There are numerous upsides to working from home and one of the most attractive reasons is scheduling flexibility. Considering that most Americans spend 48 minutes a day commuting, working from home frees up an average of four hours a week, empowering remote employees to spend more time stretching and less time sitting in traffic.
The harmful effects of sedentary lifestyles are well-documented and medical experts urge people to incorporate regular exercise into their days. In fact, excessive sitting has been cautioned against for years and Dr. James Levine, director of the Mayo Clinic-Arizona State University Obesity Solutions Initiative, summed up the harmful effects of desk-bound work in one sentence: “Sitting is more dangerous than smoking, kills more people than HIV, and is more treacherous than parachuting.”
What’s more, sitting in one position for too long causes back pain for many people. While having good ergonomics and posture can help to ease discomfort from desk work, yoga is recommended by many health and wellness experts to stretch and strengthen the body and relieve back pain.
So what is yoga? Simply put, yoga is an ancient physical, mental, and spiritual practice from India that links breath, movement, and mindfulness. Over the past 40 years, yoga has exploded in popularity worldwide and research from Yoga Alliance and Yoga Journal in 2016 says more than 36 million people in the United States have participated in a yoga class at some point in their lives—an 85 percent increase from 20 million people in 2012.
The most popular place to practice yoga is at home and the top two reasons cited as motivation to start and continue practicing yoga are flexibility and stress relief and reduction. With working-from-home opportunities on the rise in response to the COVID-19 pandemic, remote employees can trade their car keys for a yoga mat and more easily incorporate stretching breaks into their workdays.
And while people first come to yoga for a variety of reasons, the results speak for themselves: yoga is an effective practice to manage chronic pain, increase strength and flexibility, promote inner calm, and reduce anxiety all of which can lead to enhanced productivity.
How can yoga help office workers? While there is no one size fits all solution when it comes to pain management, a study published by the National Institutes of Health in 2017 shows that regular and consistent yoga practice can ease moderate to severe chronic lower back pain. As a general rule, people with chronic or sensitive health conditions are advised to consult their medical professionals before beginning any new physical practices or fitness routines. Pregnant women are advised to seek specialized prenatal yoga classes and special cues are mentioned here.
And to learn the postures safely, it is advised to practice yoga under the guidance of a teacher in-person, through a face-to-face or online class, or with the help of instructional materials like this one written by an experienced yoga teacher.
Here are twelve yoga postures to practice at home for office workers with back pain. It is recommended to hold each posture for three to five breaths (one breath equals one inhale and exhale cycle), modify movements as needed, and to use props, blankets or pillows to promote relaxation to ease any pain or discomfort.
These postures can be done individually or practiced in the order they are listed below. To honor the cultural roots of yoga and reflect the terminology used by teachers, the yoga posture names are provided in English and Sanskrit.
Benefits: Lengthens and strengthens the spine, legs, and feet, can relieve sciatica pain.
Caution: Those with low blood pressure should practice with a hand on a wall or the back of a chair for balance.
Benefits: Lengthens and strengthens the muscles of the abdomen, back, legs, and feet.
Caution: Those with neck injuries should keep the neck neutral and look down instead of forward.
Benefits: Lengthens the muscles of the lower back, hamstrings, calves, and hips, strengthens the thighs, feet, and hips, calms the mind, relieves neck tension, and calms the mind.
Caution: Those with back or neck injuries should fold as far as possible without discomfort. Keep the back of the neck long and neutral; look down instead of forward. Pregnant women are advised to avoid this posture (and most forward folds), or proceed carefully if they have a previously established yoga practice.
Benefits: Lengthens and stretches the muscles of the back, torso, and neck; gently massages spine and internal organs.
Caution: Those with back or neck injuries should keep the back of the neck long and neutral.
Benefits: This is an all-purpose posture to strengthen and lengthen the frontside of the body. Strengthens and lengthens the muscles of the feet, thighs, spine, hip flexors, chest, and abdomen. It also opens the heart and lungs. Cobra and upward-facing dog are often part of a sun salutation (suryanamaskar) sequence at the beginning of a yoga class to warm and awaken the body.
Caution: Beginners are recommended to first try cobra, then upward-facing dog. Take care to not strain the wrists or back and avoid this and other lying-on-the-belly postures if pregnant.
Benefits: This is an all-purpose posture to strengthen and lengthen the backside of the body: the spine, arms, legs, hamstrings, calves, hands, and feet. It calms the mind, resets the spine, and relieves neck, shoulder, and back discomfort. Downward-facing dog is often part of a sun salutation sequence and a complementary posture to upward-facing dog.
Cautions: If wrist flexion is painful, fold the top of the mat over and place heels of the hands on the folded mat. If wrists cannot support any weight, come down to the knees, hips up, and arms spread straight out on the ground with the palms down for puppy pose. Alternatively, press the forearms into the ground, bend the elbows, and straighten the legs behind for a forearm plank or walk the feet in and hips up for dolphin pose. Avoid downward-facing dog in late-term pregnancy.
Benefits: An accessible backbend that prepares the back, legs, and shoulders for deeper backbends, strengthens the muscles of the lower back, torso, legs, and arms.
Cautions: Those with neck or shoulder injuries can lift the chest slightly or keep the chest on the floor and keep the back of the neck long. If back pain is present, take the feet apart and press the tops of the feet into the floor or take cobra pose. Avoid this and other lying-on-the-belly postures if pregnant.
Benefits: An essential complementary stretch after a backbend; stretches the spine, shoulders, and hamstrings. Calms the mind.
Cautions: Those with tight hamstrings are advised to sit on a folded blanket, roll a blanket under the knees for support, or hold on to a strap looped around the bottoms of the feet.
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, and muscles of the shoulders, spine, and sides of the body. Releases tension in the lower back. Calms the mind.
Cautions: For those with tight outer or inner thighs, place a folded blanket under the bent knee to promote relaxation. For those with tight hamstrings, use a strap and bend the knee of the straight leg to fold forward gradually if tightness is present.
Benefits: Stretches the hamstrings, opens the hips, increases knee, foot, ankle, and wrist mobility, eases back and shoulder tension and discomfort, calms the mind, relieves stress and fatigue.
Cautions: Those with knee and ankle injuries, bend the joints carefully. Those with neck or spinal injuries, support the spine or neck with an extra blanket. If clasping the feet isn’t possible, use a strap or keep the legs up in the air, bend the knees slightly and roll side to side, arms on either side of the torso, palms down on either side of the body for stability. Alternatively, plant both feet hip-width apart on the floor and allow the knees to fall together inward in constructive rest or keep the knees together and pelvis on the floor, move the knees side to side in a windshield wiper action.
To fully enjoy the benefits of yoga, set aside consistent time to practice every day or as often as possible.