We know movement should be a part of everyday life, but for the 1 in 4 Americans that sit more than 8 hours a day, that's far from the norm. While it's not always possible to change our daily office routine, there are ways to combat the negative effects of sitting hunched at a computer for hours on end.
According to Sarah Levey, co-founder of Y7 and co-author of We Flow Hard, yoga is a great antidote to this modern predicament. "The majority of asana in yoga are standing postures and overall work to regain proper alignment," she says. "It's definitely effective but not the only thing we should be doing to support our backs." It's certainly worth noting yoga won't cure lower back pain—it's simply a good way to help with alignment and improve posture.
If you're struggling with back pain, she warns that there are some poses that might exacerbate the issue. "Any postures that require a lot of mobility in the lower back, such as the full wheel, locust, and full heroes pose [should be avoided]."
If you sit at a desk all day, Levey recommends following a warm-up sequence to improve strength and alignment and encourage you to decompress from a sedentary day. Here's how it's done:
Begin in a child's pose. Keep your toes together, knees spread wide apart, as your chest melts down between your legs. Your arms will stretch out long in front of you. Take a big breath in and a big breath out.
On your next inhale rise up onto your hands and knees into a tabletop position. Your hands and knees should be firmly planted into the mat, your shoulders directly over your wrists. Your neck will be long and your gaze should be right in front of your fingertips. Suck the belly into the spine, creating a long line of energy with a neutral spine. Stay here for a full breath (inhale and exhale).
On an inhale, arch your spine and bring your gaze to the sky for cow pose. On your exhale, round your back as you drop your head and look toward your belly button, coming into cat pose.
Moving with your breath, begin three rounds of cat and cow, warming up the spine. Consider making these movements your own by swiveling the hips or flipping the palms.
When you have finished your third full breath, tuck your toes and lift your hips into downward facing dog. Once you arrive there, spread your fingertips wide, making sure your thumb and first finger are firmly planted in the ground—holding a bit more weight than the rest of the hand. Your biceps should be rotating toward the ears, so the inner part of your elbow is facing the front of the room. Activate the inner thighs as you lift the hips farther toward the sky. Your feet should be hip’s width apart and parallel to one another, with toes pointed to the front of the mat as your heels reach toward the ground. If you choose, stay here for a few cycles of breaths.
On an inhale, lift your right leg straight up toward the sky into a downward dog split.
On your exhale step your foot forward into a low lunge, keeping the fingertips on the ground—your foot should land in between your hands. Bring your gaze in front of the fingers as you stay here for a full breath.
When you finish your exhale, begin to tuck your toes, keeping your back leg long as you straighten the front leg as much as you can, coming into pyramid pose. Keep your chest draped over the front leg—your forehead may touch your leg. If you are having trouble or this pose is challenging for you, step your back leg in as much as you need to in order to feel stable and grounded.
On an exhale, step your left foot to meet your right coming into a forward fold. Let your head hang, relaxing the neck. You may want to reach your hands for your opposite elbows, or bring the hands interlaced behind the head for a deeper stretch.
Inhale and rise up to mountain pose, hands at your heart center, facing the front of the room. Close your eyes and stay here for a moment, feeling the ground supporting you as you maintain this pose for two full breaths.
Take a big inhale, and as you exhale move from your hips to swan dive your arms down to the mat, coming back into a forward fold.
As you inhale, bring your hands to your shins and look up, keeping a flat back, coming into a halfway lift.
Bring both hands down to the ground and step back to a plank pose. Your shoulders should be directly over your wrists. Extend your heels back and pull up through the thighs, reaching the tailbone back to create one long line with your body. Stay here for three full breaths, firing up the core.
On your next exhale, keep the elbows close to your sides as you lower halfway down into chaturanga dandasana, also known as staff pose—in this pose, your elbows should be bent to a 90-degree angle.
Inhale, flip the toes, and press the chest forward and up, gliding through to upward facing dog. Only your hands and the tops of the feet should be on the ground, your thighs and knees should be active and lifted.
On an exhale tuck the toes and lift the hips back to downward facing dog.
Repeat the full sequence on your left side.
Mastered that sequence? Try out these four yoga poses to de-stress after a long week.
Ussery EN, Fulton JE, Galuska DA, Katzmarzyk PT, Carlson SA. Joint Prevalence of Sitting Time and Leisure-Time Physical Activity Among US Adults, 2015-2016. JAMA. 2018;320(19):2036–2038. doi:10.1001/jama.2018.17797