As this is exam time for many young people and they are sitting at their desks hunched over books and laptops, I decided to write a blog especially for them. Unlike some business professionals who are lucky enough to have their desk and chair adjusted, screen raised to eye level and keyboard placed at the right height to avoid wrist pains, young students are usually just hunched forward over their desks and books. Even if you are not a student but you sit at a desk all day long, I hope the exercises below can help you. They can counter the ‘desk syndrome’, i.e. fatigue and a bad posture.
Yoga for students, and for teenagers in general, is incredibly valuable. Apart from having numerous benefits for body and mind, yoga teaches them to listen to and honour their body. In a time when they often have to compete in school or live up to the pressures of social media and popular culture, yoga can be a practice that is just for them. It is one that actively encourages turning the attention inward, being patient and non-judgemental towards oneself.
Anyway, no time for lots of reading — let’s get straight to the point:
When you sit at your desk all day long, take frequent movement breaks: every hour, get up and move around for at least 5 minutes. Exercise improves the blood circulation in the body and the brain and improves cognitive functioning. Make sure to do this outside in fresh air or open a window. The sun salute described below is great to get your whole body moving.
While sitting at your desk, you can stretch your upper back, neck and shoulders with the following exercise:
Take a fat book or ideally a yoga brick and place it against the lowest part of the skull. Wrap you fingers around the block and point the elbows forward so they are shoulder-width apart. Sit back against the chair, rest the hips and lengthen the lower back rather than arch it. Move the head and chest and head gently back so you look upwards. This should not feel as a strong or painful stretch, but as a gentle rounding backwards. Don’t allow your neck to make an abrupt angle or collapse. Instead, the backbend should start from the upper back and the neck is just an extension of that curve. Keeping the elbows shoulder-width apart allows the shoulder blades to relax down and the upper back to broaden. Hold for a few breaths and do at regular intervals.
The sun salute is an invigorating series of postures that can help release tightness in the spine and the back of the legs. Apart from being energising it can also reduce tension buildup and hence make you feel more focused and calm. If your body feels tight, it is good to warm up first by doing the Cat and Cow stretches that form the middle part of the sun salute. I have adapted the traditional sun salute to make the movements more appropriate for beginners. Please don’t do the sun salute if you have had serious back pain in the past year or if any of the movements hurt.
Inhale and raise both arms.
Exhale and fold forward from the hips, bending the knees if the hamstrings are very tight. If it is comfortable, hang down like this for a few moments.
Exhale and place your hands down and both feet back for the Plank. Stay a few breaths if you want to strengthen your abs, but make sure you keep the back in good alignment without allowing the lower back to dip down (see here for details).
… exhaling in the Cat stretch.
Exhale and push yourself up to Dog’s pose. Keep your hands wide for this and the feet hip-width apart. (Read here for more details)
… and bring them down to the chest with an exhalation.
Repeat this once more but this time move the left leg first.