This is a follow-up to my previous post, “Office Yoga: Part I,” in which I gave options for stretching while still at your desk or in your office. In this post, we’ll delve into options for after you’ve come home for the day. These stretches will be focused on the same body parts mentioned in my last post, but will go deeper into the body and would look pretty weird if you busted them out at your desk, if that’s something you’re worried about.
Sitting all day at a desk, in a car, or on an airplane can cause lots of tension in certain areas of our bodies. You’ll feel it as soon as you stand up to head home from a day at the office – the front of your thighs and the sides of your hips get tight, the neck and shoulders can feel crunchy and uncomfortable, and the wrists are overworked from hours of typing and clicking or gripping a steering wheel.
So what are you to do once you come home from a day spent sitting? I know it’s tempting to crawl to the couch, and then from there to bed, BUT! before you get there, see if you can’t set aside just 10-15 minutes to go through a few of these stretches. I promise you’ll feel better, and your body will thank you!
The Neck: There are many yoga poses to which you can add just slight movements that encourage relaxation of muscle and joint tension. Here’s just one example.
To get into sphinx pose, clear some space on the floor into which it will be comfy for you to press your elbows, like on a carpet, rug, or towel. Lie down on your belly, and then stack your elbows under your shoulders. Pull your shoulders down and away from your ears to create space for the neck. Spread your fingers wide and inhale. On your exhale, begin to drop the chin down toward your chest. On your next inhale, roll the chin up toward the right shoulder. Exhale back to center, and inhale over to the left shoulder. Continue this pattern, and feel free to stop anywhere that feels particularly good. To come out of sphinx pose, widen your elbows away from one another and stack palms under the forehead to rest. Then push back up into a tabletop position.
The Wrist: Our wrists can over-develop in one direction when we spend lots of time at a computer keyboard or a steering wheel. Rock climbers also over-develop in this way, creating tight forearms. Below is one of my favorite stretches for the wrists and forearms.
Start kneeling with tucked toes (as pictured above), then lower your hips down onto your heels. If you have tender knees, you can always place extra cushion under them in the form of a rolled-up blanket or towel, or place that blanket or towel between behind the knee to create a little space between the calf and the thigh. Begin to lean forward over the knees as you place the fingertips on the ground in front of you, the forearms facing away from you. Continue to push the wrists down toward the ground. With increased flexibility, you will be able to lower the entire palm of each hand down. This is, as the caption notes, a preparation for a very challenging arm balance pose called peacock pose.
The Psoas: If you have no idea what the psoas (pronounced SOH-azz) is, feel free to refer to my last post, which includes an illustration of the muscle.
You can take many different variations of lunges to open up the psoas. As you grow more flexible, you’ll be able to lower your hips closer to the ground, stretching the psoas more deeply.
This is the same final variation that was included in my last post. The front knee stacks over the front ankle and the top of the back foot presses down into the ground. For a very deep stretch, lift the arms up overhead, palms facing one another, and begin to lean back, away from the front leg. The sternum will lift up toward the ceiling for a gentle backbend as you drop the head back to open the front of the neck as well. Yummy!
The Hips: Sitting in a cubicle, car, or airplane usually requires us to take up as little space as possible, meaning we’re not given the opportunity to open and stretch our hips very often. The pose pictured below is more passive and restorative, meaning it requires little effort to “stay” in the pose and instead utilizes gravity and props to help stretch the body.
To get into this posture, begin in a seated butterfly or bound ankle pose, bringing the bottoms of the feet together in front of you (and, if your hair is up in any fashion, undo it so your neck can release down). In the picture above, I’m using yoga blocks to support my knees, which allows me to stay in this pose for a long time and provides a more gentle stretch. If you don’t have yoga blocks at home, you can always stack books under each knee as well, or anything sturdy and solid. Once you’ve arranged the blocks or block-substitutes, lower yourself down onto your back. From here, you can do anything with the hands that feels good and relaxing, whether that’s hands on the belly, as pictured, or palms face-up on either side of the hips. Stay here for 3-5 minutes to feel the full benefits of this amazing pose.
The Shoulders: As I described in my previous post, our shoulders hold loads of tension, just like our hips, and this is exacerbated by spending lots of time in public spaces, where we are regularly encouraged to take up as little space as possible. Our shoulders are designed to move in many different ways, and we only access a couple of them in our everyday lives. This is why opening and stretching the shoulders can feel so good!
I promise I’m not cheating, even though this pose looks exactly like the one pictured above it! Take a closer look- what’s the one difference? In this variation of reclined bound ankle, I have placed a bolster, another type of yoga prop, along the length of my spine to support my back and head. So in addition to opening the hips here, I am also opening the chest by pushing the sternum up with the bolster and allowing gravity to pull the shoulders down, away from the chest. If you don’t own a bolster, you can substitute it with a rolled-up blanket or towel- just make sure it’s long enough to support the full length of the spine as well as the head. If your substitute isn’t quite long enough, you can always place a pillow under the head too. Allow the hands to come to either side of the hips, palms face-up.
When you try this pose, don’t be surprised if you feel lots of tension along the upper arms. This can be a very deep stretch for many people, so be gentle going in and out of the pose. As in the first variation, stay here for a good 3-5 minutes to reap the full benefits of the stretch, and to feel relaxed too.
The Hamstrings: The hamstring is the large muscle that runs from the knee to the butt along the back of your thigh, and it grows tight from both activity (e.g. running, hiking, cycling, swimming) as well as inactivity (mainly, sitting). Below is also a more passive stretch that can help to stretch the backs of the legs.
This is a great, relaxing pose to practice after a long day on the road or at the office. It can help to relieve tension in the belly and low back as well. It’s actually harder to get into than it looks, so don’t get discouraged. Find an open wall space, and begin to scoot your butt up toward the wall. Start with knees bent and the bottoms of the feet pushing into the wall. Slowly inch yourself closer to the wall, working the legs toward straight. It’s fine if the legs don’t straighten completely. Lower yourself onto your back, maybe placing a pillow/rolled-up blanket/rolled-up yoga mat (as pictured above) under your head for a little extra support, and relax. You can flex the toes back toward your face, as pictured, if that feels good. Hands can go wherever you’d like. Stay here for several minutes, but not so long that your legs begin to fall asleep!
If you have any feedback or suggestions for other stretches, please let me know in the comments. Many thanks to fellow yoga teacher Jessie Carlson for taking all the above photos for me. My outfit and yoga mat are from Prana, and the pictures were taken inside the lovely Blossom Yoga studio in Laramie, Wyoming. Love to all.