This is part two of articles dealing with easing a stiff back and shoulders. The first article article deals with your set up and this article deals with movements and stretches to relieve the stiffness associated with sitting for long periods.
The human body is the most amazing thing you will ever own. Take care of it.
If you sit regularly, your body will get better at holding this position to support what you do. This means that if you are sitting for your job, your body adapts to this need.
This can also lead to soreness and stiffness when you then get up from your desk or get out of the car you’ve been driving. You might sit again on the way home on public transport or in the car and then you sit to eat and as you relax at home. Your body as a consequence is trapped in the same movement pattern everyday.
So whether you are stiff from sitting at a desk or long days of driving, here are some stretches and movement tips to help you relieve it.
Yoga movements and stretches*
These movements can relieve tension in your neck, shoulders and upper back. They can be done at your desk or while sitting in traffic. Be gentle, move slowly and stay within your limitations, it’s not about how far you go it’s about the intention to move gently and open up softly. None of these exercises should cause you any pain, if so please stop. Listen to your body. what does it need today?
When working on a computer or interacting on a screen- you should change your head position at least once every half an hour! Look left, look right. Don’t be rigid and hold the same view or position for long – this is where the stiffness originates. You’re a holding a set pattern for extended periods of time – so when you eventually move – you’re stiff!
Place your hand gently on the top of your head, with your hand towards the opposite ear.
Don’t tug your head, just allow the weight of your hand with gravity to sit there. Gently bring your head towards your shoulder on the same side as the hand on your head.
Bring your head towards your shoulder not your shoulder to your head. This is a gentled stretch the aim is to create an opening along the upper die of your neck – it’s not about getting your head to your shoulder!
Stay here for 3 long breaths and then slowly come back up to centre. Repeat on the other side. Do three sets each side.
Allow your head to come forward, lengthening along the back of your neck, bringing your chin towards your chest.
Look up towards the sky, lengthening the front of your neck. Move slowly and come back to a neutral head position between the gentle stretches. Do three sets each side.
Take your time and enjoy the journey. Allow each side of the neck to gently open up as you move through the stretches.
You can end up carrying the weight of the world on your shoulders – literally, mentally and emotionally. This can result in tension that you get so used to, you don’t even know it’s there.
Shrug your shoulders
Bring your shoulders up towards your ears, with your arms down. Now squeeze your shoulders up, as tightly as you can, holding it for 10-15 seconds or longer. Release and take 3 deep breaths. Repeat this twice more.
Make circles with your shoulders. Simply rotate your shoulders in a forward direction while keeping your hands on your legs or your desk. Bring your shoulders up, forward, down and back. Start slow and you can build up speed as you loosen up a little.
Do about 10 circles, increasing the number you like, as you learn what’s good for you. Then reverse the direction of the circles. You can do both shoulders together or alternate – like a swimming motion – you can use your arms (or not) depending on who is around your desk! If you’re in the car – no room for arms extended!
Your shoulders will behave differently on each side. One will feel stiffer than the other, this is normal. Don’t try to force symmetry but embrace your asymmetry. Listen to what each side of your body is saying to you. You may have very different movements on each side and your range of motion may also be very different. That’s ok. The holding times are not rigid – you can exit earlier if you need to or stay a bit longer if you like.
Across Chest stretch
Bring one of your arms across your chest. Catch this arm with the opposite hand and gently allow the arm to come across your body.
Take a deep breath here, relax and then see if there is more space to move into. Take another deep breath. Don’t force it.
Stay here with relaxed breath for about 15 seconds. Slowly come back to centre and repeat on the opposite side. Do this 3 times on each side.
Cross your right elbow over your left. Then wrap your arms around one another.
Go to where you are comfortable, take a deep breath and remain for 15 seconds. Swap to the opposite side and repeat twice more.
Achieving the wrap around is not the important part – you might not be able to cross at the elbows – that’s ok – choose the option above if it suits you better.
Maybe you can cross at the elbows but you are no where near wrapping at the wrist – then, just don’t do that part.
The intention here is to get an extension along the back line of your arm and shoulder, not to do the wrap at all costs! Be kind.
Reach Out, Reach up, Reach over, Reach back and twist.
All of these can be as gentle as you like, remember that how far you go is not important. The intention is to create gentle movements and opening your body in the opposite direction to how you’re sitting all day. These movements will help your shoulder and neck tension and move your spine in four directions.
Open up across your chest, take a deep breath.
Extend your arms as long as you can, move towards your finger tips, take a deep breath.
Create tension here, hold it for a few seconds then release,take a deep breath.
Raise your hands above your head any amount. Your hands can connect together or allow them to go wide, depending on your shoulders. Reach up towards the ceiling. Take a deep breath.
Extend your arms up as long as you can make them. You can include the hands, spreading your fingers wide and truly switch on every muscle in your arms as you lift up.
Look up or look forward – see what difference it makes to you. Take a deep breath. Create tension, hold it for a few seconds then completely release, take a deep breath. This can be done standing and use your legs or just from your chair.
You can bring a side bend into reaching up, by grasping at the wrist and gently move to the opposite side.
Raise your hands above your head, catch the opposite arm with your hand. Gently extend the side with your hand that is higher. The depth you go is not important. Bring space and extend into your upper side. Take a few deep breaths here and relax.
Gently come back up to centre and swap sides.
Repeat 3 times on each side.
Notice if there is a difference as you repeat each side.
This can be as casual as putting your hands in your back pocket as you stand in conversation or using a prop to help open up your shoulders, like a desk, wall or door frame.
You can also place your hands behind your back as you sit, maybe one at a time, maybe the two together.
You can also put your hands behind your back as pictured. Most people are going to be nowhere near grabbing their opposite hand! That’s absolutely normal. Don’t worry!
Grab a scarf or belt in your top hand and let it dangle down your back, then grab it with your other hand at whatever height suits you – if your hands are not in the centre of your back – that’s also fine.
Allow the weight of the lower arm to be taken by the top arm. Take a deep breath when you arrive at your spot and remain there for 15 seconds or more. Slowly release your grip and swap arms, with the lower hand going to the high position and vice versa. You will find that the two sides are very different – that’s totally normal.
Obey the new rules of this side of your body and repeat 3 times on each side. Notice on the second and third attempt on each side if you are grabbing the belt in a different place or not.
A simple twist in your chair can also help alleviate stiffness – twists are probably best not done immediately after eating though!
This can range from simply looking over your shoulder to involving your arms shoulders and hands any amount that is comfortable. You could simply bring your hand across your body to grab your opposite handrail on your chair or the seat itself.
You can do twists in your chair or do full yoga pose if you have the space.
Inhale and lift and then exhale moving into the space you’ve just created. Go to the point where you naturally stop.
Breathe and see if there is a natural invitation to go further Remember not to force it. Concentrate on lengthening through your spine and your breath, stay here for 15 to 20 seconds then repeat on the other side. Repeat at least twice on each side. Don’t forget to breathe and relax.
Before any twist: inhale and intentionally sit taller. Think “soft dignity’, rather than rigid and upright! Then as you exhale slowly move into your twist. As you twist remember not to slouch over or lean back to – get round further. It’s not about how far around you get but the twist itself. Keep your butt firmly on your chair – both sides – don’t just lean over to get around!
Remember as you sit, you should move every 20 mins or so. You can use any movements listed here or get up and move about.
These poses can be done while sitting, they can help you to move as you work, break out of your stiffness and help you to live a balanced life.
Please make sure the Yoga poses listed here are appropriate for you. If you have any history of illness or injury, please be sure the postures are safe for you to do before you practice. Each posture has contraindications. Please ensure you are familiar with these before trying a pose. Some times the best course of action is not to do the pose. If you do decide to practice – do so mindfully and back out of the posture if it doesn’t feel right for you in any way.
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