Most writers do not sit in cafes writing their hearts out on paper napkins or hide away in garret apartments pounding on old typewriter keys. In fact, once the computer age dawned, we found ourselves spending hours sitting in front of computer screens, lost in our stories and articles.
If you're like me, hours of sustained keyboard work may leave you with tender hands, an aching neck, tight shoulders and eye strain, not to mention the throbbing hips and stiff knees. As a former practitioner and teacher of yoga and now an office manager responsible for the well-being of the office staff, I've learned a few techniques to ease those aches and pains.
While ergonomically designed work-spaces will ease some of the discomfort, this is only the beginning. Even if your chair is at the right height, your keyboard situated so your wrists are flat, and your monitor just at the right eye level, you may still find yourself fatigued at the end of a long work session.
The human body is designed to move. When it's confined, muscles tense up, and this causes blood flow to be reduced. Staying in one position too long may cause not only stiffness and soreness, but even numbness.
To keep your mind alert and your body healthy, make yoga stretches part of your work practice. Yoga is an ancient practice designed to bring your body, mind and spirit into balance. Its practice involves physical postures (asanas) to maintain the body, mental techniques (meditation) to discipline the mind, breathing exercises (pranayama) to increase energy, and relaxation techniques to reduce stress. While you may not be interested in becoming a dedicated yoga practitioner, many of the warm-up stretches used in yoga classes are beneficial to those of us with sedentary jobs. Plan your work time so that you can take breaks to do the following exercises. Some you can do them sitting at your desk while others should be practiced standing up.
To relieve tension in your hands and wrists, begin by holding one hand in a fist in front of you; slowly open each finger in sequence, then close slowly in sequence. Repeat once slowly, then repeat once quickly. Repeat the entire sequence with the other hand. Finish this exercise with both hands held out in front of you and repeating the above sequence.
Next, hold both hands in front of you, limp-wristed. Circle one hand clockwise slowly several times, then counter-clockwise slowly. Follow this quickly in each direction. Repeat with other hand, then with both hands.
Lastly, with your hands held in front of you, separate and straighten your fingers until you can feel the stretch. Hold this position for ten seconds. Relax your hand, then bend your fingers at the knuckles and hold for ten seconds.
Now that your hands are loosened up, try one or more of the following arm and shoulder exercises. Rotate the right shoulder forward four times, slowly, inhaling on the first rotation and exhaling on the second. Follow this by rotating the right shoulder backward four times, slowly, again inhaling on the first rotation and exhaling on the second. Then, with normal breathing, rotate the right shoulder forward four times quickly and backward four times quickly. Repeat all of the above with the left shoulder. Complete the exercise by repeating the entire sequence with both shoulders at the same time.
Inhale as you raise the top of your shoulders toward your ears until you feel slight tension in your neck and shoulders. Exhale, breathe normally and hold this position for three to five seconds, then relax. Repeat two to three times.
With your fingers interlaced behind your head, and your elbows out to the side, pull your shoulder blades toward each other to create tension in the upper back and shoulder blades. Hold for ten seconds, then relax. Repeat five times, breathe normally.
Hold your left arm, at shoulder height, with your right hand between your wrist and elbow (do not push against your elbow). Stretch your left arm to the right side of your body. As you stretch to the right, slowly turn your head to the left. Inhale as you turn your head, hold for five seconds, then exhale as your head returns to center and your release your arm. Repeat with your right arm, held by your left hand, as your head turns to the right.
Interlace your fingers in front of you, inhale, then straighten your arms with your palms facing away from you and exhale. You should feel the stretch in your arms, and upper back through the shoulder blades. Now inhale again and stretch your arms above your head with your palms still facing away from you. Hold for ten seconds, exhale and lower your arms to your sides.
Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight and eyes closed. Perform the next exercise very slowly, deliberately and be very relaxed. Use slow deep breaths. Keep your shoulders limp and free of tension. Lower your head, bringing your chin toward your chest. Inhale and raise your head, tilt it back as far as possible, keeping your mouth closed. Gently open your mouth to allow the head to tilt back a little farther. Close your mouth, exhale and return your head to your chest. Do not stretch to the point of pain.
With your head held straight, inhale and lower your head sideways, bringing the right ear towards the right shoulder. Exhale and return your head to center. Inhale and lower the left ear toward the left shoulder. Exhale and return your head to center. Hold the stretch for about 10 to 20 seconds. Do not overstretch. Perform two to three times on each side.
For a quick side stretch, you can do a modified spinal twist while sitting in your chair. Sit with your left leg bent over the right leg. Place your right hand or forearm against the outside of the upper left thigh. Inhale and raise your left arm in front of you to shoulder height. Now exhale as you bring your left arm around behind your chair. Follow your arm with your head. If possible, bring your left hand around the back of the chair to touch the right side of your waist. Don't overstretch, just go as far as you can. Breathe normally as you hold the position for about fifteen seconds. Inhale as you raise your left arm. Exhale as your bring your arm and head around to front center. Repeat on the right side.
To release strain in your hips, stand up with your arms by your sides and your feet spread apart so they are in line with your hips. Inhale while bringing your arms to shoulder height, thrust your pelvis slightly forward, exhale as you stretch to the left, then bring your right arm over your head and parallel to the floor. Your left hand will rest against your thigh or below your knee for support. Hold for ten counts, breathing normally. Inhale as you return to a standing position. Exhale bringing your hands to the side. Repeat as you stretch to the right.
Next, follow the above exercise, but allow the pelvis to rotate. This time, inhale, bring your arms up to shoulder height, exhale, twist at your waist and bring your right hand down to grasp your left ankle, turn your head and look up at your left arm which is straight up, rather than parallel to the floor. Breathe normally. Inhale up, exhale arms down. Repeat to the right.
A popular stretch for the hips and knees is done by getting down on your hands and knees. Keep your back flat. Inhale as you raise your head and right leg, exhale as your bring your head down and bring your right knee towards your nose. Return to starting position. Repeat by stretch using your left leg.
To release tension in your knees, stand up, then move to a sitting position, with your hands resting on your knees. Using your hands to guide your knees, rotate your knees in five small circles clockwise, then five small circles counter-clockwise. Repeat the exercise making larger circles. Do five slow circles of each, followed by five fast circles. Use normal breathing throughout the exercise.
Take off your shoes and stand up. Inhale as you raise your arms in front of you, parallel to the floor. Raise up on your toes, hold your breath and tiptoe 90 degrees to the left, then tiptoe back. Exhale, then lower your arms and heels to the floor. Repeat by tiptoeing 90 degrees to the right.
Complete your stretches and relaxation with these simple eye exercises. Sit in a comfortable position with your spine straight, your head level and unmoving. Breathe normally throughout the exercises.
Begin with your eyes gazing straight ahead. Look up to the right as far as possible, then swing your gaze to up left as far as possible and return to center. Next from center look right as far as possible, then left as far as possible and return to center. From center look down right as far as possible, then to down left as far as possible and return to center. Repeat each three times and return to center. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and rest.
Starting with your gaze at down right, swing to up right and back three times. Then go to down center, swing your gaze up center and back three times. Finish by starting your gaze at down left and swinging it up left three times. Close your eyes, take a deep breath, release, and rest.
This time you will shift your eyes from upper right to lower left and back three times, then from upper left to lower right and back three times. Close your eyes, breathe deeply and relax.
Lastly, rub your hands briskly together for several moments till they feel warm, then cover your closed eyes with your warm palms. Slide your hands downward and gently caress your eyelids with the tips of your fingers. Do not apply any pressure.
While many exercise routines tout "no pain, no gain," with yoga stretches, you work to avoid pain. Only stretch as far as is comfortable. If something hurts, stop immediately. If you have persistent, ongoing pain, check with your doctor before performing any exercises. When performed properly, these exercises will help to clear your mind, loosen tight muscles, and ease your aches, giving you the ability to work your craft, stress-free.
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