Whether you’re stillworking from a makeshift kitchen table desk, hunching over your laptop in bed, or giving up on online workout classes over Zoom, foregoing the recommended amount of exercise – and restorative stretches – can take a toll on both your mental and physical health.
We all know the positive impact practicing yoga can have on our bodies. A 2015 study found that individuals who practiced yoga had lower levels of inflammation than those who didn’t and research often suggests that incorporating yoga into your routine could help promote better sleep.
Luckily, you don’t need to pay for an expensive studio class to feel the effects of a yoga practice. At-home stretches can and should be done to ease your body and mind. Plus, when done correctly, stretching can help to restore muscle function and improve posture.
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“We need flexibility to maintain a range of motion in our joints,” says Tim Kayode from London’s stretching studio Flexology. “Without that, we’re at a high risk of joint pain, muscle strains and muscle damage, especially if you’re going to be sedentary, sitting at a desk for a long period of time, not able to move and be active.”
Here, Kayode has shared his eight favourite stretches to combat all that sitting, whether you’re after a quick midday stretch or a full-length yoga sequence.
The best stretches to imrpove your posture if you work from home
Neck and scalene stretch
- Tilt the head to one side.
- Using the hand of the side you’re tilting towards, pull down from the opposite side of the neck. Be sure you’re doing it gently because in the neck there’s a lot of sensitive muscles. If you’re pulling too hard, you’ll do more harm than good.
- Do both sides, holding for 10 to 15 seconds. This is good for tension relief, headaches, shoulder pain, and people who spend a lot of time at the desk.
- Take the arm across the body.
- Wrap your other arm up over it and pull in towards your body and hold for around 15 seconds again. This releases the shoulders, the rear delts and the rotator cuff area.
- Again, this is good for people who spend a lot of time hunched over their desk, providing relief for the affected area.
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Standing side bend stretch
- Standing up, put your arms above your head and then lean over to one side.
- For this stretch, rather than holding it for a certain time, hold for a few deep breaths. This is because it’s an intense stretch, so you don’t want to force it.
- This standing side bend is a great stretch for your lats and quadratus lumborum muscles, which are the muscles that run either side of your back.
Seated figure four stretch
- With this, posture is really important – you don’t want to be slumped or slouched.
- Stay seated and lift the ankle of one leg to rest on the thigh of the other.
- Lean forward, with good posture, until you start to feel that stretch in your glute.
- Hold that for 15 to 20 seconds per side.
The best at-home yoga sequence for better posture
If you’re ready for a full-on stretch, find a carpeted room or grab your mat and run through this flow.
The world’s greatest stretch
- Yes, it’s really called that. Start in a plank position. This will activate the core, our shoulder and our chest muscles.
- We’re then going to lean in to the world’s greatest stretch, so bring the right foot forward into a low lunge, but keep that back left knee elevated off the floor.
- Hold that position, make sure that the chin and the chest are up, both hands are inside the front leg and flat on the floor if possible. Hold that position.
Thoracic spine stretch
- Then, rotate up with our left hand to open up our thoracic spine.
- Really open through the upper body, breathe, hold and repeat on the other side.
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- Put the hand back down, drop the back knee to the floor and lean back into a hamstring stretch for the front leg. This is a good one for releasing the lower back as well.
- Repeat the sequence on both sides.
Pigeon hold stretch
- Bring your knee to your elbow and place your foot at the opposite hand.
- Lean forward into the traditional pigeon position, extending your arms out in front of you, straight down the middle.
- But muscles are not made in straight lines, and we also as humans don’t move in straight lines, we move in multiple planes. So, switch it up moving your arms out towards the right hand side.
- Hold that for five deep breaths.
- You move your arms out to the left hand side, and you hold that five deep breaths.
- Relax out into a plank, then go into the same stretch on the other side.
How can doing yoga stretches at home benefit your mental health?
As well as helping the pain from make-shift desk set up, doing yoga at home can help with anxiety, according to Kayode. “Focusing on breath will help release tension and encourage circulation around the body. That oxygen that we’re spreading around will actually help for promotion of good mood as well as a reduction in muscle soreness.”
And, breathing from the stomach, not the chest is important for that too. “It can lower your heart rate, it helps you relax and it helps lower your blood pressure by getting those endorphins around your body while you’re getting your stretch,” Kayode adds.
“That’s the key thing about stretching: it’s a total body approach. That’s so important for people who are going to be indoors and at home. If you’re staring at the same four walls every day or you’re worried about the virus, stretching will actually help ease your mental tension, as well to help you from a physical standpoint.”
Want to learn more stretches? Follow @StrongWomenUK on Instagram to watch as our certified trainers go over different stretches and their benefits every Friday on #StretchTheWeekOut. You can also learn more in the STRETCH highlight of our handle.
Images: Unsplash / Tim Kayode
Chloe Gray is the senior writer for stylist.co.uk's fitness brand Strong Women. When she's not writing or lifting weights, she's most likely found practicing handstands, sipping a gin and tonic or eating peanut butter straight out of the jar (not all at the same time).