No matter how good or bad our home workplace setup, most people working from home are at higher ergonomic risk from maintained static postures than they were at the office. We just move around less. We don’t walk to the bus. We don’t visit clients in the middle of the day and we don’t interact with other people around the office. We sit for longer than we did before, and even then we sat too much.
No matter who I speak to, where they are in the world or what their setup, everybody says that one thing they would find helpful is stretches.
Personally I am reluctant to use the word, because I prefer to think of gentle opening. Stretching sounds too forced. I appreciate the sentiment however, and whereas you should never push your body into a stretch, in response to popular demand, I would like to share some ways you can bring safe, gentle movement to your spine in the middle of your working day.
Before you Begin
Make sure you are firmly supported with both feet planted fully on the floor. Sit into the back of your chair with most of your thighs supported on the chair’s seat. If you are on a chair with wheels, be careful not to let the chair move away from you.
1. Axial Extension
Lengthening of the spine without going into a backbend. Interlace your fingers and raise your hands above your head, palms toward the ceiling.
Raise your shoulder girdle to create space between the vertebrae of your spine.
Soften your lower ribs in the front and think about their connection to your hip bones. Breathe into the space at your side body that has opened up between your ribs.
2. Gentle Spinal Extension and flexion
Seated Cat/Cow is a great way to get some gentle, flowing movement into the spine. It’s also an opportunity to pay attention to your breath by building the movement around it. Inhale as your rock gently forward on your sitting bones and let your chest float up to the ceiling.
Exhale as your rock back on your sitting bones and let your head fall forward. In both directions, the neck is imitating the curve of the lower spine. Work in the middle of your range of motion to stay safe. The more gentle and fluid the movements, the better
3. Side Bends.
Plant both feet in the ground and both sitting bones in your chair. Especially anchor the sitting bone that you will be leaning away from.
If you are raising your left arm, then anchor your left sitting bone. Now reach up and over to the other side, opening the space between the vertebrae on the side of your raised arm without reaching so far that you compress the vertebrae on the other side.
Open the front of the shoulder of the raised arm. Make sure to relax the shoulder towards which you are leaning. Breathe and repeat on the other side.
4. Back Bend and Forward Fold.
Press down on with your hands at your sides to lengthen the spine. Then allow your chest to float up to the ceiling. Allow you head to fall back. This is a great chest opener and allows the muscles of the front to ease up after all the time spent constricted at the computer. The forward fold allows the lower spine to decompress.
Every forward fold is a hip hinge so send your tailbone and sitting bones behind you as you come down with your belly between your thighs . Make sure your lower spine is easy. You can grab opposite elbows with opposite hands and pull gently on your lower spine for added traction.
5. Spinal Twist.
In addition to being great for your spine, think of twists as a loving wringing out of your internal organs. Twists briefly cut off the blood supply to your digestive organs and then free them reabsorb fresh, oxygen-enriched new blood.
We always want to twist from a decompressed spine so flatten out your lower back before you begin and sit tall. Place your back hand on the chair’s back or on the seat behind you. Use your back hand to lengthen the spine and the front hand to pull you into the twist.
Look either where your breastbone is facing or over your back shoulder but don’t leave your head and neck behind. As with all stretches, it’s best to begin slowly. Looking in the direction where your breastbone is facing is a good way to start.
Remember to always warm up slowly, never work near the limit of your range of motion, and only do what feels right for you today.