Words by Lotty Somers @lottypilatesandbarre
Over the last few weeks, the large majority of us have had to endure upheaval in our lives and quickly adapt to a ‘working from home’ set up. Desk by day, dining table by night. It’s not always been easy, but somehow, we’re making it work.
This doesn't come without its complications though and between hunching over a make-shift desk, sitting on an unsupportive chair, binging another Netflix series slumped on the sofa or staring down at our phones, we’re placing more strain than ever on our spines. All of these actions force our upper vertebrae into excessive forward flexion which can often lead to back pain, shoulder and neck tension, headaches and even poor digestion.
Fear not however, as there are many simple Pilates exercises which can help to counteract these WFH aches and pains and instantly improve your posture. Increasing mobility can help alleviate tension in the joints and allow you to move freely without stress on the body. Whilst improving strength enables you to activate muscles which are often disengaged after long hours at our desks, so they can provide the necessary support for the body.
You can try these 5 movements whilst sitting down, making them perfect for a quick release of tension when you’ve got a spare 5 minutes between virtual meetings. Remember to move the body within your own range and don’t force any of the movements - breath is key!
1. Head Nods (8-10 reps)
Keeping your shoulders relaxed down away from your ears, exhale and gently nod your chin down towards your chest as though you are trying to hold an orange in place. This should create a lengthening stretch down the back of your neck and the upper part of the spine. Then inhale as you return your head back to it’s starting position.
2. Neck stretch (hold for 30 seconds each side)
Relax your right ear toward down towards your right shoulder and place your right hand gently to the left side of your head before applying a small amount of pressure to increase the stretch. You should feel a lengthening sensation through the left side of the neck and down to the shoulder. Pause for 30 seconds taking deep relaxing breaths before returning your head back to its starting position. Repeat on the other side.
3. Shoulder pinches (8-10 reps)
Sitting upright on your chair to create more length in the spine, reach your arms out in front of you, shoulder distance apart with your palms facing inwards. Exhale, keeping your arms long and feel the shoulders slide backwards and the shoulder blades draw together and down (retraction). Then, as you inhale, slide the shoulders forwards as though you are trying to touch something that’s just out of reach with your fingertips (protraction). It is important to remember as you do this that you don’t want your shoulders to lift up and down, but simply slide forwards and backwards on the same plane.
4. Arm circles (8-10 reps)
Start sitting upright on your chair with your arms relaxed down by your sides and the shoulders melting down away from your ears. Exhale as you reach your arms up towards the ceiling, shoulder distance apart with your palms facing inwards, careful not to let the shoulders lift. Then as you inhale, draw the arms round by your sides with the palms facing forwards and then back down to their starting position, careful not to let your rib cage flare forwards as you do this.
5. Spine twist (4-6 reps)
Start sitting upright on your chair with your arms reaching long either side of you and palms facing down, careful not to let your rib cage flare forwards. Keeping the hips square and the core engaged, exhale and twist your body from the rib cage upwards round to the right as far as you can go, feeling a stretch down the left side of your back. Then inhale as you return back to your starting position before twisting to the left to repeat on the other side.
If there is one advantage which really comes from the WFH scenario it’s that by eliminating the need to travel to work, we can productively use the time that would have been spent commuting and treat our bodies to some freeing movement. Now you can switch Instagram scrolling on a packed train for some simple Pilates exercises to get your body moving, get your blood flowing and get your hit of exercise induced endorphins! The exercises in the video below can be done on a mat with limited space around you and are a great way to get the body moving and combat ‘desk-posture’.