Modern life is not kind to the human body. Even if you manage to exercise a few times a week, sitting at a desk for hours on end can have a profound affect on your wellbeing. Working from home makes everything worse — we don’t have our ergonomic office workspaces, which come with desk assessments organised by HR, to help take the strain. Working from the kitchen table hunched over a laptop is not going to do your body any favours at all.
When you sit in a chair and reach for a computer keyboard, the spine rounds forward. This places tension on the lower back, overstretches the upper back, restricts the neck and shortens muscles in the chest and hips. Tapping away on a keyboard or jigging a mouse about only heightens stress levels.
Office workers are most at risk — a survey by Printerland.co.uk found that almost three-quarters of office workers experience work-related aches and pains, ranging from back and neck pain to eye strain, RSI and headaches. Plus, all that sitting makes us pile on weight and feel sluggish. It doesn’t stop when our working day ends and looking at mobiles and tablets takes over. “Text neck” is a real condition, you know!
There are, however, ways we can make desk work much more comfortable. If you are working at home, Welcometothejungle.com has a useful guide to desk ergonomics, which is a good place to start
Next, take plenty of breaks. I know this isn’t always easy, but drink lots of water so you need to visit the bathroom more often and use a printer and photocopier at the other end of the office to get you moving.
You can also try the yoga sequence below, which will stretch tight muscles. The advantage of working at home means you won’t freak out your colleagues if you start throwing shapes at your desk!
1. ARM STRETCH Sit with your feet flat on the floor and lengthen the spine. Interlock the fingers and swing your arms overhead. Turn your palms to the ceiling and straighten the elbows. Take three breaths here and enjoy a burst of energy as you stretch the muscles in your back, chest, wrists and shoulders.
2 SHOULDER OPENER Take your arms behind your back, bend the elbows and bring each hand towards the opposite elbow. Engage your abdominal muscles and tuck in the chin. Stay for five breaths to give your shoulders and chest a much-needed stretch from all that slouching.
3. SITTING TWIST Press the soles of the feet into the floor. On your next exhale, lengthen the spine, keep your hips square and twist your upper body to the right, looking over your shoulder. Tuck your right elbow over the chair-back and take hold of the right-hand chair arm (if you have one), with your left hand. Inhale and lengthen the spine. Exhale and pull the chair towards you with your hands to deepen the twist. Do this for five breaths before repeating on the other side. This spinal twist massages discs, stretches the shoulders, back and neck and gives the digestive system a boost.
4. WRIST STRETCH Wrists are prone to conditions such as carpal tunnel syndrome from computer work. Keep yours healthy with a simple hand stretch, which you can feel all the way up your arms, too. Put one arm out in front of you and flex the wrist. Use your other hand to pull the fingers back towards you. Hold for five breaths and repeat on the other side.
See, a bit of desk yoga isn’t that hard to fit in. Now write ‘move, stretch, breathe’ on a Post-it note and stick it on your desk (somewhere subtle but visible to you!), and even when you’re super busy you’ll remember how to ease the strain of the day.
Adapted from my article published in the Irish Daily Mail, January 30, 2018