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Workspace Warriors: 7 Desk Yoga Poses That Work

yoga in the workplace

The stress of the office can bring injury and illness to the body. Teach your students these seven yoga poses to do at their desk when they can’t get to a yoga class.

I have a full-time desk job, but I teach yoga during most lunchtimes. This helps me return to the office invigorated and at peace with my surroundings. Recently, I had to give up one of those classes because of my workload. After sitting for approximately five hours at work, I realized I had to practice what I preach. I had to do yoga right there at my desk.

The stress of the office can be overwhelming, and often makes itself known to the physical body in the form of disease, or even injury to the neck and shoulders. The lack of circulation in the body—which comes from sitting in one position for long periods of time—takes its toll on the hips, knees, and other joints and muscles.

I tell my students all the time that yoga will help relieve a lot of the ill effects of constant sitting—and they don’t have to wait to get to the studio for relief. If you don’t have enough time during lunch to attend a class, even a novice can stop for a few minutes and, through very basic techniques, allow the body to recharge its batteries.

To me, yoga is prescribed medication. So here are a few asanas (postures) you can teach your students to do in their office and at their desk when they can’t get to a yoga class.

Breathing Exercise

Breathing is an integral part of every posture in yoga. Most people go days without taking a deep, cleansing breath. And for most, that doesn’t even happen unless they find themselves in a highly-charged situation or in a yoga class.

This breathing exercise is calming and centering. By focusing on your breath and what it does to the body, you can quiet the mind and bring yourself to the present moment—a place of peace where you can find refuge in the midst of a crisis. Giving yourself time to regroup will also help clear the mind. You’ll discover that you can make better and wiser decisions, find creative solutions to problems, and have a calming effect on your coworkers and employees.

Pranayama - breath control exercise1) Begin by sitting comfortably in your chair on top of your sitting bones. Lengthen your spine.

2) Square your shoulder blades across the back and relax your shoulders down, away from the ears. Your feet should be resting flat on the floor, hip-distance apart.

3) Rest your hands on your thighs, palms facing up in a gesture of offering, and close your eyes. I like to touch the index finger to the thumb to keep the energy flowing through the body.

4) Take a deep breath through the nostrils, but only fill the lower belly. Exhale fully through the nostrils by pushing the abs toward the spine at the end of the exhalation. (Most Westerners seldom breathe into their lower belly because of the constant pressure to have a flat stomach. We’re always sucking it in!) Do this for a few seconds, until you feel comfortable controlling your breath.

5) Then, as you inhale fully and deeply, move the breath from the lower to middle belly, feeling your ribcage expand to the sides. Exhale by emptying the air from the middle belly first and then from the lower belly. Remember to push the abs toward the spine for a full exhalation.

6) When comfortable with this part of the exercise, move on to the next inhalation—moving air from the lower to middle belly, and then to the chest, feeling the sternum rise. When you exhale, empty the air first from your chest, watching the sternum relax back down, and then out of the middle and lower belly. The abs will then move the diaphragm into the lungs, expelling the final traces of air and preparing the lungs for the next full, cleansing breath.

7) Lastly, begin by filling the lower belly with air. Move the air to the middle belly and through the chest to the top of your sternum, noticing the collarbones rise. Exhale in the reverse order. Practice this for approximately 3-5 minutes at first, and increase as you become more comfortable.

Neck Stretch

1) Keeping the spine straight and shoulders down, away from the ears, take a deep breath in.

2) On the exhalation, turn your head to the right as far as you can. Stay here for the entire exhalation with your chin parallel to your right shoulder.

3) Inhale and bring your head back to center. As you exhale, turn your head to the left. Do not tilt the chin up or down.

4) Inhale back to center. Then exhale and draw the right ear toward the right shoulder.

5) Inhale and lift the head back up to center. Then exhale and draw the left ear to the left shoulder.

Shoulder Stretch


Shoulder stretch1) Sit on top of your sitting bones at the edge of your seat. Straighten the spine and roll the shoulders back and down. The shoulder blades pinch at the center of the back.

2) Bend the arms and place the elbows as close to your sides as possible, like robot arms.

3) Inhale and extend the forearms out to the sides, keeping the elbows attached to your torso.

4) With an exhale, return the arms to the robot position.

5) Do this five to 10 times without arching your back.

Seated Spinal Twist

This asana helps keep the spine and shoulders supple and increases flexibility in the back.

Spinal-Twist_ED1) To release the spine, preferably use a chair without arms. Sit sideways with the back of the chair under your right armpit, a straight spine, and feet flat on the floor.

2) Inhale and puff up your chest. On the exhalation, twist to the right and hug the back of your chair with both arms.

3) Continue to breathe and every time you exhale, twist a little more to the right. When you think you’ve twisted your spine as far as possible, turn your head to the right and look over your shoulder.

4) Hold the pose for 30 to 60 seconds. Then return to center and twist to the other side. You’ll notice immediate relief from neck, shoulder, and back pain.

Tadasana (Mountain pose)

Mountain pose can be grounding and stabilizing. Practicing it will give you a sense of strength, stillness, and steadiness.

Tadasana - Mountain pose1) Stand with your feet together and place equal weight on the inner and outer edges of your feet, heels, and toes. Point the tailbone toward the floor and firm the abs. Square the shoulder blades in the back and press them down, away from the ears. The spine should not be arched. (If you find this difficult, stand with the wall at your back and allow the lower spine to curve naturally.)

2) Your gaze is straightforward and relaxed, but your muscles should be very active. Engage the thighs by lifting the kneecaps. Strengthen your arm muscles, but keep all of your joints soft. Do not lock the knees or elbows. Hold the posture for approximately 30 seconds.

3) For a bonus, inhale the arms overhead. Keep your upper arms strong by the ears, shoulders down, and palms facing each other. Interlace your fingers and turn your palms up toward the sky to stretch the shoulders, arms, wrists, and fingers a bit more.

4) Join the palms together and bring your hands in front of your heart, thumbs touching the sternum. Feel your heartbeat there and tune out the cacophony of the office, even if for just a few moments.

Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend)

Uttanasana - Standing Foward BendPracticing Standing Forward Bend will help the body and brain recover from exhaustion.

1) Stand in Mountain pose with arms extended up toward the sky.

2) Exhale and bend forward from the hips, reaching for the earth with your fingertips.

3) Inhale and consciously straighten the spine as much as you can. Then exhale and, leading with the heart, fold forward a little more.

4) Allow the neck to relax, as if you have a heavy anchor at the crown of your head.

Savasana (Corpse pose)

For this posture, body and mind have to be completely relaxed. While Savasana may be difficult to perform in an office setting, with modifications, benefits can still be gained.

1) Sit comfortably in a chair with the back fully supported, and close your eyes.

2) Rest your arms by your sides and place your hands on the thighs, palms facing up. Relax the head back and the legs out, letting the feet fall to either side of the midline.

3) Take a deep breath in. Then exhale all of the tension and tightness out of every muscle in your body. Bring your awareness to each body part and notice if anything is still holding on. Start with the bottom of your feet and move up to the crown of your head.

4) Finally, quiet the mind by focusing on the breath. Allow the breath to become soft and natural, not disturbing the shoulders with your inhalations. Watch your breath enter the body through the nostrils, and notice its quality. It may feel cool as you inhale, and warm as you exhale. Notice how your breath slightly expands the ribcage as it enters the lungs.

5) Rest here for five minutes or longer, staying in the present moment with your breath. You will notice a lightness to the body with relief from physical and mental fatigue. The serenity this asana brings to the mind is invaluable.

Workspace environments would greatly improve for all of us warriors if filled with yogis and yoginis.

May you be happy, healthy, and helpful. Namaste.

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