By Mariellen Brown
If you are one of the millions of people who work a 9-to-5 desk job, you probably already know some of the ways that your body is affected by sitting still all day. You may have a stiff neck or back, tightness in your shoulders or soreness in your wrists and forearms. By taking a look at the way your body is shaped and comparing it to how you position yourself at your desk, you can alleviate tension and be a healthier, more comfortable and more productive worker.
The spine is naturally shaped like an “S” with your head on one end and your tailbone on the other. The top curve of your spine is called the cervical curve, and includes seven vertebrae. The shape of these seven vertebrae give your head the ability to move up and down (the “yes” movement), back and forth (the “no” movement) and around in a circle (what I like to call the “whip your hair around” movement).
The middle of your spine is called the thoracic curve, and includes twelve vertebrae. These vertebrae are shaped to allow forward and back bending, side bending and side rotation or twisting. The bottom of the spine is called the lumbar curve, and includes five vertebrae with a more limited range of motion. At the base of your spine is your sacrum and coccyx (tailbone), which are made up of fused vertebrae.
When you sit at a desk, the three curves of your spine may round or compress. If you tend to lean forward in your seat or rest your elbows on your desk, you may be exaggerating the curve of your cervical spine and rounding your thoracic spine. This motion lengthens the muscles of your neck and back, and they become weaker over time.
If you notice that you lean your shoulders back and your stomach moves toward your keyboard, you may be exaggerating the curve of your thoracic spine, putting excess pressure on the back of your thoracic vertebrae.
If your monitor is too low or your keyboard is too high, you may slouch in your seat or hunch your shoulders to compensate, causing tension in your neck, back and shoulders. If your monitor is too far away and you have trouble seeing what’s on your screen, you may be more prone to lean forward.
By noticing how you sit and making adjustments to your desk and posture, you can prevent future aches and pains. There are also many yoga postures that you can do right at your desk to stretch out tired muscles and create space between your vertebrae. If your back feels tight, a simple standing forward bend (Uttanasana is the name of the yoga pose) will help to stretch out your thoracic and lumbar spine. If you tend to round your back at work, try doing a seated version of Cat (Marjaryasana) and Cow (Bitilasana) pose right at your desk. These two yoga poses stretch all three curves of your spine and relieve tension between your vertebrae.
If you’re interested in learning even more yoga poses to do at work, there are some instructors who will even come right to your office to give corporate yoga classes in a boardroom or empty office space.
Mariellen Brown is a New York City-based designer and writer. She is currently working toward her 200-hour teacher training certification from ISHTA Yoga in NYC and hopes to someday teach corporate yoga classes.