Updated: to 6 Yoga Poses to Reduce the Negative Effects of Sitting

With the amount of time spent online with the Covid19 stay at home mandate, April-May 2020, I found the need to expand this set of poses to be more comprehensive. I believe you will benefit from the additional poses and video that has been added. May our lives continue to be blessed with and by the practice of Yoga. Lillah Schwartz


There are several ways you can counteract the negative effects of sitting. First, examine the way you sit and if the chair you sit in is hurting you or helping. Two, learn to take a 5-minute-stand-and-move break every hour or two. During that break, practice my three top yoga poses to counter act those hours of sitting, improve posture, and relieve back pain. Watch the video for the first pose then scroll down. Learn a range of effective poses for home practice including an option to purchase my Yoga U Online course, Yoga for a Healthy Spine: The #1 Key to Enhance Strength, Improve Posture, and Prevent Osteoporosis. containing four 30-minute guided video sessions to strengthen your spine.

Change the Way You Sit

Studies have suggested that it is not so much about how long we sit, but rather how poorly we sit without appropriate support. Now that most of us have a computer or another digital device attached to us, figuratively speaking, we really needed to re-examine how we sit. I understand the basic principles of sitting on my sit bones as shown by Jean Couch in an NPR article titled, If Your Chair Hurts Your Back. Couch is a seasoned yoga teacher from Palo Alto, California, and author of the classic book, Runner’s Yoga. Check out her suggestions that are especially helpful when we find ourselves in different kinds of chairs.

Something she mentioned that I had not fully considered in my own sitting was how low the knee placement needs to be to bring the pelvis and thighs to the neutral position. Astronauts discovered this position when they were floating in space. A regular chair holds the knees at 90° when the neutral position has the knee below the hip joint at 120°.

3 Main Reasons Sitting is Bad for Our Health

1. Sitting for long periods with our legs at a 90° angle cuts off the flow of circulation to our legs, causing the calves to cramp and reducing cardiovascular function.

2. Ever notice how you start to feel brain-dead after an hour or two at your desk? Chances are your hips are at the 90° angle which causes us to rock back onto our sits bones, collapsing our spine and chest thus lessening the supply of oxygen to our brain’s, according to a UCLA study.

3. Collapsing our spine over and over causes disk compression and degeneration, which leads to chronic, and at times, not so easy to manage back pain and loss of resilience.

3 Yoga Poses to Undo the Damage of Sitting

When one Googles “yoga poses to counteract sitting all day,” one finds a large range of options, mostly geared to bodies who already have a yoga practice and also an impressive range of ability. In my experience, many of the poses offered fail to address the needs and abilities of people who really do spend 5 to 8 hours a day at their desk.

So if you are an occasional yoga practitioner or if you have some back concerns, consider getting a copy of my book Healing Our Backs with Yoga: an essential guide to back pain relief. You will find 22 different sequences in picture form with detailed steps when you need them. You are also invited to join or sign into my Free Resource Library to see a few of those sequences now.

Now Let’s Get Down to Basics

Here are my three chosen yoga poses everyone can benefit from as a 5 minute yoga recess from your desk. See video above for Yoga Pose 1.

Yoga Pose 1: Utkatasana – fierce pose or chair pose. This pose is my go to for clients of all ages to help strengthen the pelvic floor muscles, stabilize the sacroiliac joints, and tone the spine. Also, this pose powerfully warms the deep hip muscles and improves circulation.

Position: Start with your back to the wall, press the center of your sacrum to the wall, hold a block between your knees, and place your hands either on your hips, or raise them overhead.

Action: Exhale, squeeze the block with your knee to draw your sitting bones toward each other, and then scoop the bottom of your belly in and up. Hold for 4 breaths. Repeat 4 times. Caution: High blood pressure? Keep your hands on your hips or reach them forward parallel to the floor.

Standing Lunge foot on chair (1)Yoga Pose 2:  Virabhadrasana I – standing lunge with a foot on a chair. This pose will lengthen the calf and front thigh muscles, along with the deep abdominal muscle known as the psoas. These muscles are notoriously short in people who spend time sitting at a desk. The pose also extends the spine decompressing both the spine and the lungs to expand the breath and oxygenate the brain.Ne

Position: Stand back from the chair 2.5 to 3 feet. Place one foot on the chair with the hips facing forward.

Action: Root down into the outside edge of your rear foot and fully extend that knee. Lift the bottom of your belly and draw your buttocks down. Firm your gluteus. Inhale, raise your arms and lift your spine out of the hips. Then bend the front knee any amount. Pulse in and out of the pose raising and lowering your arms when you bend and straighten the knee.  Caution: High blood pressure? Lift your arms out to the side rather than overhead.

New Yoga Pose 3: Utthita Parsvakonasana – extended side angle pose. This pose lengthens the side body and helps to relieve stiffness in the hips and groin.Parsvakonasana yoga pose

Position: Stand with the chair at your left side, two or three feet away from you. Place your foot on the chair with your knee and foot pointing sideways. Extend your left arm and place your hand on the chair in front of your shin or on your knee.

Action: As you exhale press your arm into your knee and coil your left hip deep into the hip socket. Lift the bottom of your belly toward your chest and turn your chest to face forward. Extend your right arm up along side your head as you press down to the outside edge of your right foot. Hold for 3 breaths. Change sides.

Yoga Pose 4: Urdhva Purvottanasana – standing upward plank or door chest hang.Standing Yoga pose in a doorway to open the chest
This pose helps expand the muscles of the top chest and front arm to overcome the contraction and slump of the chest that happens automatically when we sit at the computer. The position reinvigorates and uplifts your heart and mind while  protecting your wrists and thumbs.

Position: Stand with your feet in the middle of the doorway, roll your shoulders back and place your palms inside the door frame with your fingers wrapping around the edge. 

Action: Lift your breastbone from the bottom to the top and roll the top of your shoulders back. Step and/or lean forward, pressing your heels down while lifting the bottom of your belly in and up to the chest. To deepen the stretch, gently press your hands into the doorframe any amount. Be sure to pin your shoulder blades to your back ribs. Caution: If you have pain in the elbow due to hyper-extension, then micro bend them so more of the stretch lands in the upper arm and chest.

Yoga pose BharadvajasanaNew Yoga Pose 5: Bharadvajasana – Sideways chair twist is a simple pose to release tension in the spine while keeping the lower back stable.

Position: Sit sideways in a chair without arms. If possible hold a block or a thick book between your knees. Sit straight, balancing on the center of your sitting bones and lifting from the bottom of the belly toward your chest. Keep your head inline with your center chest. Note: to avoid collapsing your lower back, match the chair seat to your height by placing a folded blanket under your hips. Sit so the center of your hip joint is slightly higher than your knee joint.

Action: Lift from the bottom of your belly to raise your chest and roll your shoulders back. Inhale fully, as you exhale empty and turn from the bottom of your belly keeping your hips stable and without turning your head. Continue to turn the spine on each exhale twisting gradually from the lower vertebra to the top. Remember to lift your spine before twisting. Caution: Balance your rib cage by maintaining the same vertical distance between the lower ribs and hip bones on each side to avoid your lumbar spine.

New Yoga Pose 6: Ardha Gomukasana – Half Cow’s Head Pose. This pose is vital to maintaining healthy neck and shoulders as it is one of the only poses in yoga that stretches the Subscapularis muscle. That muscle is responsible for internally rotating the upper arm. When the muscle gets very short, the upper arm can not externally rotate without causing stress on the other muscles of the arm and other rotator cuff muscles.yoga pose for shoulders

Position: Sit straight in the chair as you did in the previous pose. Place one hand behind your back with your palm facing out. Keep your hand low enough that you can begin to rotate your upper arm back attempting to pin the inner shoulder blades to your back ribs. Stop when you feel pain or resistance in your front arm 3-4 inches below your top shoulder. (the insertion of the Subscapularis)

Action: Start with your hand at your waist or lower. Roll your shoulder forward, circle it up and back. Attempt to pin your shoulder blade to your back ribs by reaching your elbow out to the side. Lift your breast bone and roll your top shoulders back any amount. Hold for 3-5 breaths.

Happy Practicing!  May our lives continue to be blessed with yoga.

Who am I? Lillah Schwartz is an advanced yoga practitioner with 38 years experience. A teacher trainer, mentor, Yoga therapist and author.

Learn more poses to effectively improve your posture, along with poses to progressively extend your spine, building tone and bone density with Lillah’s Yoga U Online course: Yoga for a Healthy Spine: The #1 Key to Enhance Strength, Improve Posture, and Prevent Osteoporosis.

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