A case for Self-Care – the Amazing Power of 5 Minute Desk Yoga

Self-care with the Power of 5 Minute Desk Yoga - Maroon Oak
Are you strapped for time during workdays? Overwhelmed by work or general stress? Learn about the Amazing Power of 5 Minute Desk Yoga and all it can do for you.
Sometimes the most important thing in the day is the rest we take between two deep breaths.
Etty Hillesum

Many of us push ourselves to do more with less. More work, less time; too many tasks, less time; numerous activities, less time. There never seems to be enough time, does there? Certainly not enough to take care of ourselves.

When I first returned to work full-time (I worked freelance from home while my son was little), I felt like I was doing “okay” at most things – as an employee, colleague, even mom, wife and homemaker. I tried to do everything, and, though I completed tasks, I never felt like I did any of them exceptionally well.

My daily routine, very rarely, if ever, included something to ensure that I took care of my own well-being.

Do you know what that resulted in? I felt the weight of the world on my shoulders, and it was exhausting.

(Before you read any further, I ask you to relax your shoulders, lift them up and roll them back. Feels good, right? Let’s proceed now)

Self-care often ends up on the bottom of our priority list.  I frequently catch myself thinking, “I don’t have time to do something for myself right now. Just push through.”

When we take care of ourselves, we’re better at being who we are. We are more alert. More creative. More engaged. Bottom line – we feel renewed and refreshed.

We need to reframe how we look at self-care. It’s not a nice-to-have; it’s a need-to-have.

This is an exercise I teach in yoga that illustrates this sentiment. Try it out.

Sit on the floor or on the edge of a chair.

Extend both your legs. Lift one; lift the other (if in the chair, lift from the hip, not from the knee). Notice the weight of your legs. Bend one knee and bring that foot to the floor or the seat of the chair.

Massage the leg and foot.

Don’t rush it – pay attention to areas that need and want your attention (for instance, if your job requires a lot of standing, your feet may want extra attention; if your job requires a lot of sitting, your hip area may want extra attention). Do what feels best.

When you feel like you’ve really massaged the entire leg and foot, extend the leg again. Now lift it

My hope is that you notice it feels lighter. Lift the leg you ignored. It should still feel pretty heavy. That is the perfect representation of what happens when we do – and don’t – take care of ourselves.

Now give that other leg and foot some love!

Lack of movement has slowly crept into our everyday lives – the truth is that we are married to our chairs.

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When the overwhelm of my everyday life became too much, I challenged myself to this. I decided that I would actually take the two 15-minute breaks that I’m allowed at work each day and I would do something for myself during each of those breaks.

And one of the things I found myself doing regularly was yoga, right at my desk. Yoga not only gets the body moving (which is so good for us), but it also gets us paying attention to our breath. There are many reasons to do yoga, but I find that the focus on my breath helps to calm my mind, which helps to calm any tensions in my body (from sitting at my desk or just from general stress).

After just a few minutes of Yoga, I feel so much more clear, calm, and ready to take on the world.

Strapped for Time? Try the Power of 5 Minute Desk Yoga!

Here are some of my go-to yoga moves that can be done right at your desk.

Neck Stretches

Shrug your shoulders up, then hug them back and down.

Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, allow your head to fall toward your right 

shoulder.

Leaving the shoulder back and down, simply allow the weight of your head to do the hard work for you. Hold here for a few breaths.

When you’re ready, as you inhale, lift your head back to neutral.

Again, shrug your shoulders up, then hug them back and down. Take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, allow your head to fall toward your left shoulder.

Make sure to leave your shoulders back and down. Hold here for a few breaths. When you’re ready, as you inhale, lift your head back to neutral.

Repeat as necessary.

Twist (two options – seated or standing putting foot on chair)

Seated option:

Plant both feet firmly on the ground. Inhale and lengthen your spine, being careful not to press your ribs forward.

Think about hugging your belly and ribs in gently toward your spine. On your exhale, from your belly button up, twist toward the right, placing your right hand on the back of your chair and your left hand on the arm of your chair.

(If your chair does not have an arm, sit sideways on your chair, facing the right. When you twist, place both hands on the back of the chair.)

With your next inhale, lengthen your spine by rooting down into your chair and lifting tall through the crown of your head, and exhale, maybe find a little more twist from the belly button through your heart center.

Be careful not to crane your neck around – you don’t want to stress out your cervical spine. Just let your neck go for the ride. Hold here for a few breaths.

To release, take an inhale and unwind on your exhale.

Repeat this process, this time twisting to the left. If your chair does not have an arm, this time sit sideways on your chair, facing the left.

Standing option:

Stand facing the seat of your chair, making sure the chair is stable enough to provide you with proper support. Place your Standing Twist - Power of 5 Minutes Desk Yogaright foot on the chair so that your right knee is bent at a 90-degree angle.

Inhale and lengthen your spine, being careful not to press your ribs forward. Think about hugging your belly and ribs in gently toward your spine.

On your exhale, from your belly button, twist toward the right, placing your left hand on your right leg. Your right hand can come to your right hip.

With your next inhale, lengthen your spine by pressing your left foot down into the floor and lifting tall through the crown of your head, and exhale, maybe find a little more twist from the belly button through your heart center.

Be careful not to crane your neck around – you don’t want to stress out your cervical spine. Hold here for a few breaths.

To release, take an inhale and unwind on your exhale.

Repeat this process, this time placing your left foot on the chair and twisting to the left, letting the right hand come to the left leg and the left hand rest on the left hip.

Pigeon (two options – seated or standing putting hands on chair for support)

Seated Pigeon - Power of 5 Minutes Desk YogaSeated option:

Plant both feet firmly on the ground. Inhale and lengthen your spine, being careful not to press your ribs forward.

Think about hugging your belly and ribs in gently toward your spine.

On the next inhale, lift your right foot, pressing through the heel, then cross the heel to the left knee. Your left foot will remain on the ground.

Allow the right hip to open so the right shin is as close to parallel to the ground as possible.

When ready, inhale to extend the right leg and exhale to put the right foot back on the ground.

Repeat this process on the left side.

Standing option:

Standing Pigeon - Power of 5 Minutes Desk YogaStand behind your chair, placing your hands on the back of the chair (make sure the chair is stable enough to provide you with proper support).

Plant both feet firmly on the ground. Inhale and lengthen your spine, being careful not to press your ribs forward. Think about hugging your belly and ribs in gently toward your spine.

On the next inhale, lift your right foot, pressing through the heel, the cross the heel to the left knee. Your left foot will remain on the ground.

With your exhale, sit your hips back while keeping length in the back of your pelvis.

When ready, inhale to extend the right leg and straighten the left leg. Exhale to put the right foot back on the ground.

Repeat this process on the left side.

Standing Downward Facing Dog

Downward Dog - Power of 5 Minute Desk YogaStand behind your chair with your feet one to two fists distance apart, placing your hands on the back of the chair (make sure the chair is stable enough to provide you with proper support).

Shrug your shoulders, then hug them back and down.

Take steps back away from the chair, keeping the arms straight (but not locking the elbows).

Continue to step back, pressing your hips away from the chair, until your torso is parallel to the floor.

You’ll end up being in an “L” shape.

Focus on hugging your feet toward each other without moving them, hugging your belly and ribs toward the spine, hugging the shoulders back and down, and lengthening the back of your pelvis.

These simple but effective routines will help you feel more relaxed and limber without the stiff soreness which is the usual outcome of a day at your desk.

The way ahead – Self-Care First

Beyond your work day, I want to challenge you to add self-care into your routine. And add it in a way that won’t create more stress for you.

Do you like to walk? Perhaps you spend half of your lunch break walking, the other half eating. Do you enjoy coloring? Get yourself a coloring book—not for the kids, but just for you—and make coloring a part of your mind care routine. Do you enjoy music and dancing? Pump up the volume and dance like nobody’s watching (even if your children are…and it gives them a good laugh!).

“Mind your body – difficult to repair, impossible to replace!”

Disclaimer: It is important in yoga that you listen to your body, and respect its limits. If at any time during any of these poses you feel discomfort or strain, gently come out of the posture. Yoga is not a substitute for medical attention, examination, diagnosis, or treatment. Consult a physician prior to beginning any activity program, including yoga. Do not perform any postures to the extent of strain or pain. Neither the author, Shannon Hurley, nor Maroon Oak, is liable for any injury, or damages, to person or property, resulting from these poses. 

Shannon Hurley

Shannon Hurley is a passionate public relations and marketing professional with a proven track record of positive outcomes. With more than a decade of experience, she has done everything from event coordination to social media campaign management; securing press coverage to increasing brand awareness; and content creation to winning three professional awards. With over 200 hours of teaching and a certification under her belt, Shannon also moonlights as a yoga teacher.

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38 Comments
  1. Elly McGuinness 2 weeks ago

    This is great. Just a few simple exercises like this on a regular basis can make a huge difference. Fab tips to help people with busy lives realise that there’s an alternative if they’re time poor

  2. Debra 3 weeks ago

    Love this. No reason anyone can’t do it!

  3. […] small alteration I’m proud of – incorporating stretching pauses into my mostly desk bound […]

  4. Tiffany yong 2 months ago

    Some people call it stretching, some people call it yoga, some call it exercise. But the core message is movement and not being stagnant! Love how you educate and remind people to move it!

  5. steve walters 2 months ago

    I love these tips so much. I’m doing them right now. I’m going to start doing them on a regular basis. Thank you!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      I’m so glad you enjoyed them and tried them! Keep us posted on what you think and if you’re able to incorporate them in to your routine!

  6. courtney 2 months ago

    Definitely so important to take a few minutes to focus on yourself everyday especially when you are sitting at a desk all day!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      I’m so glad you enjoyed them and tried them! Keep us posted on what you think and if you’re able to incorporate them in to your routine!

  7. Ant 2 months ago

    I need to start doing this daily. I love the neck stretches and the twists.

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      We hold so much tension in our necks and torso…neck stretches and twists help us to release some of it and find some space so we can breathe! Hope you’re enjoying the poses.

  8. Catherine 2 months ago

    Yoga is so amazing. It completely transforms the mind and body, and you’re technically just stretching! A lot of these were taught in my beginners course so they are so easy to do and don’t take up much time!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      I agree 100% – Yoga IS amazing! It’s incredible what focused attention can do for the body, mind, and soul, isn’t it?

  9. Sue Tanya McHorgh 2 months ago

    Yoga is awesome. I couldnt imagine life without it

  10. Amy Dong 2 months ago

    I’ve been doing the standing (behind chair, crossed legs) stretch for the longest time to help relieve some runner’s ITB issues, and didn’t even know it was a yoga stretch 🙂 Thanks for these great tips that are so easy and do-able.

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      Isn’t that an amazing one, Amy?! I love it. Really gets into the glute, hip, and IT band. Thanks for reading these tips…happy you enjoyed them!

  11. Jiashin 2 months ago

    I just started yoga the other day and these are great tips I can use!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      So delighted to hear that you found your way to yoga. Hope you’re enjoying it!

  12. andrea florescu 3 months ago

    Awesome routine for anybody but especially for those who work at a desk. People, myself included, are so caught up in their work that they forget to do simple exercises that would interrupt the monotony of this type of work

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      We do tend to get caught up in our work, don’t we?! I find that I sometimes forget to drink water during my work day, let alone stretch! That’s what I love about these poses…they don’t take a lot of time or effort. And they’re are just so many benefits for your body – but your mind and soul, too! Thanks for reading!

  13. Suanlian Tangpua 3 months ago

    I love this post! It is really important for someone like me who sit in the chair for almost 12 hours a day.

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      I’m so happy you enjoyed this post! 12 hours a day is a lot of sitting! Sure hope you’ve been able to incorporate some of these poses into your day. Thanks for reading.

  14. Jenn 3 months ago

    Yoga has changed my life. I couldnt imagine life without it

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      Yoga was a total game-changer for me, too, Jenn! I’m with you…I don’t even want to imagine my life without it. So glad you like it, too.

  15. Megan @ Ginger Mom 3 months ago

    This is great! We have been switching computer systems where I work so I have found myself sitting more and more. I definitely need to do this! Thanks so much for sharing!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      Thank you so much for reading, Megan. Let us know if you tried it…and if you did, what you thought!

  16. Casey Fatchett 3 months ago

    Great advice – I use some of these moves from time to time, but I need to be more regimented in doing them regularly!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 2 months ago

      Thanks for reading, Casey. It’s funny, I was just talking to someone about how we tend to not incorporate these kinds of things into our lives until we’re in pain…but we let ourselves get to the point of pain because we didn’t take care of ourselves with these kinds of things! Sure hope you have been able to incorporate more yoga into your daily life.

  17. Emmi 3 months ago

    These are great! Sitting at a desk for too long can be so harmful, but it can be hard to stop working when you really need to use all of your time. I love that these yoga postures can be done right at your desk. They can help you physically but also allow you to be more mindful in your work day.

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 3 months ago

      So glad you like these suggestions! And you are 100% spot on – it’s good for you body AND your mind. Thanks for reading and commenting.

  18. Joscelyn 3 months ago

    I totally need to do this! I sit at a desk a lot throughout the day so these stretches and exercises will really help!

  19. Sarah Camille 3 months ago

    I love this! My work chair is not the best for my back. Thankfully I’m getting a new one, but these moves will help regardless. Everyone can use a mental break and minute to de-stress!
    Cheers, Sarah Camille // SCsScoop.com

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 3 months ago

      A good chair is important…and getting up from it frequently is important, too!

  20. Flo 3 months ago

    Great reminder….I know all too well the habit of neglecting myself. I remember feeling good after a few breathing exercises and promised to do that on a regular basis. Needless to say I didn’t follow through. I will keep working at taking care of myself. I need to try stretching. Great article!

    • Shannon Hurley Author
      Shannon Hurley 3 months ago

      Definitely keep trying! Thanks for reading and commenting!

  21. Alexandria 3 months ago

    It is so important to listen to your body! Love this.

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