Between covid-19 related quarantine mandates, work and school from home, and an abundance of hours spent streaming the latest and greatest, Americans have logged serious hours in their seats. While a bit of rest is a good thing, hours spent-whether working or traveling-in a seated position can leave the body feeling tight, sore, and out of sorts. To combat the effects of more time than usual in a seated posture, try the below stretches to awaken the body and bring blood flow to the muscles. Be consistent! The body responds well to short, intentional bouts of movement at regular increments and since most of these stretches won’t draw attention of onlookers in public places, these moves can be added in at the office, the airport, and in line at the grocery store. Try the simple stretches below 1-3 times per day every day for 1 week, and your body will thank you.
1. Side Bending
From a seated position, gather the muscles of the abdomen towards your spine and sit up nice and tall. As you inhale, bring the right arm out to the side, then reach up and over towards the left side of the room. As you breathe out, bring the arm back down to your side and sit tall. Inhale and reach the left arm out to the side, then reach up and over towards the right side of the room. Breathe out and return to center. Do this a minimum of 5 times to each side, slowly lengthening and opening the sides of your torso. Not only will this move help release hidden tension from the sides of the torso, it creates space for the organs of the abdomen and increased flexibility in the spine
2. Chair Pose
It may seem odd to use a posture named after a chair to combat the effects of sitting, however when done correctly, this pose brings blood flow to the major muscles of the core and lower body and helps realign the spine. Take a modified version by standing with feet hips distance apart, then slowly lower the hips down and back-as if you are attempting to sit in a chair. Pull the muscles of the belly in nice and tight, and lean into the back of the body, with the weight settling into the heels and back of the legs. Keep the hands at the hips or together at the heart for core support. Alternatively, stretch the arms forward parallel to the floor for an added challenge to the abdominal muscles. Keep the feet, knees, hips, and shoulders in alignment and hold for several breaths. Repeat 1-3 times and feel instant relief for the low back.
3. Forward Fold
This stretch opens the entire backside of the body, is helpful for tight lower backs, and has an added benefit of releasing stress and anxiety. Stand with feet hips distance apart, then slowly bend the knees and bring the top half of the body forward into a “folded” position. Take a few deep breaths as the spine lengthens and the head moves towards the floor. The knees can stay as bent as is needed for comfort. Gentle movement in this pose can feel really nice; try experimenting with swaying side to side or bending and straightening the legs. You can rest the hands on the shins or, if the low back allows, rest the hands on the floor or a prop. To help encourage the release of a stressful day, take a big breath in through the nose, then exhale fully through the mouth while resting in the folded position. Repeat as needed!
4. Chest Opener
From a seated or standing position, roll the shoulders up to the ears and down the back several times to release tension. Shake out the fingers, then make loose fists with the hands and circle the wrists several times in each direction. Next, interlace the fingers of both hands and turn the palms to face away from your body. As you breathe in, lift the interlaced hands above the head; as you breathe out, lower the arms to the starting position. Repeat a minimum of 5 times. Option to turn the palms to face towards your body and repeat the entire exercise. When the palms face inward towards the body, as you lower your arms try dropping the chin to the chest and rounding through the upper back to stretch the space between the shoulder blades. Release the arms and rest a moment. Then, reach both arms up towards the ceiling and slowly bring the elbows down towards the sides of the body to form a “goalpost” shape with both arms. Release the shoulders away from the ears and tip the gaze toward the ceiling to open the throat, relax the neck, and expand the chest. Hold for a couple breaths, release the posture, then repeat once more if it feels good to your body.
5. Chest Opener 2.0
Once the shoulders have softened a bit from some gentle movement, you can move into a more intense chest and shoulder opening posture. From a seated or standing position, interlace the hands behind the lower back, and stretch the interlaced hands behind you towards the floor to open the chest as the shoulders will allow. If the chest and shoulders are very tight, use the modification of reaching the arms behind you and taking a hold of opposite elbows with each hand (right hand grabs left elbow, left hand grabs right elbow). Allow the shoulders to release away from the ears while slowly breathing in and breathing out.
6. Easy Hip Opener
From a seated posture, bring both feet to rest on the floor. Sit up tall and take a deep breath. Bring the right ankle to the top of the left knee. Breathe slowly as the right knee begins to relax, in turn opening the right hip. Use the hands to steady the right ankle and gently press the right knee away from you. Allow several breaths in this position, then place the right foot back on the floor and bring the left ankle to the right knee to work with the left hip. If you feel comfortable balancing on one leg, the standing version of this posture offers a great release for both the hips and the low back. Start by coming into chair pose with the feet hips distance apart with the hands on the hips or together at the heart for balance (or rest one hand on a counter or waist-high surface like the back of a chair). Bring the right flexed ankle to the left knee; as you settle into the hip opening, reach the tailbone or lower spine down and back behind you for increased sensation in the hip. Stay for several breaths and then come to standing with both feet on the floor. When you are ready, repeat this stretch on the second side.
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