When I’m working, I tend to get completely enthralled in what I am doing, which is great for productivity, but terrible for my back. I am always putting myself at risk for a sore night. Sitting at my desk, my shoulders are stooped and pushed forward, my neck does its best to hold up my head as it cranes toward a screen, and my spine is curved in an unsavory arch. After so many years of instant messaging on my computer and texting on a phone, now I am left with some unhealthy posture habits that lead to discomfort throughout my day.
I don’t think I’m old enough to have back pain, but it started to become a constant discomfort. At first I leveled up my supportive shoe game, giving up cute for functional. The additional support to my feet did ease my lower back pain, but I still felt a twinge behind my shoulder blades. Hunching in my seat while working on a computer would no longer serve me — I had to change the way I supported my body.
So I formulated a series of body adjustments to incorporate throughout the day to help me feel better by the end of the workday. Listening to my body and checking in at different points in the day not only serves my physical health, but also my mental health. Being aware and appreciating our bodies is a first step. Caring for ourselves is a way to respect and appreciate the body we were given, and it makes us stronger — in more ways than one.
Here are three practices you can incorporate into your day to help you stay strong and flexible.
The ultimate shoulder roll
Some yoga teachers explain this move by saying, “Melt your shoulder blades down your back” — that’s essentially what this shoulder roll is about. Aim to open up your chest and stretch those pectoral muscles that have been tightening and shortening all day.
- Begin with a deep breath and sit up tall.
- Leave your neck and chin in their neutral place, supported by your spine, with your gaze forward and your back straight.
- Lift your shoulders up toward your ears.
- Roll your shoulders back behind you.
- Finally, slowly move them down.
I have a Post-In note in my work space to remind myself to move my shoulders “up, back, and down” — every time I see it, I roll my shoulders to keep myself aligned. I also use this shoulder roll when I’m running and start to tire — it helps me add more lift and lead with my chest. It puts the pep back in my step.
Your spine has the ability to move in so many ways, yet for eight hours a day we sit like a rusted hinge. It’s unfair to expect our backs to move in all directions when we’re exercising if we condition it to only tilt forward and back. Learning some simple and gentle twists can keep our spines more healthy and happy throughout the day.
- Return to a deep breath and sit tall.
- Rotating from the center of your trunk (the middle part of your thoracic spine) twist to the right, swiveling your entire upper body to look to the right. Keep your lower body still.
- Set your left hand on the right thigh, and your right hand gently behind you.
- Don’t force the twist, just breathe through it.
- When you are ready to twist to the left, move slowly and take a centering breath.
- Shift to look left with your upper body, and massage your stomach muscles and organs.
- Allow your right hand to fall to your left thigh, and your left hand to settle behind you.
These twists will also open your chest and help you maintain a better posture as you work. You may notice your shoulders naturally falling into that “up, back, and down” position.
Another lesser realized pain to our bodies from being immobile can strike at our knees and ankles.
One other liability to being immobile for long periods is pain in our knees and ankles because they are going unused. Our legs do so much to flex and move as they support our entire body weight — it’s a good idea to keep them limber. In order to create powerful knees for life, I suggest regularly trying this elevator move.
- Stand with both feet hip-distance apart; be sure both feet point forward.
- Extend your hands in front of your body straight in front of you, palms facing the floor.
- Gently rise to the balls of your feet and stay on your toes. (If this challenges your balance too much, skip this step.)
- Begin to slowly lower your bottom toward your heels, not letting your knees push too far in front of you.
- Once your thighs are parallel to the ground, relax downward and arrive at the lowest you can go. Have a seat in this squat and relax for a few breaths.
- Slowly rise back up to standing —be careful as your blood flow adjusts.
Adding these simple movements to your day can keep you balanced and grounded while maintaining your body’s posture and functionality. Caring for the bodies we’ve been entrusted with plays a big role in our mental health and spiritual well-being.