Categories: Lifestyle

Taking yoga to the chair

Donna Freeman

I’ve only spent an hour editing photos and already I can feel the tightness in my neck and back worsening. I try to sit up straight with my shoulders rolled back, but soon find myself once again hunched over my computer.

I know I’m going to have trouble concentrating if I don’t do something to alleviate the tension in my body, so I decide to do a little mid-day yoga.

Keeping my spine tall, I do some side bends and some twists to strengthen my core and back. I throw in some eagle arms to loosen my shoulders and finish with some cat and cow – inhaling and exhaling deeply – as I curve and round my spine with my breath.

I’m at the St. Albert Public Library, but no one stares at me funny. In fact, no one so much as glances at me. Probably, because I never left my seat.

Chair yoga has long been associated with older populations or persons with disabilities. The gentle form of yoga is practiced while sitting on a chair, which makes it more accessible to people with balance or mobility issues.

Recently, however, chair yoga has started to gain popularity in the classroom and in the workplace, as research continues to reveal the negative health impacts of too much sitting.

Sitting for long periods of time has been linked to high blood pressure, obesity and even cancer.

A recent study by the Toronto Rehabilitation Institute at the University of Toronto found that prolonged sedentary behaviour was associated with a 15 to 20 per cent higher risk of death from any cause; a 15 to 20 per cent higher risk of heart disease, death from heart disease, cancer and death from cancer; and as much as a 90 per cent higher risk of developing diabetes.

The meta analysis of 41 international studies also found that sitting was a risk independent of exercise. Meaning that the recommended 30 minutes of daily activity doesn’t actually cut it if you’re spending the other 23.5 hours of your day in a seated position.

“Research shows that if you can fit in stretching or gentle movement every 20 minutes to half an hour that is better for you than a 30-minute workout at the end of the day,” says local yoga instructor Donna Freeman.

Freeman, who owns and operates Yoga in My School, began teaching chair yoga 10 to 15 years ago. A teacher by trade and a yogi by heart, she was looking for ways to introduce yoga into the classroom.

With gym space often in high demand, Freeman developed and adopted poses using chairs so that teachers could easily incorporate stretching and yoga breaks throughout the day without the hassle of moving desks around.

Although she’s been teaching chair yoga for years, Freeman has noticed a recent spike in demand. She believes this is due to a push for more mindfulness in schools over the past two years.

“Research is coming out now that mindfulness and yoga in schools is beneficial. It helps children with their self-regulation; it helps them with their self-control. It helps them be learning-ready and it decreases stress and anxiety,” says Freeman.

Yoga also helps expand the chest and open up the airways, which can decrease stress and anxiety levels in classrooms.

Typing on a computer, texting, gaming or even leaning over a desk to write a test causes the head and shoulder to fall forward – overstretching the back muscles and condensing the chest. Not only can this cause upper back, neck and headache pains, but also this position makes into your lower ribs very difficult. Only being able to take short, shallow breaths can exacerbate stress and anxiety.

This is why Freeman says it’s important to incorporate periodic stretching and breathing exercises into your day, whether in the classroom or at work.

“Your mind will be much clearer; you’ll be able to think better; you’ll decrease the stress in your life, especially if you’re on a deadline,” says Freeman.

Chair Yoga for the Office

This five-pose sequence is aimed at releasing tension in the shoulders, neck and back and at relaxing the mind. It can easily be incorporated into your workday. Hold each pose for five deep, slow breaths.

• Seated mountain pose
Start with seated mountain pose. This will help reset your posture. Sit up straight in your chair with your feet flat on the floor. Roll your shoulder blades back and down and let your arms fall to your sides. Pull your belly button into your spine to engage your abs.

• Seated half moon stretch
Keeping your spine tall and your feet planted, inhale and lift your left arm. Lean to the left and hold. Switch sides.

• Seated twist
Inhale and sit up tall. Exhale and, keeping a straight spine, gently twist your body to the left. Grab the armrest or the back of your chair softly to deepen the twist. Hold, then twist to the other side.

• Seated eagle
Sitting straight with your shoulders back, extend your arms in front of you at a 90-degree angle, palms together. Then, place your left arm under your right pressing the backs of your palms together and hold. Repeat with the other arm on top. To stretch the back of your neck, inhale and tuck your chin to your chest.

• Seated cat and cow
Begin by sitting straight with your shoulders rolled back. Inhaling, arch your back and look towards the ceiling. As you exhale, round your spine, roll the shoulders forward and let your head fall forward, tucking your chin. Repeat this pattern five times.

Michelle Ferguson: