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Chair Stretches for Every Body, Everywhere

By Edelyn Parker-Frye

I’ve been practicing yoga for over half my life. Through my practice, I have been able to slow down my thoughts, enabling me to see “the full picture” more clearly, choose my words more intentionally, and, all in all, be a kinder person—especially in moments when I might otherwise be a bit of a hothead. I use yoga when I need a pick-me-up or feel I’m too “up” and need to be more centered and grounded. I firmly believe in the power of yoga, and I believe that, with its many styles, yoga can be for everybody and every body.

 

Before we proceed, I feel obliged to tell you that I am not a certified yoga teacher and certainly not a medical professional. So, if you think the following suggestions may not be right for you and your body, as with any new physical activity, consult your medical professional. If, on the other hand, you feel comfortable trying some of the suggestions below, I will give you this one word of advice: yoga—or, in this case, light stretching—should feel anywhere from “good” to “on the edge of discomfort.” It’s true—some styles of yoga and even light stretching may ask you to test your edge, but if ever you are in a posture and experience a sensation that is short, sharp or shocking, stay calm, take a breath and slowly come out of the posture.

 

With that, here are a few of my favorite chair stretches you can do anytime, anywhere. You don’t have to leave the comfort of your desk to do them. You can even do most of these without disturbing the person sitting next to you on the plane—and if you do disturb them, invite them to stretch with you (then send them the link to this article so they can stretch on their own later.) These require zero special yoga clothes or equipment—you only need a few minutes dedicated to you.

 

  1. Breathing – I know… you don’t need instructions for this, but a deep breath is the basis of all stretches, and some of us just aren’t getting deep enough. Most of us spend much of our time taking shallow breaths, which trigger the sympathetic nervous system responsible for “fight-or-flight” impulses. By being mindful of your breath and encouraging even brief periods of deep breathing, you are awakening your parasympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for “rest and digest.” The parasympathetic nervous system tells your brain you are safe and don’t need to fight or flee. Here’s my favorite way to ensure I get my fullest breath.

  • Sit tall at the edge of your seat with your feet firmly planted on the ground. This allows you to feel more of your breath in your back ribs. Some people prefer to relax in their chairs for this. There is no wrong way—find your favorite posture.

  • The first inhale is exploratory. Inhale through your nose and feel the air in your nostrils, throat and lungs. Can you feel your lungs expanding your front and back ribs? Your ribs are connected by intercostal muscles, which benefit from light stretching. Your inflated lungs will also expand your diaphragm, pushing down on muscles through your belly, lower back, pelvis and hips. Whoa—deep breathing is stretching? No way!

  • OK, that was a long inhale, so you’re ready to exhale by now. Slowly release the air and visualize it moving from your hips, pelvis, lower back and belly, releasing your diaphragm. As your lungs deflate, air passes through your throat and out your nostrils. What an adventure that breath took!

  • Now that you’ve observed the path of the breath, you’re ready to roll.

    • Inhale on a four-count.

    • Wait a moment and take mental stock: Did your breath take the same full journey as during the exploratory breath?

    •  Exhale on a six-count.

    •  Wait a moment and take mental stock: Did the entire breath exit your body?

    •  If the answer to either of the two questions above was “no,” that’s OK. You get to do it again—for as long as you live.

    • Repeat the steps above.

  • The six-count exhale (or longer exhale than inhale) is key to awakening the parasympathetic nervous system. Regardless of the count, exhaling longer than you inhale ensures a deep breath. If you’re like me and prefer not to think about numbers, visualize the breath flowing through your body. Stay connected to your breath for however long you dedicate to yourself.

  2. Figure 4 Hip Opener – Many women carry tension in their hips. And guess what! Sitting for long periods is not doing us any favors. This stretch helps relieve some tension in our hips and lower backs.

  • Sit toward the edge of your seat with both feet planted on the ground. Engage your core by drawing your belly button toward your spine.

  • Cross your right ankle on the fleshy part above your left knee (aka, your quad.) From this position, inhale deeply and feel the breath expand in your hips and lower back. Then exhale.

    • This may be enough for you. Stay here, with your core engaged, and breathe until you’re ready to switch legs.

  • If you’d like to go further, take another deep inhale and lengthen your spine and engage your core. On your exhale, tilt your torso forward over your bent leg. Ready for more? Take another inhale to lengthen your spine and engage your core, and on your next exhale, tilt a little further. You can continue this “inhale to lengthen, exhale to deepen” pattern until your torso rests on your bent leg. Just be sure to keep breathing, support your back with an engaged core and pay attention to what your hips tell you—because, like Shakira’s, your hips don’t lie.

    • When you’re ready, take a deep inhale, and on your exhale, with your core engaged, return your torso to its starting position. You can “climb” your hands up your legs to help support you in this process, taking the weight of your rising torso off your lower back. Then slowly uncross your legs and try it again on the other side.

 

    3. Seated Spinal Twist – This stretch does it all. It improves spinal mobility and posture; it aids in  digestion, stretches the neck, chest, shoulders, and upper and lower back, it opens the hips. If you subscribe to the meaning of our chakras, you’ll be interested to know that a

seated spinal twist aligns and balances your Manipura, Svadisthana and Vishuddha chakras, which are collectively responsible for confidence, balanced emotions and clear communication. So, this might be the perfect workday stretch!

  • Sit toward the edge of your seat with both feet planted on the ground. Engage your core by drawing your belly button toward your spine.

  • Inhale deeply and allow your spine to grow taller.

  • On your exhale, twist your torso and place both hands on your chair’s right armrest, ensuring your hips stay firmly planted and facing forward.

    • This may be enough for you, in which case, continue to breathe with an engaged core in this position, elongating your spine on your inhale and relaxing your shoulders on your exhale. Scan through your body. Aside from your engaged core, are your muscles gripping anywhere? Try to relax them. When you’re ready, return facing forward on an exhale, and repeat to the other side.

  • If you’d like to go a little deeper, from the position described above, inhale, engage your core, and grow taller. On your exhale, press gently into your hands and use that leverage to deepen your twist. Make sure your shoulders stay relaxed. Repeat as desired: inhaling to grow taller, exhaling to drop your shoulders and twist deeper. If you feel up to it, turn your head to look over your right shoulder. Be mindful of your entire body—if you feel muscles gripping anywhere (aside from your core, which should be engaged), send breath toward those muscles to help them relax.

    • When you’re ready, on an exhale and with an engaged core, slowly unwind to face forward and repeat on the other side.
       

  4. Neck Rolls – Super easy and highly effective, this stretch will help you keep your head on straight.

  •  Sit toward the edge of your seat with both feet planted on the ground. Take a deep inhale and engage your core by drawing your belly button toward your spine.

  • On an exhale, drop your chin toward your chest. Feel that stretch in the back of your neck? Continue to breathe and enjoy that for as long as you’d like.

    • If this is too much pressure on the back of your neck, place your elbows on the desk in front of you, make loose fists with your hands, and rest your forehead on your fists for additional support.

  • When you’re ready, take an inhale. On your exhale, roll your right ear toward your right shoulder. Your shoulder should not be trying to meet your ear—relax it. Your ear should not be trying to meet your shoulder—don’t force it. This is all about gravity. Keep breathing and enjoy the stretch on the left side of your neck.

  • If this is too much pressure on the side of your neck, rest your right elbow on the desk in front of you, make a loose fist with your right hand, and bring your temple to your fist for additional support. You can use this tip on the left side later.

  • When you’re ready to move on, inhale, and on the exhale, allow your head to roll back so you’re looking toward the ceiling.

    • This one is the most difficult for me. If this is too much pressure on your neck, draw your shoulder blades together. This will push some muscle and flesh together to create additional support (it also helps open the front of your chest—BONUS!)

  • When you’re ready to move on, inhale, and on the exhale, roll your left ear toward your left shoulder. As above, with the right side, relax your shoulder away from your ear, and allow gravity to do its work. Remember to breathe.

  • When you’re ready to move on, you can repeat these step by step or create a more fluid rolling motion. You should also reverse the circle. Just remember to breathe, keep your core engaged and relax.

 

And with these four easy-to-do anywhere, anytime stretches, you have released tension, undone the effects of bad-habit-forming postures, and, most importantly, taken a few minutes out of your undoubtedly busy day to focus on yourself. Yoga and stretching don’t have to be scary. Postures don’t need to look like the glamour shots you see on Instagram. You don’t need special clothes, equipment or a studio. All you need is a few minutes dedicated to you, your body, your mind and your well-being.

 

Return to these stretches as you can or when you need some “you time.”

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