Something I often daily is the “3 o’clock stretch.” It’s a time to move away from my computer screen mid afternoon to do a few simple stretches and recharge. Sitting in one position all day makes my body feel not so great, so some simple yoga stretches are great for loosening tight muscles. Plus my energy often is often waning mid afternoon, and it’s amazing how a little deep breathing and muscle movement can completely reinvent your mood.
Below are a few of my favourite “office-friendly stretches.” They don’t require any special clothing, equipment, or training – just a willingness to take a break from hunching over your desk.
1. Square Breathing to clear your head.
Firstly a breathing practice. There is no aspect of relaxation more important than breathing. When I get particularly focused at work, my breathing becomes quite shallow. And deep breathing alone can have a huge impact on your state of mind. It’s like hitting the ‘restart button’ to restore calm, clear thinking.
Here’s how to do it:
· Sit in a comfortable, upright position either on your chair or on the floor.
· Inhale through your nose for four counts (1, 2, 3, 4).
· Hold that breath in for four counts.
· Exhale through your nose for four counts.
· Hold that breath out for four counts.
· That’s one cycle.
Repeat the cycle 10 times, going at your own pace.
If this pattern of breathing doesn't feel good for you, then hold the breath for a shorter duration, or not at all. It shouldn't feel uncomfortable at all. Also don't do this breathing if you are pregnant.
2. Shoulder stretch: Release neck and shoulder tension.
Interlace your fingers, and raise your arms above your head, with your palms facing upwards. Try to keep your arms in line with your ears, while you look straight ahead and relax your shoulder blades down your back (don’t shrug them up.) Hold for five full breaths in and out through your nose. Let your arms fall down to your sides, roll your shoulders backwards and forwards a few times, then repeat the stretch, holding for five full breaths.
3. Eagle arms: Ease the deep-seated shoulder knots.
Hold your arms straight out in front of you, parallel to the floor. Cross your left arm over your right at the elbows, making an X shape with your arms (still parallel with the floor). Then bend your elbows, so the backs of your hands are touching, fingers point to the ceiling. Hook one hand over the other so that your palms are facing each other.
Once you have the arm wrap going, look straight ahead and try to keep your elbows lifted. Press your palms into each other, while you try to pull your elbows apart. Keep your shoulders relaxed. You should feel a powerful stretch in your neck and between your shoulder blades. Hold for five breaths.
Unwrap your arms and hold them out in front again. Then cross woth the opposite elbow on top. Repeat the pose in the opposite position, holding for five breaths.
Release, then give the arms a good shake from shoulder to wrist.
4. Heart opener: Gorgeous to counter computer hunching.
Stand up with your feet hip-distance apart, reach your hands behind you, clasping them together in a fist at the base of your back. Looking straight ahead, lift your clasped hands as high as you can behind you, pulling your shoulder blades together. (If you want more of a stretch, you can fold over your legs, and let gravity pull your clasped hands toward the floor.) Hold for five full breaths.
5. Standing forward bend: To let back and neck tension melt away.
Keeping your feet hip-distance apart, fold over your legs. If your hamstrings are tight, bend your knees. Try to relax into the pose for five full breaths. If you want a little help from gravity, grab opposite elbows and let your head hang down.
Then stand up slowly, take a few breaths, and fold over your legs again. This time shaking your head “no” and nodding your head “yes” as you hang over your legs for another breath cycle.
The most important thing to keep in mind as you’re stretching is continual breathing, and not trying too hard. If something hurts, ease off the stretch a little bit, and keep breathing. Enjoy the rest of your afternoon, hopefully with a de-stressed body and clearer mind too.