Yoga for Office Workers
It’s estimated that 4 out of 5 people in the UK have a ‘desk job’. 
If you too are one of those people who tends to spend most of their day at a desk, you’ve probably started to notice the effects a desk job has on the body and mind. From chronically shortened hip flexors to kyphosis of the upper spine, and poor posture encouraging equally poor breathing patterns, the modern world seems to set us up for aches and pains...
Sitting for long periods of time – especially in the position we’re in when sitting in a chair, on the sofa or when driving – are especially unnatural for the human body. We’re naturally creatures of movement, and while jobs and general life activities used to keep us mobile enough to stay healthy before the industrial revolution, we now rely on high-intensity activities to get our heart rate up for a limited amount of time before returning to sitting for the rest of the day.
FYI; those sweaty spin classes and anything else that puts the body in an unnatural shape isn’t necessarily going to make you feel your best, no matter how many calories you burn in those 45 minutes...
Scientists and clinical researchers like David Dunstan have been looking into the issues surrounding long hours spent sitting at desks and then going home to sit and watch TV (otherwise known as a sedentary lifestyle, from the Latin word sedere, meaning ‘to sit’) and it turns out the results are pretty serious:
“Just as you cannot compensate for smoking 20 cigarettes a day by a good run on the weekend, a bout of high-intensity exercise may not cancel out the effect of watching TV for hours on end."
Patel’s study found that people who spent hours sitting had a higher mortality rate even if they worked out for 45 to 60 minutes a day. The researchers call these people 'active couch potatoes.' 
So while we can’t un-do all of this sitting even by hitting the gym, the good news is that as well as taking regular breaks from the desk, cultivating a regular Yoga practice literally works to un-do all the damage the Western world has done to us over time.
The benefits are both instant and will last a lifetime, so once the daily grind is over, swap an evening on the sofa for an hour or so on the Yoga mat, and your body will thank you!
How Yoga Can Help
The problem: Chronically ‘Tight’ Hip Flexors
The Solution: Backbends and Hip-Openers.
‘Anterior Dominance’ is something which effects most of us; the front of the body is tight and weak due to excessive sitting, but many exercises like lifting weights, squatting, cycling and running only make this issue worse. If we can find a balance between strength and flexibility in the back and front of the body, our muscles and organs all begin to work more naturally and efficiently. If the front of the body is tight, the most noticeable place is often in the hip flexors, particularly the psoas. The psoas is a huge muscle which runs from the lumbar spine all the way to the femur bone, it’s often referred to as ‘the muscle of the soul’  because any tension within the muscle greatly contributes to a feeling of emotional tension in the mind.
Yoga postures like Eka Pada Raj Kapotasana (pigeon pose), Setu Bandhasana (bridge pose), simple lunges and deeper backbends like Ustrasana (camel pose) and Urdvha Dhanurasana (full wheel) all help open the front of the body, working with the more superficial layers of muscle as well as deeper muscles like the psoas. Postures such as Baddha Konasana (bound angle pose), Gomukhasana (cow-face pose) and even seated twists and lateral bending movements, aid in reliving tight abductors and the IT band, which can often contribute towards knee pain when they’re tense.
The Problem: Fatigue
The Solution: Breath Awareness
There’s a lot more to breathing than we might think…. Most of us are stuck in ‘thoracic breathing’, meaning we direct the breath only into the upper chest and collarbones. Breathing in this way actually creates a lot of stress within the body; it’s the way we would breathe when in a ‘fight or flight’ situation, thus sending a message to the body to switch on the sympathetic nervous system and release those stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline when they’re not needed.
When cortisol is released, it encourages new glucose to be made in the liver and released into the bloodstream in order to be utilised for rapid energy release – since the body assumes it needs to fight or flee. If we’re not using this energy release and simply sitting at a desk, this insulin gets stored as sugar and fat within the bloodstream, which in turn can lead to weight gain and a higher risk of developing diabetes.  Breathing deeper – specifically by using diaphragmatic breathing techniques – we’re able to bring the body back into balance, re-setting the nervous system and allowing a ‘healing process’ to take place. 
Counting your breath is a simple way to begin; start by breathing in for a count of five and exhaling for a count of five. Continue practicing this until you can comfortably breathe slower and deeper, increase or decrease the count to the degree that feels comfortable, however the ancient Yogic texts state that we are actually given a certain number of breaths per lifetime  – so make sure you’re not wasting yours...
The Problem: Hunched Shoulders and a Rounded Upper Back
The Solution: Chest and Shoulder Openers
Simple movements like interlacing the hands behind the back can create a powerful opening in the fronts of the shoulders, collarbones and chest. If you’ve been spending most of your life with your chest collapsed, you may even hear a ‘popping’ sound as the sternum opens up. (As long as there’s no pain this is absolutely normal!) Specific supported and restorative Yoga postures like a restorative Matsyasana (fish pose) can open the chest cavity, creating more awareness in the lungs and a sensation of making more space for deeper breathing.
Strengthening the trapezius is also important in preventing the shoulders from being pulled forward by more dominant muscles of the front of the body. Prone backbends like salabhasana or ‘locust pose’ are brilliant for building strength in the trapezius, rhomboids and erector spinae, which all aid in a healthier spine and better posture.
The Problem: RSI
The Solution: Wrist Exercises and Strengtheners
Repetitive strain injury is a very common problem amongst the general population, but is most likely found in those who have the wrists in a prone position for long periods of time (think cyclists, those who type for long hours, guitar and piano players, and people who knit). Again, this is a pretty unnatural position for the human hand, which is why difficulties arise.
Generally, RSI is similar to carpal tunnel and tendonitis, and occurs when the carpal tunnel – a narrow passage within the centre of the wrist becomes compressed and inflamed. Strengthening this area of the wrist as well as creating space for circulation within the joint is crucial for curing and preventing any issues. Luckily, many of the postures and movements within a Yoga practice can naturally aid in relieving wrist problems. 
Standing postures like Warrior 2 obviously don’t put any pressure on the wrists, but they do encourage the elbows and wrists to hold a lengthened position for a period of time, allowing for space within the joints. Many postures are performed with the palms together, which counteracts the pronation of the wrists and lengthens the muscles of the forearms, therefore reducing feelings of tightness. For specific wrist exercises approved by many Yoga experts, follow this link to YogaJournal.com
The Problem: Neck Pain
The solution: Mindfulness (notice when you’re doing something that doesn’t serve your body).
Mindfulness is currently a popular practice we’re all becoming more aware of, mostly because it’s very simple yet very effective. Thich Naht Hanh is a Vietnamese Buddhist Monk who is well known for introducing mindfulness to the Western world. His practices begin with simple awareness of how you’re breathing, and move onto becoming aware of each step you’re taking as you walk along throughout the day.
Washing the dishes or preparing a meal can become a mindfulness practice if we actually take time to pay full attention to the details of what we’re doing; the colours of the trees you walk past, the smell of the food you’re preparing for dinner, and the complete focus you give to scrubbing the pans afterwards actually becomes a meditation practice when applied regularly.
Studies have shown that mindfulness increases a person’s mood, decreasing stress and perceived exhaustion, as well as increasing positivity and quality of life. 
Being more aware of what you’re doing throughout the day can lead to becoming more aware of your posture, and not only that, but many people will say to me after just a couple of Yoga classes that they’re already much more aware of holding their bodies differently, noticing when their backs start to round or their necks begin to ache and modifying to make themselves feel better before any damage is done.
This ability to be more aware of what we’re doing at any given moment, and to discern as to whether it is actually good for us or not, is possibly one of the biggest hidden benefits of a Yoga practice; the old adage is true: Prevention is better than cure! 
 Dr Lissa Rankin (2013). Mind Over Medicine: Scientific Proof That You Can Heal Yourself. UK: Hay House.
 Swami Muktibodhananda (1998). Hatha Yoga Pradipika. 4th ed. India: Bihar School of Yoga.
 Timothy Mc Call, MD (2007). Yoga As Medicine. US, NYC: Bantam Dell. 225-241.
Emma is a 500hr qualified Yoga teacher, massage therapist, published writer and wellness blogger. She teaches regular classes and workshops in the South of England and co-teaches retreats and Yoga teacher trainings internationally. Emma’s passion is to help others uncover their full potential, and find their most healthy state of being in both body and mind. Yoga, swimming and cycling are her favourite ways to stay healthy and full of vitality.