One of the lessons that I learned the hard way, with several unnecessary injuries to show for it, is that pushing for the final goal isn’t the best way to get what you want. The Alexander Technique has taught me that staying with the process as you work toward your goal may not get you there quite as quickly, but when you do arrive, you’ll be healthier, happier, and more established in the goal than you would be if you just pushed.
This week, in many of my classes I’ve been teaching forward bends. The short route to a forward bend might be pressing your torso onto your leg and pulling your head toward your knee, but, in doing so, you’ll likely be overworking, compressing joints, overstretching ligaments, and ingraining bad neuromuscular habits. If, instead, you allow your back (especially your lower back) to expand behind you, reach your leg away from it and lengthen your head toward your foot, softening and expanding around the stretch of the pose rather than pushing into it, your nervous system will resist less and your entire body will deepen into the pose. Over time, you’ll get your torso deeper into the fold and your hamstrings and lumbar disks will be much happier for it.
Seven Stretches For Sitters
In the penultimate chapter in this mini-series about sitting I bring you seven simple stretches you can do at your desk to help counter the different tensions and compressions that build up over time. This sequence of stretches stretches out your joints and spine. Hold each for 20 to 30 seconds, moving gently into them without pushing. Think of lengthening and spreading wherever possible.
1. Desk Dog
Stretches your chest, shoulders, and the backs of your thighs. Lengthens your torso and spine.
- Stand up and place your hands on the edge of your desk and step back, folding forward from the hips until you can lengthen your torso and open your armpits.
- Lengthen your head toward your fingertips.
- Pull your hips back and reach your arms forward.
- Reach your feet into the floor and expand your back up toward the ceiling.
- To come out, walk your feet forward and spend a moment simply standing.
2. Seated Ankle to Knee Stretch
- Sitting toward the front edge of your chair, put one ankle on your opposite thigh just above the knee.
- Fold forward from your hips without shifting to one side.
- Soften and widen your buttock, outer hip, and outer thigh.
- Lift up out of the pose and repeat on the other side.
- After the second side, take a few moments sitting upright in your chair with both feet on the floor.
3. Cross-Legged Twist
- Sitting toward the front edge of your chair, cross your right knee over your left.
- Bring your left hand to your right knee and your right hand to the seat of your chair (or the arm of your chair if it has one.
- Reach your thigh forward as you twist your torso by turning your chest to the right and widen across your chest.
- Release and repeat on the other side.
- Take a few moments sitting upright in your chair with both feet on the floor.
4. Chest-Lengthening Lean-Back
- Sit toward the front of your chair and recline to lean your upper back against the back of the chair.
- Interlock your fingers and bring your hands to the back of your head to support it.
- Arch your upper back and lift your chest up toward the ceiling.
- If the back of your chair doesn’t feel secure enough to support you, support your head as above and arch your back and lift your chest from a seated position.
- Lift up out of the stretch and take a few moments sitting upright in your chair with both feet on the floor.
5. Chest-Widening Elbow Clasp
- Sitting toward the front of your chair, clasp your elbows with your arms behind your back.
- If clasping your elbows is awkward or uncomfortable, clasp your forearms or wrists instead.
- Widen your back into your arms and spread across your chest.
- Release and repeat, changing the crossing of your arms.
- Release from the stretch and spend a few moments sitting.
6. Wrist-Spreading Stretch
- Interlock your fingers all the way up to the webbing and touch your thumb tips.
- Turn your palms out and press them away from you, spreading your hands and fingers.
- Roll your index fingers and thumbs away from you.
- Release and repeat with the other, unfamiliar crossing of your fingers.
7. Wrist-Curling Stretch
- Reach your arms out in front of you and curl your fingertips into your palms to make fists.
- Keeping your fists clenched, reach the backs of your hands toward the floor and pull your knuckles toward your elbows.
- Release and gently shake your hands out.
Your Practice Challenge: Take a Stretch Break
The challenge is simple, but the simplest things are often the hardest to do! When you sit down at your desk to work, set a timer for an hour. When the timer goes off, stop what you’re doing and try these seven stretches. When you’re finished, set the timer again and repeat. It’s important not to wait until you feel like you really need the stretches. Doing them regularly will keep your joints supple and pain-free.
I you try the practice, let me know how it went, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!