Stress & Wellness: We sit but do we stretch?

By Emily Harrison There are times I feel like the only muscle I’m exercising is the spreading mass covering the desk chair I sit in. Hours can go by without a postural flinch and I know I’m not alone. Equally there are tasks and professions that require the same repetitive movement.

So how do we offset, restore and maintain balance?

Chances are you are reading this while sitting somewhere – a desk perhaps, maybe on the train, at the airport, or sighing into the couch (or God forbid, while driving).

The dilemma is we humans were designed to move, to roam and to be mostly upright. That force we call evolution is probably still scratching its head at the invention of ‘the chair.’

But we can’t just point the finger at ‘the chair’… rather it’s a whole of environment and lifestyle issue we face – a reality of our fabulously connected, modern world which doesn’t look set to change anytime soon. One recent workplace wellness study reported more than 67% of the working day is spent in sedentary activity. Yet we still have the same physical make up that is designed to move.


It makes sense that we will only feel as good and function as effectively (and creatively) as the condition we find ourselves in. So before we all start requesting a standing workstation (yes they are taking off in some organisations) or have the team drop to the floor doing pushups Michelle Obama style, lets look at what you may realistically be able to incorporate into the everyday.

In my previous post we looked at the Power of the Breath and the role it can play in generating your creative potential. When you combine this with some simple movements to break up a semi-sedentary day, it helps get the oxygen circulating, energising your whole body and tuning up that vital creative capacity.

“Essence and energy, body and breath, are indivisible: when the body does not move, essence cannot flow, energy becomes stagnant." Sun Ssu-Mo

The good news is you don’t need to ditch ‘the chair’, but use the chair and your surrounding environment to stretch or break up the same movement that your task at hand may require. It can take just a few moments but done regularly the benefits to the body and brain, as well as productivity, can be immense.

For example, in writing this post I have:

  • Procrastinated by getting up to make a pot of tea.
  • Stretched up – circling the arms above the head, interlacing the fingers and turning the palms to face upwards. Then eased gently from side to side.
  • Used the chair for side twists – sitting on the chair, moving first to the right by placing the right hand on the back of the chair to help turn to look over the right shoulder and the left hand for support on the right thigh or chair base. Then repeating for the left.
  • Did gentle wrist/forearm stretches – placing palms face down on a table with the fingers point towards the body and easing the weight, very gently and slowly, backwards. A very small movement for an effective stretch.
  • Did standing side swings – keeping the hips facing the front while easing the arms from side to side. Working them upwards and overhead really helps to get movement into the torso of the body.
  • And then in further procrastination (or under the guise of fuelling creativity) took myself out for a walk in the fresh air.

So over the next month may your Essence flow and your Energy be anything but stagnant. And as always, work within your own abilities and consult your health professional if you are unsure of starting any new exercise.

Emily Harrison is a yoga teacher, writer and communications adviser with a passion for health and wellbeing.  She encourages people to discover the vast potential and possibility that lies within each and every one of us. In 2012 she takes a leap of faith out of the corporate world and further into her writing and teaching…which will mean a new website coming soon!