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Stretch It: In the Office, Take Time to Move And Straighten Up

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As i write this, my neck creaks. My upper back seems to be caving in. Each shoulder is weighed down. And you thought writing was easy. It amazes me how insidious the office cubicle can be. We rush to get here. We sit, stare and type. We begin to hunch. We stress, forget to breathe and shrivel. We go home, relax-and return to work the next morning to start the metamorphosis all over again.

It's got to stop.

So I'm passing along tips that all you Dilberts may want to consider. Why not try a few of these office yoga exercises, courtesy of Plus One Fitness (

-The Seated Cat: Round your back, bend over, grab and hold the bottom of your chair. Gently pull and stretch to open up the spinal area.

-The Office Pretzel: Cross one ankle over your knee to stretch out the hip and lower back.

-The Cow Face Pose: Place one hand behind your back, palm out, reaching for the opposite shoulder blade. Reach the other hand over the same shoulder and attempt to touch fingertips of both hands together. This stretches shoulders, chest and arms, and improves posture.

-The Eagle Pose: Cross one arm over the other, turn palms in and pull elbows together. This works the space between shoulder blades.

-The Spinal Twist: Sit sideways on a chair close to the edge with your knees together and legs bent at 90 degrees; hands in lap. Feel the spine erect but not forced straight. Breathe in and begin to rotate your torso toward the back of the chair. Keep hips facing front. When you have twisted as far as you can, lightly hold onto the top of the chair back. For more rotation, pull gently on the chair. Relax neck and shoulders. Repeat left and right. Strengthens and tones waist and back muscles.

-The Warrior: From the beginning of the spinal twist position above, slide back to the middle of the chair. Next slide to the front edge of the chair so the outside leg is free and the inside thigh is supported (looks like a split lunge). Reach arms straight out in front and then up overhead near the ears. Palms face each other and gaze is straight ahead. Straighten the back leg for a more advanced version. Stretches and tones front of thigh and hip flexors. Gives a sense of strength and calmness.

-Wall Roll Down: Stand to 10 inches away from a wall with your feet hip-width apart. Lean your entire spine against the wall (use the abs to keep contact). Slowly roll down and through the spine from the head. Stop when the lower back comes away from the wall. Roll back up one vertebra at a time, again cranking the abs to perform a solid spine-straightening. Repeat three times. On the last repetition, hang at bottom and circle arms loosely three times clockwise and reverse three times. Strengthens and stretches spine, works abs and relaxes body.

OK, now that should help reclaim some of your body, but how about preventing the kinks in the first place? Attention to ergonomics, from the height of your desk to your keyboard, is critical. The idea is to form your workstation to you, not the other way around.

Fitter International Inc. (, of Calgary, Canada, sells inflated workout balls to sit on and wobble boards as foot rests. The whole idea is to retain a measure of activity and muscle work as you labor.

Ben Vincent, a kinesiologist with the company, calls sitting on a ball a dynamic activity that relieves the pressure of gravity. The instability of the ball and the lack of a back rest encourage us to use stabilizer muscles never used in a chair, he says.

"The more support we provide the back, the less activity is required in the postural muscles," he says. "The common phrase `if you don't use it, you'll lose it' now comes into play. As we sit in our chair day after day, our postural muscles actually become weaker and weaker."

If you're going to try sitting on a ball, though, do it for only an hour or two at first because you'll get sore, most likely. Some people quit before it helps, he says.

Office Depot sells exercise balls that rest inside rudimentary chair forms and come with back rests. Fitter also markets the "Swopper" essentially a stool with a spring that allows lateral movement. Like the ball, the idea is that more attention to balance encourages our postural muscles to activate while we sit.

Using an adjustable wobble board as a foot rest, Vincent says, alleviates pressure on the back from the back of the legs and helps eliminate stiffness. I used one of these and found myself tipping the board side to side and with twisting motions.

Fitter also markets a "hand-stretcher" that looks like the face of a tennis racket. Another company, offers the Power Putty, a flexible silicone rubber blob. The idea for both is to relieve those aching fingers.


(Richard Seven is a staff reporter at The Seattle Times. He is filling in for Molly Martin, who is on a six-month leave of absence. Send questions on workouts, equipment or nutrition to him at: Pacific Northwest magazine, The Seattle Times, P.O. Box 70, Seattle, WA 98111, or e-mail


(c) 2003, The Seattle Times. Distributed by Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service.

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