Get Moving: How Desk Yoga Can Benefit You and Your Work

Most of us spend 8+ hours a day sitting at a desk, in-front of a computer screen. It’s not our fault; it’s the way of the world. 

We are living during a day in age where jobs require screen time, technology, automation, and constant communications: i.e. tasks that revolve around sitting for most of the day. Yet, sitting for hours on end is not good for our bodies or health. A sedentary lifestyle can lead to a ripple effect of negative health issues (literally from head to toe). 

In fact, Forbes published an article citing a Mayo Clinic report that says, “...sitting time and activity levels found in those who sat for more than 8 hours a day with no physical activity had a risk of dying similar to the risks of dying posed by obesity and smoking.” Let that sink in. That’s a pretty serious statement to make considering that “sedentary employment has increased to 83% since 1950”, according to the American Heart Association. This notion questions America’s philosophy on productivity standards in relation to health and wellness. 

Interestingly, the same study reported by the Mayo Clinic, which analyzed data from over 1 million participants, found that “60 to 75 minutes of moderately intense physical activity a day countered the effects of too much sitting.” So, there is hope!

How did we get here?

Physical labor used to drive the economy. Nowadays, jobs are much more sedentary.  According to Johns Hopkins (based on a report from the American Heart Association), “Physically active jobs now make up less than 20% of the U.S. workforce, down from roughly half of jobs in 1960.” Prior to 1960, many employment opportunities centered around jobs that require physical movement like farming and factory work. Today, a lot of jobs require employees to sit for extended periods of time.

Think about it: office workers, truck/Lyft/Uber drivers, researchers, people in the tech sector

and marketers for example, all have jobs that require a sedentary lifestyle. Plus, if we take into consideration the additional time it takes to commute, (sitting in a car, bus, or train) our total hours spent sitting each day has certainly increased. Ironically, when we get home from a long day of sitting, many of us are ready to crash on the couch (more sitting!). 

Even delivery jobs have changed. Consider this: newspapers used to be delivered by bicycle. Now, they are delivered by car. And back in the day, before automobiles became the norm, milk and groceries were delivered by cart (sometimes pulled by a horse!) door to door. Today, if you want groceries delivered, it’ll arrive by car. While efficiency might help the economy, it doesn’t necessarily help our waistlines or overall health and wellness. Healthline summed it up best, “The fewer calories you burn, the more likely you are to gain weight. This is why sedentary behavior is so closely linked to obesity.”

How can we change this?

While we can’t go back in time, and are unlikely to change our careers from tech to farming, we can make small changes that could improve our health (and, by the way, productivity!). 

According to a wellness collective, The Locomotive Co, a study conducted by the University of Bristol, states that exercise and yoga can improve productivity in the workplace. Jo Coulson, a research associate of the University's Department of Exercise, Nutrition and Health Sciences said, ”Critically, workers performed significantly better on exercise days and across all three areas we measured, known as mental-interpersonal, output and time demands.” 

As corporations are getting hip to the idea that exercise breaks are beneficial to their employees (and ultimately to the work they are doing), some companies are beginning to offer corporate wellness programs, (like yoga and meditation), into the work day. In fact some of the biggest Fortune 500 companies like Apple, Google, Nike, HBO and Forbes, are leading the trend by  offering on-site yoga as an employee benefit in their offices.

How Does Yoga Benefit the Workplace?

Desk Yoga

Productivity, concentration, stress reduction, creative thinking, patience, clarity, calm, increased energy, and pain reduction, just to name a few!

Yoga Reduces Pain

When we sit for many hours at a desk (either in an office or at home), with our backs hunched over and our necks craned forward as we stare at the computer screen, it can result in body discomfort. This posture can also  contribute to a cascade of issues including pain, stiffness, or soreness in the back, neck, shoulders and several other parts of the body. Pain and discomfort isn’t only harmful for the body, pain can be quite distracting, which can decrease productivity and focus in the workplace. It’s hard to write a coherent email when your back hurts and all you want to do is get up from that damn chair!

Yoga to Increase Energy and Reduce Fatigue

Yoga can help reduce pain caused from long hours at a desk. Even five minutes of desk yoga can do wonders for your body. (See our list below for desk yoga and stretches.) 

Working long hours and sitting for the majority of the time can lead to burnout (both physically and mentally). Studies show that movement like walking, stretching or exercising, throughout the day can increase blood circulation and help oxygenate the body -- thus leading to overall better health and work longevity. 

Yoga to Improve Concentration

Working in an office can be very distracting. Coworkers are talking on the phone, having  conversations in their neighboring workstation, or snacking loudly at their desks. Then, of course, there are numerous meetings we have to attend that can hijack our workflow. All of the interruptions can leave us distracted and unfocused. Yoga and meditation can improve concentration by helping us to learn how to block out any unnecessary noise and stay present.


Here Are a Few Exercises You Can Do at Your Desk

Desk Yoga and Stretching

1. Neck Rolls

Yoga Neck Rolls

Image credit: Tini’s Spa
  • Sit tall in your chair and relax your shoulders. Inhale and exhale. If helpful, you can close your eyes. Make sure your feet are planted on the ground. If you are wearing high heels, take them off if you can. 
  • Allow your chin to gently drop down toward your chest. 
  • Slowly rotate your neck in a circular motion: Let your left ear drop down toward your left shoulder, then slowly rotate your head back, then to the right, and then to the front. 
  • Repeat this motion 3-5 times and then reverse direction. 

 2. Neck Stretch

Neck Stretch

Image Credit: Spine Universe
  • Sit up tall. Inhale and exhale. Relax your shoulders.
  • Let your right ear lower toward your right shoulder --  you should feel a stretch in the left side of your neck and maybe your left shoulder. Hold for 10 seconds. (Or whatever is comfortable for you.)
  • If you want to increase the intensity, reach your right arm around your head and grasp the left side of your face with your palm -- gently encourage your head to move a bit closer towards your right shoulder. You may also extend your left arm down and to the left to increase intensity (see video demo below for guidance.)
  • Repeat on the other side. 
  • This should feel comfortable/relieving, but not painful. (If it’s painful, stop!)
  • Check out this video for a demo on both the Neck Rolls and Neck Stretch exercises above. 

3. Seated Cat/Cow

Seated Cat Cow pose

 Image credit: Bevi

  • Sit tall in your chair with your feet on the ground. 
  • Place your hands on your knees. 
  • On an inhale arch your back, looking up toward the ceiling.
  • On an exhale round your spine and bring your chin toward your chest.
  • Repeat this movement several times, trying to sync your movement with your breath. 
  • Need a demo? Check out this video

4. Seated Spinal Twist

Seated Spinal Twist

Image Credit: Yoga U Online

  • Turn sideways in your chair so that you can use the back of the chair to support your hands during your twist.
  • Plant both feet on the ground. 
  • Gently twist toward the back of the chair and grip your hands on the chair for support. This movement should gently stretch your spine. 
  • Hold for several seconds. 
  • Rotate your body 180 degrees (so that you are facing the opposite direction) and complete the twist on the other side.  
  • Check out this video demo for more guidance.

5. Seated Pigeon

Seated Pigeon

Image credit: The Nova Training Center

  • Sit upright on your chair with your feet planted on the ground.
  • Place the side of your right shin/ankle on top of your left thigh (just above the knee, NOT on the knee. See photo above as a reference.)
  • You will likely feel this stretch in your right hip and lower back. Hold for 30 seconds.
  • To increase intensity, move your chest forward toward your knee and hold for 30 seconds.
  • Repeat on the other side. 
  • Need a tutorial? Check out this video

Healthy Snacking and Hydration

In addition to yoga, exercise, (or simply taking breaks to walk around the office), there are other practices that can help energize your body. Can you guess what that may be?

Staying hydrated by drinking water, of course!

While you take your stretch or exercise breaks throughout the day, go the extra mile and guzzle a glass (or a few) of water (with a Clear Theory boost!) while you’re at it. Hydration in partnership with movement and exercise is the perfect support system to keep you going. 

Additionally, having an abundance of healthy snacks at the ready can also help. Working is hard work (so to speak!) and you need fuel (and hydration) to keep you sustained. But when you are up to your eyeballs in emails, papers, and an endless to-do list, it can be easy to grab the first thing in sight -- and that tends to be junk food you might find in the office kitchen. Ugh, Susan brought donuts again! But, let’s face it, even working from home has it’s pitfalls -- our own refrigerators can also be the culprit. We can’t blame everything on Susan! 

Ward off the temptation to grab the (delicious yet unhealthy) sweets and go nuts on something more nourishing. 

On-The-Go Health Foods Perfect For The Office

  • Cut veggies and dips. Try carrots, sugar snap peas, or cherry tomatoes dipped in hummus or tzatziki.
  • Sliced apple with a side of nut butter
  • Hard boiled eggs
  • Cheese sticks or sliced cheese with multi-grain crackers
  • Assorted nuts
  • Greek yogurt with fresh fruit and granola
  • Protein bars
  • Fruit smoothies

These yummy on-the-go snacks are easy to prep the night before work and will provide a combination of sustaining nutrients and protein. And please, please, whatever you do, don’t forget to drink WATER! Your body needs a surplus of water to maintain all the amazing work that you do. Also, keep in mind that if you start busting out the desk yoga, your body will need even more water (and electrolytes) -- so keep your Clear Theory on hand as well! ;) 

P.S. The next time your boss gives you the evil eye for doing yoga at your desk, show him this Yoga Journal article and suggest a shift in company culture. Hey, you never know, your bold attempt at self-care may soon become an office-wide practice. And if all else fails, and yoga gets vetoed at the board meeting, you can always fall back on your reliable friend, water -- and nobody is gonna blink an eye about that!



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