A former Emmy award-winning news anchor and reporter, Christine Chen used to spend hours behind the news desk, delivering headlines about the latest disasters and scandals. Over time, the lack of sleep, stress and her hectic schedule led to anxiety and back pain. During commercial breaks, she’d lie on the floor of the newsroom to muster up enough relief to smile through the next news segment.
“I see many patients who work in finance or jobs where you’re at your desk all day,” says Dr. Johnny Arnouk, orthopedic surgeon at Mount Sinai Beth Israel in New York City. “Since most people don’t sit with good posture, their back starts to hurt. What seems like a mild strain at first often becomes a chronic problem years later.”
Chen, then in her early 30s, was willing to do anything to feel better. Eventually, thanks to a combination of medical treatments and yoga, she began experiencing relief. Most importantly, as she began to incorporate yoga into her everyday life, she felt happier and less stressed. Eventually, she left her job in TV news to become a certified yoga instructor.
While many of us could benefit from a stress-busting yoga practice, the truth is, it’s difficult to find time to go to class. Chen’s solution, detailed in her new book, Happy-Go-Yoga, is to take traditional yoga poses and adapt them to everyday situations. “When I was in a lot of pain and stressed out, all I wanted was to not feel so terrible,” says Chen, now 47. “Sometimes it’s the little things that can make a big difference, doing little things on a consistent basis.” And encouraging movement throughout the day is good for you, too. “It makes you think of yourself and your health first once in a while,” says Dr. Arnouk.
Want to reap the benefits of yoga, even off the mat? These nine tension tamers and feel-good moves can be done anytime, anywhere.
Sunrise Stretches: Yoga Poses to Start Your Day
Take control of your day before it gets away from you. These three moves help set a good overall tone for your morning by opening your body and mind.
1. Rock Your Heart
Desperately in need of a good stretch when you wake up in the morning? This pose might help. “It’s a good, gentle way to balance the body,” says Chen, who lives in New York City. “When you wake up in the morning, you’re crumpled and slumped from sleeping. This opens your chest, gets your blood moving and brings suppleness to the spine.”
How to: Sit up in a comfortable chair and place your hands on your hips (a). Inhale and lift up the center of your chest. It should feel like the lift originates from your middle upper back between your shoulder blades. (b). Exhale and draw your belly button into your body and gently tuck your chin to your chest. Feel your upper back dome slightly. (c). Repeat at least five times or more.
This move is based on yoga’s classic fish pose. Instead of lying on the floor, you’ll use the wall to find the shape. “I feel like I’m snorkeling in this pose,” says Chen. “Reach your arms behind you and lift your head and chest slightly like you’re looking for fish in front of you.” This pose stretches your chest and helps release tension in the neck.
How to: Stand with your back against the wall and your feet hip-width distance apart, shoulder blades resting on the wall (a). With your arms by your side, press your fingertips, palms and forearms firmly into the wall. (b). Begin to lift your chest up and away from the wall. Your shoulder blades should move slightly closer together on your back while your lower back remains on the wall. (c). Inhale and lift your chest a little more. Continue to breathe deeply.
3. Unbreakable You
Have a big presentation or important meeting ahead? This move is based on a traditional mudra, or hand gesture, meant to connect you with your inner strength. Your interlocked fingers represent the coming together of your skills; the act of pulling your fingers apart is a symbol of your power, Chen says.
How to: Stand or sit, back straight, and let your shoulders relax (a). Interlace your fingers and place your palms on your torso, just below your chest and above your belly button. Extend your thumbs up toward your chest. (b). Pretend to pull your fingers apart and reach your elbows out to the side. Your fingers should form a lock and prevent your hands from separating. Don’t let your shoulders creep up to your ears. (c). Slide your shoulder blades down toward your waist and reach through the crown of your head toward the ceiling.
Deskside De-Stressors: Yoga Poses for Work
Sitting and staring at your computer screen for hours isn’t doing your body any favors. “It’s important to get up every so often, stretch and keep yourself loose,” says Dr. Arnouk. These three moves address the main culprits of on-the-job pain — poor posture, tight hips and neck tension.
4. Spine Align
When you sit for a while, you may inevitably start to slouch. To counteract this, “All you need is a thin blanket or thick scarf to re-create the same feeling of a bolster to help you sit up nice and tall,” says Chen. “This aligns the spine, and relieves tightness in the neck, shoulders and back so you’re not working so hard to sit up.”
How to: Roll your blanket, scarf or towel into a thin, smooth roll. The roll should be about as long as the distance between your seat and the base of your neck (a). Vertically align the roll with your spine and place it between your back and the back of the chair. Make sure you’re sitting back in your chair to secure the base of the roll in place. (b). Lean back and feel your chest and shoulders gently open.
5. Counter Pose
Do your hips feel as tight as rubber bands when you stand up from your desk? This pose was one of Chen’s go-to’s at the news desk to counteract the built up tension in her hips. It’s based on yoga’s pigeon pose.
How to: Stand and face your desk, making sure that the space in front of you is clear (a). Lift your right leg and rest your outer shin, calf and knee on the desk. Your knee should be positioned slightly wider than your shoulder. (b). Place your hands on the desk to stabilize yourself. Flex your right foot, drawing your toes towards your shin. (c). Lean forward gently onto your left hand. Take your right hand to your right hip crease and let your fingers fan along the outer thigh. Press gently and rotate your thigh out and down toward the desk. Try to keep your hips even. (d). If you still feel okay, hinge forward at the hips while maintaining a flat back and walk your fingertips forward. The forward fold will further calm your mind. Switch sides.
6. Let It Roll
When you’re stressed, it’s common to find your shoulders slowly creeping towards your ears, causing your neck and shoulders to become stiff over time. Next time you feel your anxiety levels rise, this move will help you roll away the tension and restore mobility in your neck in 10 seconds max.
How to: Sit in a chair, back straight (a). Inhale and shrug your shoulders, drawing them toward your ears. (b). Exhale and relax your shoulders. (c). Keeping your right shoulder down, inhale and gently drop your right ear toward your right shoulder. (d). Exhale and roll your chin toward your chest. (e). Inhale and continue to roll your head so that your left ear comes toward your left shoulder. (f). Exhale and roll your head back to center. (g). Inhale and roll your head to the right. Repeat several times.
Commute Calmers: Easy Yoga Poses for Travel
Can’t stand your commute? Crowded trains and planes, combined with delays and cranky passengers are a recipe for stress. The next time you travel from point A to point B, try these moves to find relief for your body and mind.
7. Eagle Perch
There’s nothing worse than being stuck in the middle seat. Instead of elbowing your neighbors, make your own space with this pose. It releases tension in your shoulders and upper back and helps you turn your focus inwards.
How to: Sit up straight. Bend your elbows and lift them straight in front of you, to shoulder height (a). Take your right arm underneath your left arm and wrap it around your left arm. Connect your palms or the back of your hands together. Alternatively, press your arms together from elbow to palm. (b). Move your elbows forward slightly and let the tops of your shoulders drop away from ears. You should feel a stretch in your shoulders, upper arms and back. Switch sides.
8. Bird of Prey
This pose will help you improve your focus, while also teaching you to pay attention to your posture. You’ll open up your chest and sit taller. It’s also a good pose to complement Eagle Perch.
How to: Sit in a chair towards the front of your seat (a). Take one arm behind you, elbow bent and forearm resting against the middle of your back, parallel to the seat of your chair. Your palm should face the back of the seat. Roll your shoulder up and back toward the seat. (b). If you feel comfortable, take your other arm behind you in the same fashion. Grasp opposite elbows. (c). Gently lift your chest forward and up. Widen across the collarbones and breathe deeply.
9. Reach for the Moon
If your energy levels are shot at the end of the day, try this pose on your commute home. It’s based on the yoga pose Standing Half Moon and is designed to refresh you, working your core and spine while improving your flexibility. It’s best for train or subway commuters.
How to: Stand up straight (a). Inhale, reach your right arm up and over your head to grasp an overhead bar or handle. Let your left arm rest by your side. (b). As your reach for the bar, let the back of your right shoulder drop toward your waist. Keep your right arm straight but not locked. (c). Inhale and grow taller in your spine. Gaze up at your upper arm and don’t let your chest collapse. (d). Exhale and gently side bend to your left. Gaze towards your right shoulder. (e). Inhale and exhale at least 5 times. On an exhale, come out of the side bend.
Originally published April 2015. Updated December 2017.