Reboot Your Brain With Chair Yoga: 10 Simple Stretches For Busy People

Laura Finch
📖 Health
✍️ September 10, 2019
🕒 9 min read

People who take microbreaks from work are more focused, happier, and healthier than those who choose to sit and hammer at their keyboard for 8 hours straight.

Don’t trust me. Trust the science.

There’s growing evidence that as short as 30 seconds away from the screen can improve our attention span, cognitive capacity, and enhance the overall well-being.

Combine these short breaks with a bit of physical activity such as yoga, and you’ll get the added benefits such as less pain and discomfort in your neck, shoulders, and lower back caused by sitting at your desk 24/7.

Why Yoga?

I’ll be honest with you here.

Yoga is not the sole and only effective exercise you can do at your desk.

Any postural change, shoulder stretch, or even a short walk to the bathroom is better than just sitting (which is literally killing you, by the way, according to the data from Mayo Clinic).

Any movement is better than no movement.

Nonetheless, chair yoga is my go-to choice whenever I find myself too busy for a full-length workout and too stiff from sitting still at my desk.

Here are just a few reasons why yoga should become your staple stretching routine during your workday breaks from the computer screen:

  • it’s simple

There’s no need for any equipment or even a workout mat. The moves are straightforward, and you probably had done them million times before you even knew what yoga is.

  • even a short session is useful for your brain

A brief 20-minute session of postural yoga makes your mind clearer and ready to learn and process information better than 20 minutes of anaerobic exercise (check out the study here).

  • it reduces stress and anxiety

Yoga has been proven to reduce cortisol level, alleviate anxiety, and boost the mood levels (read more about science-based benefits of yoga here). According to available studies (such as the one here), it’s probably more effective than other physical activities you can do during work break (such as walking).

  • it reduces inflammation unlike any other physical exercise

Why does it matter to you?

Well, only because constant inflammation caused by unhealthy diet, sedentary lifestyle, and chronic stress leads to long-term risk of developing diabetes, cancer, and heart disease.

  • it helps practice mindfulness

A little bit of mindfulness every day can go a long way. You can’t do a good job and build a successful business if your eye is twitching and you’re exhausted all the time.

Thanks to mind-breath-body connection, a brief yoga session at your office (or home) desk can help you chill out, make better decisions, and get more creative.

Ten Simple Chair Yoga Poses You Can Do At Your Desk

Each yoga pose below is meant to leave you feeling better, energized, and ready to take on new business challenges. So if some of the movements don’t feel right, or worse – painful, stop immediately.

Also, if you have any existing or previous injuries, don’t be a jerk to your body! Consult your doctor of a physical therapist for advice on possible options for a lunch-break exercise routine.

These ten yoga stretches are pretty straightforward in terms of instructions. You can do almost all of them without even getting up from your office chair. Though you’ll find me instructing each pose from a seated position, I strongly advise that you try doing most of the poses while standing. What’s the good in sitting all day, anyway?

You can do these yoga poses in a sequence as a daily routine. No need to change the order, just do as they are presented in the article. On days when you’re a real busy bee, simply break up this yoga routine in chunks or do every pose separately when you have a free minute.

Let’s start!

Wrist & Hand Stretches

Why:

  • increases mobility in the fingers, forearms, and hands
  • reduces stiffness in the wrists
  • decreases the risk of repetitive strain injury
  • builds strength in small muscles of fingers and wrists

How-To:

  • Begin in a comfortable seated position with a straight spine and your feet planted on the ground.
  • Breathe in and extend your arms right in front of you, palms facing down. Flex and spread your fingers as wide as you can. Notice if your shoulders start rolling forward and your upper back hunched. Try to keep your chest open.
  • Breathe naturally in and out through your nose.
  • Stay in the position for approximately three long full breaths.

 

  • On the next exhale, raise your fingertips up to the sky while keeping the arms in the same position. Imagine there’s a wall in front of you that you’re trying to push. Keep spreading your fingers wide.
  • Hold the pose for about three long full breaths.

 

  • Drop your fingertips so that they face the ground. This may feel awkward at first, but just try pulling the fingers down until you feel the stretch in your wrists and forearms.
  • Hold the pose for about three long full breaths.

 

  • Clench your fingers into fists. Start moving your fists in a circular motion for about a breath.
  • Change the direction of movement. Try to move from your wrists and stay still in your forearms if possible.

Seated Neck Stretch

Why:

  • lengthens the muscles of the neck, shoulders, and upper back
  • relieves tension
  • might be helpful for headaches

How-To:

  • Sit in a chair in a comfortable position. Keep your spine upright, your shoulders relaxed, and the chest open.
  • On an exhale, relax your neck and gently drop your head to the right. As you relax, your head will tilt more to the right. You should feel a stretch in the left side of your neck and upper shoulder.
  • Hold the pose for about three full breath and repeat on the other side.

 

  • Slowly protrude your head slightly forward and drop your head as if you’re trying to reach your chest with your chin. Make sure to keep your neck relaxed and your spine upright.
  • You should feel a gentle stretch at the back of your neck and most probably in your upper back as well. Stay in the pose for about three long breaths.

Seated Mountain Pose With Arm & Side Stretch

Why:

  • opens the shoulders
  • stretches the sides of the torso, armpits and upper arms
  • relieves muscle tension in the shoulders and upper back

How-To:

  • Start in an upright seated position.
  • On an exhale, stretch your arms to the sides and start reaching them overhead with palms facing each other.
  • If your shoulders are pretty open, clasp your hands together and turn the palms facing the sky. Stay active through your abdominal muscles to keep a straight spine without collapsing forward.
  • Hold for about three full breath.

 

  • Inhale and on the exhale, bend to the right, stretching the left side of your torso. Stay firmly grounded with your buttocks on the chair and don’t let the left sit bone lift up.
  • Stay in the pose for about three full breaths and repeat on the other side.

Seated Eagle Arms

Why:

  • relieves tension from shoulders and upper back
  • stretches the upper spine, arms, and wrists

How-To:

  • Start in a seated position. Inhale as you extend your arms to the sides with elbows slightly bent and fingertips pointing towards the sky.
  • Bring each arm across the body to the opposite side as if you’re giving yourself a tight hug.

 

  • If this feels comfortable, uncross your arms and extend them to the sides. Breathe out and wrap your right arm under the left one, pressing your hands together. Keep your shoulders pushing down away from the ears.
  • Experiment with the stretch by lifting and lowering your elbows.
  • Hold for about three full breaths on each side.

Seated Cat-Cow Stretch

Why:

  • stretches the back and front side of the body
  • frees the breath by opening the chest and lungs
  • neutralizes the spine position
  • therapeutic for lower back pain and sciatica

How-To:

  • Start in a seated position with your spine straight and hands resting on your knees.
  • Inhale, lead with your heart and tilt the pelvis forward while rolling your shoulder blades back. Gently gaze upward. This is called a Seated Cow Pose.
  • Exhale and lean back, rounding with your spine and upper back. Tuck your chin to the chest and gaze down, coming into Seated Cat.
  • Expand and round at least three times. Match your movements to your breath.

Seated Twist Pose

Why:

  • improves spine flexibility
  • relieves shoulder and upper spine stiffness
  • stretches the torso

How-To:

  • Begin sitting sideways on your chair with your right side facing the chair’s back.
  • As you exhale, start gently twisting your torso to the right while gripping with your hands onto the back of the chair.
  • Stay firm through your abdominal muscles. You should twist from the base of the spine rather than in the upper back and neck only.
  • Try lengthening your spine on every inhale and twisting a little bit deeper on every exhale.
  • Hold for about three full breaths and switch sides.

Seated Pigeon Pose

Why:

  • stretches the lower back and hips
  • therapeutic for lower back pain

How-To:

  • Begin in a neutral seated position with your feet firmly planted on the ground.
  • Breathe in and cross your right ankle over the left thigh. Place it slightly above the left knee. Flex your right foot to protect your right knee.
  • Once you’re comfortable in the position, breathe out as you start bending forward to get deeper into the stretch.
  • Stay in the pose for about three breaths. Repeat on the other leg.

Chair Pose

Why:

  • builds strength in the lower body
  • tones the core muscles
  • increases mobility in the upper body
  • therapeutic for flat feet

How-To:

  • Begin in a standing position with feet hip-distance apart.
  • On an inhale, reach your arms overhead.
  • Breathe out, start bending your knees, and shifting your buttocks back as if you’re trying to sit in a chair behind you. Make sure to place the weight of your body into your heels. You should be able to lift your toes and wiggle them.
  • Keep your chest open and your core muscles flexed.
  • Stay in the position for about 3 breaths.

Supported Downward Dog Pose

Why:

  • stretches the backside of the body including the legs, back, and shoulders
  • releases the tension after long periods of sitting

How-To:

  • Put your chair against the wall so that it wouldn’t move while you’re doing the pose.
  • Place your hands on the chair seat as you bend forward.
  • Start stepping back until your arms are straight and your feet are under the hips at a 90-degree angle. You can move your feet further back if that feels better.
  • You will feel a stretch in your legs, calves, back, armpits and even sides of the torso.
  • Hold the pose for about three full breaths.

Seated Relaxation

Why:

  • increases self-awareness
  • improve focus and concentration
  • relieves stress and anxiety
  • enhances sleep quality

How-To:

  • Sit in a comfortable position in a chair with your palms resting on your thighs.
  • Close your eyes and focus your attention on your breath. Notice how your body expands on every inhale and contracts on every exhale.
  • Try to completely release the tension from every part of your body.
  • Stay in the position for at least 2 minutes.


It would be a blatant lie to convince you that a few minutes of yoga stretches a day can reverse the effects of a sedentary lifestyle and long hours in front of the computer.

But, as I’ve already mentioned, any movement is good movement.

If a few minutes a day is what you can afford right now, then be it. I guarantee you’ll feel the difference in how your body and mind work real soon.

If you like that new ‘ahh’ feeling, consider adding a few minutes of yoga to your morning and evening routine. Check out yogakali.com for yoga sequences for absolute beginners and no-fluff Yoga 101 articles on how you can start practicing at home if you’ve never even stood on a yoga mat before.

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