your posture will thank you.
The Fix: Gentle Heart Opener (Anuvittasana)
Stand with your feet hips with distance or narrower. Tilt your tailbone straight to the floor (this will engage your low abdominal muscles. Open your arms to goal post position with your elbows in line with your shoulders. Take your gaze to the ceiling and gently lift your chest up. While this will cause a slight bend in your back, let your focus in this pose be lifting your chest and opening through the upper arms.
And, once more with feeling...
ALWAYS see your doctor before engaging in a new exercise routine or if you believe you have sustained an injury. Feel free to practice yoga as a part of your rehabilitation and sustained exercise regimen after you doctor has cleared you to return to your mat.
Question: I can do handstand against the wall all day. But, every time I try to do handstand away from the wall, I flip over. Every time. How can I build the strength I need to find some hang-time in this posture?
Most of us encounter life-threatening experiences everyday, or at least our bodies think we do. Likely you're not spending your time running from saber-toothed tigers. But, your stress hormones may have you fleeing the scene more frequently than you think. Stressful situations stimulate your sympathetic nervous system triggering a flood of hormonal reactions equipping you with the energy needed to cope - essential flight or fight. After the trigger event resolves, your parasympathetic nervous systems helps you get back to neutral. Think of a working and resting heart rate. Just like athletic recovery time, your stress-response recovery time is just as important.
Try this restorative pose - legs up the wall (or couch) - next time you need to unwind from a stressful day. Once you've situation your feet over your hips, place one hand on your belly and one on your heart. Begin to feel your breath normalize and deepen. Hold this posture with your eyes soft, or closed, for at least 5 minutes.
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