Simple Yoga Stretches You Can Do at Your Desk

Don't have time to leave work for a yoga class? Get the benefits of mindfulness and mobility doing these 3 poses.
Insight Timer is the top free meditation app on iOS and Android.
Insight Timer is the top free meditation app on iOS and Android.

Sitting for long periods of time is not only bad for your health, it’s bad for your focus. Sitting up taller or taking light breaks for simple movement keeps you comfortable, energized and alert. Learn why stretching at your desk is beneficial, and how to do it.

The Risk of Sitting

Office work typically involves a lot of sitting, be it at your desk, in meetings, or traveling to and from appointments. Research indicates the typical office worker sits for 5-15 hours each day. The longer you sit, the more you’re at risk for health issues. Long periods of sitting have the following detrimental effects on body and mind: 

  • Sitting Shortens Life Span – A 2019 study in the American Journal of Epidemiology found sitting for even short periods of time carries risk of early mortality unless mitigated by daily exercise.
  • Sitting Leads to Cognitive Decline – Researchers from the University of California Los Angeles found prolonged sitting leads to thinning of brain regions responsible for memory.
  • Sitting Puts Your Spine at Risk – Even when sitting with good posture, sitting for long periods can aggravate the lower back and stress the spine.
  • Sitting Contributes to Weight Gain – Sitting slows metabolism and interferes with blood sugar regulation, further increasing the risk for diabetes and heart disease.  

Each of the above dangers is connected with another. Avoid prolonged sitting, and you’ll avoid several risk factors for poor health. 

Benefits of Movement

To counteract the risk of sitting, the best solution is to sit less. Researchers now know movement isn’t just good for the body, it helps us focus, learn, remember and be more creative. To sneak some extra movement into your workday, try the following: 

  • If you commute by train or bus, stand while riding
  • Opt for stairs versus escalators or elevators
  • Set a notification to stand and stretch every 40 minutes
  • Upgrade your workspace to a standing desk 
  • Stand or walk while taking phone calls
  • If you can, walk to your coworkers office instead of calling or messaging
  • During lunch breaks, go for a short walk

Sometimes it’s just not possible to get away from your desk. Nor is it always appropriate to do a downward-facing dog in your cubicle. Thankfully, it still helps to stretch and move, even while seated.

Yoga Poses You Can Do Without Leaving Your Desk

Taking 5 minutes or more for some simple, seated yoga stretches gives your back and your mind a break. Try one or more of the following poses the next time you need a reset.

Seated Side Bends

Begin with your feet planted on the ground hips-width distance apart. Hold each of the following poses for 1-3 cycles of breath. Repeat the full sequence as many times as needed.

  • Stretch both arms overhead and reach toward the ceiling
  • Relax your right arm by your side, as you reach your left arm to the right for a side bend
  • Return to center, reaching both arms to the ceiling again
  • Switch and side bend to the left, with your left arm by your side, your right arm overhead

Seated Twists

While seated with both feet grounded, repeat the following sequence. Hold each stretch for 1-3 full cycles of breath.

  • Sit tall with the top of your head directly over your pelvis
  • Hold this alignment as you gently twist your chest to the right
  • Slowly return to center, then twist to the left
  • Repeat a second time with a deeper twist

Seated Heart Opener

Scoot forward to the front edge of your chair. Interlace your fingers behind your low back and reach your knuckles away from the top of your head. Lift your heart forward and upward as you roll the heads of your shoulders down and back. Hold for 3-5 cycles of breath. Release, take a break, then repeat.

Enjoy a guided practice? Try an 8-minute desk yoga practice listening to Insight Yoga teacher Stacie Dooreck.

It’s not always possible to avoid sitting. By moving when you can and stretching regularly throughout the day, you’ll avoid becoming too sedentary at the office. You will find find your mood, energy and focus improves.

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