Becoming conscious of how we move, hold, and express our bodies is an essential step in lifelong health, and in workplace safety. Observing the tendencies in your body to tighten, tense, or hold awkward positions is an exercise that takes minimal time and energy, but has a maximum payoff. To improve your posture, enhance your performance, and decrease your stress level at work, try these other simple actions:
- Shake it off. Regularly shake off any stress, adjust your posture, take a deep breath, and then continue your work. Create a new habit to remind yourself to release tension. For instance, every time you go to the toilet, whenever you hang up the phone, or you can set a timer on your computer every 15-30 minutes that will remind you to Shake It Off. This step will make you more conscious of the occasions in between breaks when you are sticking your neck out, tensing your shoulders, clenching your teeth, frowning, or other tendencies we have when focussed on work.
- Take breaks. Get up, walk around, stretch, eat your lunch outdoors if you can. The more breaks you take, the more productive you will be when you are on the job. Those who stay at the desk all day are losing productivity, creativity, and brain-power the longer they stay chained to the desk. Get inspired by a walk outdoors, connect with co-workers at lunch, and know when it’s time to punch out at the end of the day.
- Stay hydrated. Keep a bottle of water at your desk and sip frequently. Caffeine, smoking, and salty snack foods all rob you of water, which increases your body’s stress level by throwing it out of balance. Water is yin, the cool element. Water keeps you calm and balanced. Keep water on your desk and in your body to stay cool in any situation.
One of the main causes of repetitive strain injury is awkward posture. And to the body, sitting in a chair is awkward and stressful for the spine, the hips, shoulders, and the extremities. To alleviate this physical stress you can utilize some simple stretches at your desk whenever your body feels restless, tense, or you are feeling drained of energy:
Especially important for workers who stand stationary for much of the day, this exercise helps to relieve low back tension, rounded posture, and helps to re-balance the spine and nervous system. Stand with your feet hip width apart, knees straight but not locked. Place your hands on your lower back in fists or with your palms flat and fingers facing down. It is important that your hands are supporting your body in this posture. Begin by shifting your hips forward then slowly look up to the ceiling and arch through your back softly. Focus on opening your hips, your belly, your chest, and your throat. Follow with the counter-bend, Forward Fold.
Helps to relieve low back tension, stimulate your brain, and relieve pressure from your neck, shoulders and back. Stand with your feet hip width apart, and your hands on your thighs. Take a deep breath in, lift your chest, and then exhale and hinge at your hips as you slide your hands down your thighs. Try to keep your spine straight for as long as you can in this stretch. As your hands reach your shins, your back will slightly round and you can relax for a few moments, breathing deeply. Pay special attention to relaxing the back of your neck.
Sitting comfortably in your chair, cross your right ankle over your left thigh about 2-4 inches above your knee and allow your hip and knee to relax so that your lower leg is parallel to the ground. Take a deep breath in, stretch up through your spine, then gently lean forward and allow a stretch to extend from your left hip through your outer thigh into your knee. Helps to alleviate stress from hips and spine, particularly effective for those who sit or drive for prolonged periods.
Seated Side Bend
Begin by rolling your shoulders forward and back a few times slowly. Then, inhale and reach your arms over your head. Gently claps your left wrist with your right hand. Exhale and gently bend to the right, drawing your left arm up and away slightly with your right hand. Hold for a few seconds while you breath deeply, then return to the start, switch your hands so that your left hand is holding your right wrist, and bend to the left. For a gentle spinal rotation, place your left hand on the outside of your right knee, clasp the right side of the back of your seat with your right hand. Keep your feet on the ground, and your spine tall, as you twist your body to the right. Draw your right shoulder back while you look over your shoulder. Release and repeat on the left side.
Sitting in your chair, stretch up through the back of your neck and then gently tuck your chin into your chest, as close as possible to the base of your throat. Continue slowly curling down, as though you are making a ball out of your body, rolling your head down and imagine you will bring the top of your head into your belly button. Roll down as far as you can, and then slowly roll back up, keeping in mind that you would like to stack each vertebrae one on top of the other, while creating more space between each disc by stretching up gently. When you finally unroll completely, you will feel taller, your spine will feel light, and any pressure in your back will be relieved.
The neck and upper back is an area of the body that holds a tremendous amount of stress. At least once a day, take time out to practice these gentle neck stretches. Sit tall in your chair and reach your hands down to grasp the sides of your chair beside your hips. Gently draw your shoulders away from your ears. Keep your eyes forward and slowly tilt your right ear towards your right shoulder without allowing your shoulders to rise. You will feel a stretch in the left side of your neck. Slowly return to the start and repeat on the other side. For the second stretch, release your right hand from the chair and place your right hand flat onto the front of your left shoulder, gently pressing your shoulder down and back. Then, turn your head to look over your right shoulder, tilting the top of your head back slightly to feel a stretch in the front and side of your neck, and even into your jaw on the left side. Release slowly and repeat on the right side of your neck by placing your left hand on your right shoulder, and looking over your left shoulder. Hold each of these neck stretches for 15-30 seconds while breathing gently through your nose.
Please note: it is important to see your health care practitioner before beginning a new exercise program.
First Published in the Mind Body Messenger newsletter 2003