Simple, Effective Stretches and Exercises to Do From Your Desk
When your mind gets too busy, it’s time to move your body. There are several ways that you can get moving while at work that can help the mind to balance and improve your energy in order to become more productive. Stretch breaks, meditation bursts and joint stimulators are key elements to making your work day more effective. When our minds get overcrowded with all the things we have to get done, we tend to overwhelm the nervous system and the lines of creativity and productivity can get clogged. As a former fitness instructor who worked in corporate wellness, I will offer easy stretches, joint openers, meditation bursts, and breathing techniques to help get your blood pumping and your mind clear. I will also tell you my own little secrets of things that I keep at my desk to help my body get better circulation both physically and energetically when I’m sitting for long periods of time. Some will be items that you can get in order to help you be more effective with stretching while others are very simple stretches. As you read these stretches and offerings, you might find yourself thinking “these are so easy I don’t need these”. Ask yourself this question: do you do this daily? The simple things are oftentimes the most missed in daily practices even though we know exactly what to do. Many times we don’t add in simple stretches until we’ve injured ourselves. This offering is for prevention.
Before we begin let me start with the most basic offering that yields incredibly high rewards: Earthing. Research shows that just fifteen minutes of being barefoot on the earths surface will transform the whole body. In one biomedical research article, they refer to earthing as a form of “electric nutrition” for the body. This is due to the fact that the electrons offered by the earth itself into the body directly affect in a positive way an aid to inflammation within the body as well as helps to decrease oxidative stress. It is a body and mind balancer. Getting outside for just fifteen minutes of your day and walking around barefoot can turn things around for your basic overall energy. Eating lunch outside and being barefoot while you’re doing it can be a true game changer.
Below are simple stretches for the whole body that correlate to an easier time working at your desk. We will begin with the eyes, face, jaws and neck and make our way down the body. I will finish with a whole-body joint opener sequence that gets the blood and energy flowing.
Simple Stretches at Your Desk
Begin by moving your eyes up and down. Next, move your eyes from side to side. After that look up to the top left of the room and down to the bottom right of the room (repeat 3, 6, 9 times first one direction for the diagonal). Next, look diagonally up to the top right and then the bottom left. Lastly, move your eyes in one full circle looking down, to the right, up and then to the left and finishing down.
When you make one full circle, do the same exercise the other way (one each direction counts as 1). Do each full circle three times in each direction. After the eye practices, close your eyes and take just a few breaths before opening your eyes and beginning work at the computer. (As a side note, blue blocker glasses are very helpful for working at a computer and being under fluorescent lights. You can get them without a prescription or add the blue blocker to your current prescription. The blue blocker helps to remove the blue light emanating from the bright light waves overhead and from the computer). Repeat: every day before you begin working on a computer for best results and follow this same sequence after your lunch break before resuming work. Make every eye movement repeat a total of 3, 6 or 9 times.
The lion pose. This easy and silly stretch can release tension in your jaws, the muscles of facial expression in the cheeks as well as the temporal is muscle that fans from the temples around the ears to the base of the neck. Begin by taking a breath in and then scrunching your face as tight as it can go. Clench the jaws, close the eyes tight and hold your breath while you clench. On the exhale open your eyes wide, lift the eyebrows up toward the hair line and stick your tongue out as far as it can go. You can make an audible roar on the exhale or just keep it silent so you don’t draw too much attention to yourself. The benefits are present after just one of these stretches but feel free to repeat as needed.
The cork stretch. Get a cork and keep it at your desk. You can get them from a wine bottle or from an arts and crafts store. Place the
cork vertically between your top and bottom front teeth and bite down to hold it in place. Try to hold this for at least one minute but preferably three minutes for maximum results. This simple jaw stretch can help ease tension headaches, relieves the full jaw muscles and helps to minimize tension at the base of the skull. It is a game changer this simple little stretch. I keep a cork in my purse, at my desk, and in the glove box of my car so if I’m stressed out sitting in traffic I can be doing that stretch instead of clenching my jaws and producing a headache.
We all know how to stretch our necks from side to side, front to back, circles, etc. The added trick I like to offer is holding your hands behind your back before you stretch. Hold one of your wrists with
the hand of the opposite arm. An example would be to hold the left wrist with your right hand. Now bring the right ear down toward the right shoulder while holding your wrist. Before you change sides, keep the hands where they are and stretch the left ear down to the left shoulder. It doesn’t matter which hand holds which wrist – you will ideally stretch both sides trying to bring your ear down to the shoulder directly below. Hold each stretch for a minimum of five breaths before changing sides.
The doorway stretch will open your back and chest as well as free your biceps. You can do it in a doorway or single armed against any wall. Standing slightly back from the doorway so you are looking at the opening, place both hands on each side of the open space. Then walk through until your arms are straight behind you holding on to the doorway. Keep your chin up and breathe deep as the chest and back expand and even themselves out. When we sit at a desk, we tend to shorten the chest and round the shoulders making the upper back have to over stretch to accommodate. This stretch helps to bring the muscles back into a working balance.
The carpal tunnel stretch. This stretch is performed in clinical settings of body work to test to see if someone may have issues with carpal tunnel syndrome. The stretch is highly effective if practiced several times a day in keeping that dreaded condition at bay. Place the knuckles of your hands against each other and lower the elbows down below the horizontal plane even with the knuckles. If someone can’t get the elbows to drop down below that plane, this is an indication that we have a true issue with carpal tunnel syndrome. Not just used for testing, we use it to stretch the muscles on the top of the forearms so hold it in place for at least five breaths.
The figure 4.When sitting in a desk chair, simply move the chair back away from the desk. Place both feet flat to the floor with the knees at a 90 degree angle. Then cross one leg over the other making a figure 4 with that leg. Place your hands behind the knee or underneath the leg that is still on the floor. Bring your head down if you are able add to the dynamics of the figure 4 stretch. Hold for at least five breaths before changing legs and repeating.
Roll those knees. Standing up bring your feet together and bend your knees. Place your hands on your legs just above the knees. Circle the knees in one direction 9 times and then circle the opposite direction.
I am a big fan of reflexology mats and I do keep one under my computer desk in case I need to give the energetic system of my body a little jump start into feeling more energized. There are really easy ones to get online that are not expensive and may be worth it. If you are not interested in using a foot mat to open the reflex points of the feet, you can always stretch the feet by taking off your shoes and pulling the toes back placing the flat pads of the foot on the floor for a stretch followed by pointing the toes and holding them down at the top of the feet from a seated position in your chair. Simple ankle rolls also are helpful for circulation.
Joint Openers for The Whole
Stand up away from your desk and chair unless you need to sit down then remain seated for this exercise. Begin by rubbing your palms together and create heat between your hands. The rhythm of this practice is to move fast and repeat the movements several times before moving to the next body part to help increase overall circulation. Move fast enough to create the heat.
Begin by rubbing one hand over the wrist of the other hand. Around the wrist back and forth creating heat in the joint and then switch hands and do the same thing with the other wrist. Next, circle your bent elbow. Go in circles vigorously around the elbow to bring heat to the area and do the same thing to the other elbow. Move up and circle around the shoulder joint at the ball and socket. Circle toward the chest and back around. Bring heat into this are and then change sides. Rub across the back of the neck side to side with one hand and then rub side to side across the same area with the other hand.
Bring one leg in front of the other and bend it slightly. Place your two palms over the knee cap and rub vigorously up and down over the knee cap with the outside of the palms covering the full area. Now rub exactly like you did over your knee but up and down the entire leg. Change legs and repeat the other knee and full leg. If you are seated, it still works to rub up and down that knee (just be sure that the knee is soft but not fully bent).
Make a fist with your hands and bring your hands behind your back. Rub the knuckles up and down the lower back and keep your knees bent as you bounce slightly during the vigorous rubbing along the lower back. You can also take your fists and rub your knuckles below the ribs at an angle to stimulate your kidneys. Lastly, bring the arms down by your sides and then inhale as you bring both palms of the hands just at the top of your chest. As you breathe out, move your hands down the entire front of your body from chest to hips straight down the center line. Repeat this breathing and movement three times. Notice how energized your body feels and how much clearer the mind becomes from this!