Five 30-Second Stretches for People with Desk Jobs
Emma Shansky used to work a desk job—though as a Chemistry PhD student, she found herself hunching over a microscope more than a computer. Frustrated by the sedentary work after years as a professional dancer, she quit academia and returned to her first love: movement. Today, Emma is certified in Pilates, yoga, personal training, and Thai bodywork, and teaches at Chicago Athletic Clubs and CorePower Yoga. “I’m so happy I’m not in the lab,” she says. “I’d much rather be riding my bike around from studio to studio, hanging out in my stretch pants.”
Of course, Emma realizes that not everyone can trade in their desk for a yoga mat. Below, she shares five stretches that can help bodies unwind after a day spent working at the lab, the office, or any sedentary job. The quick routine can even fit into a lunch break—Emma recommends holding each pose for about 30 seconds. She also recommends playing music for a truly relaxing escape from the day. Her pick? Bill Evans’s “Peace Piece.”
1. SIDE STRETCH
This pose stretches muscles from the arms through the obliques, also working the IT bands (fascia along the outside of the thigh). If you let your head fall to the side, it also works the muscles in the neck. The side stretch can be done leaning against a couch, a wall, a chair, or another sturdy surface, and should be done once on each side.
2. SPINAL ROTATION
This stretch rotates the entire spine “from the tailbone to the crown of the head,” Emma says. For maximum impact, turn your head and look in the direction you’re rotating. If it’s hard to reach the back of the chair with both hands, Emma notes that using just one hand also does the trick. This stretch should be done twice, once on each side.
3. THE ALMOST-KNEEL
While this pose resembles a lunge, Emma recommends thinking of it as “more of a kneel.” To maximize the stretch, it’s important to keep your back knee bent, and your tailbone tucked under, which ensures the stretch targets the back leg’s hip flexors. For added intensity, you can raise an arm above your head, or lean backward. This stretch should be done twice, once with the right leg back, and once with the left.
Performed either seated or standing, this pose stretches out the whole back—as does “any kind of forward fold”, says Emma. It also stretches the shoulders’ external rotators, which can tighten in a hunched position. By letting your head hang, the move can also decompress the neck.
5. RAISED DOWNWARD-FACING DOG
This alternative to the traditional downward-facing dog works similar muscles: the hamstrings and the entire spine, as well as the front of the shoulders.
Mae Rice is a staff writer who writes about eyelash extensions, French food, what "business casual" even means, and other style and food topics.