Sitting for hours every day can be a pain in the butt—not to mention the neck, back, and legs…
Suzan Colon knows this well. But what’s a longtime writer and editor to do? Sitting is part of her job, as it is for millions of Americans. Often the only time Colon would stand up during the workday was when she could no longer put off using the toilet. Such diligence may have helped her meet deadlines, but it was causing pain and discomfort in her body.
That’s not all. As numerous studies either performed or reported by the likes of the Cornell Medical Center and the Mayo Clinic over the past half-decade have shown, those of us who sit for more than six hours a day are at an increased risk of obesity, diabetes, heart disease, a variety of cancers, and early death. And when you factor in all the time we spend commuting in our cars and parked on our couches, the average American remains seated for 9.3 hours a day.
“When you sit, your calorie-burning capacity is reduced to one calorie burned an hour—a single calorie!” Colon explains, citing more relatively recent research. “Your metabolism virtually shuts down when you’re sitting. The electrical activity in the legs—the way of measuring muscle response—goes to zero, which is why it feels so weird and achy when you eventually do stand up.”
With scary warnings in the media like, “Sitting is the new smoking,” some people rushed out to buy standing desks. (Not a great idea, according to experts: For starters, standing at work is more tiring, puts additional strain on the circulatory system, and increases the risks of varicose veins.) After a painful, particularly butt-numbing session writing her latest book, Colon, a certified yoga teacher trained at the Integral Yoga Institute of New York, decided to create her own solution. The result is Take A Yoga Break (.99, iTunes), an app that reminds users to step away from the desk while providing how-to’s for stretches that get blood flowing again.
“I started forcing myself to get up every hour and do a yoga pose, but then I thought: I work at home—what about my friends who work in offices who can’t just pop a headstand in the middle of the office?” she says. With this in mind, Colon recommends postures that can be done anywhere, without props, a mat, or workout clothes. The moves (demonstrated via cute, colorful illustrations that Colon drew herself) are yoga-based, but “they are not yoga, per se,” she says, “because doing yoga in high heels and in an office environment is not the easiest thing in the world.” She also wanted to make the app accessible to people who don’t do yoga. “Almost anyone can do these, and they’re not going to make you look like the office weirdo.”
Below Colon shares six of the postures featured in the app that will help stretch the body in various seat-bound situations:
1. At your desk: Hula Hips
Get up out of your chair and do this very slow, mindful version of playing with a hula-hoop—your hips and lower-back will thank you for it. “You’re very gently lubricating the joints, getting the blood going again,” says Colon. “The ball-and-socket joints are not being startled into movement; they’re going about it gently.” How to do it: Stand in a spot where there’s enough room for your hips to make a circle. Place your feet hip-width apart and your hands on your hips. On an inhale, slowly and smoothly move hips to the right, then behind you (without sticking your butt out too far); on the exhale, circle around to the left and back to the starting position. (“Don’t push hips forward—that puts too much strain on the lower back,” Colon warns.) Continue moving hips slowly in a circle three to five times, then reverse direction.
2. Following a marathon meeting: Bend Over Sideways
Colon calls this her “happy move,” and says it will reactivate the entire body. “You’re lengthening the spine; you’re getting a knee-bend; your hips are involved; you’re flexing your ankles and stretching the side bar—the muscles between the ribs. When you expand those you can take deeper breaths. “ How to do it: Stand with your feet a comfortable distance apart; arms relaxed by your sides. Bring your right hand to your waist. On an inhale, bend the knees, and raise the left arm up and reach over your head. (No need to bend knees too deeply or reach too far over—just enough for a nice stretch.) On the exhale, return to the starting position: standing up straight with both arms at your sides. Do the same thing on the other side. After returning to starting position, repeat four times on each side.
3. After a long car ride: Circle Around
Like many of her Take a Yoga Break moves, this one wakes up the legs and hips. “Because it also involves the arms and elbows, it will also unhinge some of the shoulder strain from driving,” Colon says. How to do it: Stand with feet a comfortable distance apart. Engage leg muscles without locking the knees. Bring fingertips to the shoulders and elbows out to the sides. Make circular motions with the elbows out to the sides. When elbows swing down, gentle knee-bend; when elbows come up, stand up straight. Repeat five times total, then swing the elbows in the reverse direction. Don’t forget to breathe throughout.
4. Aboard an airline: Chair Ballet
When permitted to move around the cabin Colon heads back to the kitchen area to stretch her legs. “I don’t do down dog; that’s a little extreme,” she laughs. An embolism, though, is no laughing matter. “For those extremely long trips—over 18 hours—you definitely have to move around or risk getting an embolism, which is like a blood clot in your veins.” How to do it: Stand with feet a comfortable distance apart with hands resting on hips. Point feet outward slightly if that feels okay. Bend knees slightly; use thigh and glute muscles to return to standing position. Repeat four times, then rest and do five more.
5. When you finally put down the gadget: Say Yes to Neck Flexes
“I can sit down and go online, and suddenly an hour has gone by,” Colon says. In addition to being a major time-suck, recent studies show that Facebooking, Kindle-ing, Netflix-ing, and texting is destroying our posture and giving us migraines. The following move will help counteract “texting neck”—the result of a near constant slouch that may lead to early degeneration and a possible need for surgery—and loosen up the back and shoulders. How to do it: Stand up straight behind a chair with feet a comfortable distance apart, spine lengthened, and hands resting on top of chair without leaning on it. Inhale and look up toward the ceiling, raising chin without letting the head go too far back. When you exhale, lower the chin toward the chest, bending the knees. To repeat, stand up straight again on the inhale and look up. Do eight to 10 times.