Let’s face it, yoga at work can seem like an awkward blend of our business and personal lives. We all want to be able to drop into Savasana whenever we feel our bodies need it. But to be fair, it is an unusual breach of business meeting etiquette.

Finding a way to stretch properly without breaking from the office status quo can pose a peculiar challenge, but there are many reasons to get this right. After all, your typical desk job is synonymous with bad backs, poor posture and a wide assortment of negative health outcomes.

Thankfully, the inherent disconnect between your job and your yoga practice doesn’t mean that yoga in the workplace is a bad idea, it just means we need the right poses for the job. Poses that we can do effectively – and somewhat discreetly – from our desks are the ideal solution.

Read on to find out the best yoga poses to practise at work (which won’t freak out your boss).

Why practise yoga at work?

More often than not, problems are best solved at their root.

Sure, you could wait to stretch out your sore back at an evening yoga class. Or, you could do it right there at your desk, and avoid the afternoon of discomfort.

If you had a minor itch on your back, you wouldn’t wait all day to scratch it. Why is soreness any different?

The nature of tension and discomfort in the body is to compound over time. What starts as a small niggle in the morning can become a serious pain if left unchecked, and that pain could be a signal of something more grievous.

More often than not it’s going to be a muscular knot or tendonitis, but part of taking responsibility for our health is listening closely to our bodily signals and acting on any potentially dangerous ones. Yoga is a tool for awareness after all.

So be kind to your body and stretch effectively when you need to. Here are five great poses you can do from your desk.

1. Seated Cat Cow

In the ongoing battle that is office life, it’s often the shoulders and necks that suffer the most casualties. Day-after-day these brave muscles fight to hold your position at the keyboard. It’s hard work, and understandably, it makes them tense.

Our bodies need movement to function properly.

Holding any position for 8 hours is a recipe for discomfort, let alone a position that keeps the shoulders raised and the neck craned over. What we need is a way of bringing gentle movement into the entire area. What we need are Cat Cows.

Cat Cows are the staple of any yoga warmup sequence. They’re perfect for releasing the neck, opening up the chest and shoulders, and resetting the spine. You can even do it from the comfort of your chair (and avoid looking like the office farmyard animal in the process). Here’s how:

  1. Take a comfortable upright seated position with your hands on your knees.
  2. On an inhale, pull your shoulders back, press your chest forward and look up towards the ceiling.
  3. On an exhale, round into the back, letting the head drop to the chest.
  4. Repeat in your own time for 5 breaths.

2. Seated Spinal Twist

Everybody needs more twists in their lives. Great for digestion, circulation and muscle relaxation, they’ll help you digest that heavy canteen lunch, but probably more importantly, they’ll help ease lower back pain too.

Let’s face it, the lower back may be out of sight but it’s never out of mind. Compressed and unsupported all day long, it’s a regular pain for people at work. Taking a walk every now and again will help, but to really work into the muscles you’ll need a lovely deep stretch.

The seated spinal twist is super easy to do, and has the added benefit of making you look interested in your co-worker neighbours. Win-win. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Inhale, and sit up straight with your shoulders back and down.
  2. Place your right hand on the outside of your left knee.
  3. Smile politely at your neighbour as you twist to the left, wrapping your left arm around the back of the chair.
  4. Hold this position for 5 breaths, trying to lengthen the spine on each inhale and twist a little further on each exhale.
  5. After your 5 breaths, gently return to centre and repeat on the other side.

3. Upward Bound Fingers

So, we know movement is good, and technically, your hands are moving all day if you’re working from a computer (and actually being productive). But hands, wrists and forearms all hurt after a long day at the keyboard. How come?

Well, they are moving, but they’re working from a single position. A position that’s isolated from the rest of the body. Which means the small muscles in your forearms are doing all the work, and the ligaments and tendons in your wrists and hands are taking all the strain.

Let’s give them a break with this easy stretch.

  1. Interlace your fingers (as snug as you can get them) on top of your head.
  2. Sit up tall, and pull your shoulders back and down. You should feel a nice stretch across the shoulders here.
  3. Flip your hands and press them skyward until your arms are straight up.
  4. Press into your fingers only as hard as you need to get a good stretch.
  5. Relax, unclasp your fingers, shake it out and get back to work.

4. Chair Pigeon

Your marketing plan may be rock solid, but so will your quads and hip flexors if you sit at a desk all day long.

Chairs may feel like they’re supporting you, but they’re actually removing your ability to support yourself with your legs and core. Spend too long this way and your body might forget how it’s supposed to sit naturally.

Sitting forward at your desk is a big cause of anterior pelvic tilt, and sitting with one leg up can build tension and imbalances in the glutes and lower back.

But fear not! Your favourite (often painful) Pigeon Pose is also available from your office chair.

  1. Whilst seated on your chair, rest your right ankle on your left knee at a 90 degree angle.
  2. Flex the right foot to protect the knee and sit upright.
  3. If you don’t feel the stretch, you can bring your right foot closer, reduce the height of your chair, or even pop a piece of clothing between your foot and leg. Anything that lifts the foot higher in relation to the knee will intensify the stretch.
  4. Relax, unravel, then repeat on the other side.

5. Child’s Pose

This oh-so lovely resting pose isn’t just for avoiding tough vinyasas, it’s a tool we can employ at any time in our lives when we’re feeling overwhelmed.

Child’s Pose at the desk is just as easy as on the mat, and comes with all the same variations.

Instead of folding over your legs, you’re folding onto the desk and having that support you. Having your head on the desk and arms out in front is a lovely and restorative option, or you could bring your hands into prayer above the back of your head for an added shoulder stretch.

The great thing about Child’s Pose is that it’s emotionally anchored to the relaxation phase of our yoga practice. Just taking the position will instantly trigger the same effect – activating the parasympathetic nervous system, slowing the heart rate and relaxing the body.

Just don’t spend all day there, it’s not good for productivity!

It’s always okay to take time for yoga

Though we often tend to dedicate a specific hour each day to yoga for our convenience, yoga is not a fixed practice – it’s a lifestyle.

If you understand your body and how to implement the tools that yoga provides, you’re free to practise yoga asana whenever, and wherever you like. Even at work. Arguably, especially at work. Whenever you need it most.

These five poses are all effective at combating desk-related injuries, and perhaps most importantly – they’re accessible to anyone with a workstation. Even if you’re desk-bound the entire day, there’s nothing to stop you whipping out some chair yoga.

By implementing these throughout your workday, you might just find that your yoga practice (and your general mobility) improves significantly.

To end, it’s worth mentioning that the outlook for yoga in the workplace is getting brighter every year. After all, mindfulness has been fully embraced by corporate culture as a means to reduce worker stress and increase productivity. Yoga is a little harder to implement, but probably won’t be far behind.

Further reading

You might also like to check out our related post How to be more mindful at work so you can really surprise your bosses when you keep your cool at the next team meeting!