We’ve said it before, and we’ll continue to say it: this semester is anything but normal. Students of all ages across the nation are taking classes online, either in combination with an in-person class or two, or solely online like me. There are a lot of differences between online and traditional brick-and-mortar schools. (Brick-and-mortar is a term my high school, Pennsylvania Leadership Charter School, uses often for traditional schools, and I still enjoy using the term.) Some are nice differences, like being able to snuggle up in a blanket if you wish, and some more annoying ones, like loud background noises and tech failure. One of the differences you may have noticed just over these first two weeks is how uncomfortable sitting down for extended periods of time on your computer is, especially if you don’t have a super fancy computer chair. Online classes unfortunately don’t allow you to move your body as much as you need to, and after a while even the best of us end up slumping in front of the screen. If we were taking classes on campus, you would be having to walk from the AF to Sharadin, or Lytle to Rickenbach, giving yourself an opportunity to stretch your legs, straighten your spine, and get a little heat going in your muscles in between sitting static during a lecture. We don’t have this option while taking classes with Zoom University, and so I spoke with a coworker of mine, who is also a yoga instructor on the side, to come up with a few simple stretches for in between your classes that you can do to help your spine, side body, and hips, all of which can suffer from sitting for too long.
These stretches come from yoga but can be done independent of a practice, and can be done as often and for as long as you’d like. They are listed in no particular order but the last two, our forward fold and bridge pose, require more careful positioning of your body so you don’t hurt a muscle, which is why I have included links to some tips in case this is your first stretch since high school gym. Not all of us are athletes and that’s okay. I’m certainly not! Another important thing to remember when doing any of these stretches is to continue to breathe fully and deeply, matching up your inhales and exhales with a movement as you gently stretch. Make sure to never force something! Everyone’s body is different and what’s important is simply to find what feels good for yours.
- Standing pose - arms raise and stretch to the left and right.
This first stretch is going to get you out of your seat beyond grabbing some coffee, or a bathroom break. Find comfortable footing, and then stand with your feet underneath your hips as if a straight line existed from your hip bone to the sole of your foot. Keep your knees loose here! If you are a tense person, like I can be, you may have a tendency to lock your knees during some of these poses, but please don’t! Doing so can hurt the muscles in your knees. If you have a hard time sensing if your knees are locked, play around and kind of jiggle up and down to loosen up. Once your feet are grounded, it’s important to make sure your chest isn’t leaning too far forward or backward. Try to straighten your posture without forcing - remember this is all an opportunity for you to take a break, get your eyes off the screen, and unravel tense muscles. Take a few deep breaths and get settled into your standing posture, raising your arms above your head on an inhale of your choice, moving throughout the whole intake of breath. Take a few breaths with your hands raised and see how your muscles respond. A helpful way to focus on your breath during a stretch is thinking about the inhale as expansion, and then your exhale as a gentle, controlled contraction. On an exhale of your choice keep your arms raised, and send them to one side. This is aiming to stretch your side body, and the stretch may feel as if it extends into your upper butt, or psoas muscles as well. Stay with your arms to the side for one full breath cycle, releasing gently on an exhale, and then repeat on the opposing side of your body.
- Standing pose with twist (twist for spine health, also fun and make you feel active after sitting down)
This is a good follow up after stretching your sides. This stretch is for your spine, and can be really fun if you let go and find a sweet spot. Keep the same kind of foot stance as in the previous stretch, loose knees always, but this time on a nice inhale bring your arms into a T shape. On an exhale you want to twist your waist so you bring one arm forward and the other back, making sure to keep your shoulders active and up so you can get a good upper back opening as well. Continue the movement fluidly as you twist in the opposite direction to bring the other arm forward on your next inhale/exhale. Keep twisting to get one arm forward and one arm back, moving in a fluid motion, like your arms are the blades of a helicopter. You may feel silly flinging your arms side to side, but if you start slowly and make sure to move gently without twisting too hard, this can be a really fun stretch to wake up your spine after some intense sitting. I recommend continuing this stretch for several breath cycles, but do it as long as you have fun with it!
- Sitting hip stretch
This next stretch is a perfect one if you’re in class and probably can’t turn your camera off, but you’re feeling the effects of sitting too long and need some relief. Sit so that your knees are at a 90 degree angle, and then carefully cross your legs so that one ankle rests on the top of your other knee. While doing this keep your foot active, which means connecting to your heel or stretching your toes wide. This helps protect your knee as you have it bent to the side. Make sure to take some deep breaths and feel out your upper thigh and hip. If you have been sitting more reclined a simple move that will make this feel even better is to sit up a little straighter and lean slightly forward. This helps stretch your hip creases, and, if you are super tight, will feel great. This stretch is so simple it doesn’t even seem like a stretch, which is perfect for mid class, and I encourage you to sit like this as long as it may feel comfortable for you!
- Forward Fold
This next stretch requires a little more careful control, but the payoff in your lower back is amazing. This stretch allows your lower back and tailbone some refreshing time up in the air instead of in your chair. Check out the article linked here for some tips for safely entering and exiting a forward fold, especially if this is your first time attempting one! For this, stand with your feet either side by side or hip width apart. One should feel better for you depending on your body, and feel free to push the feet out or bring them in to see the difference during the stretch. One your feet are firmly planted, remember our favorite thing and keep your knees loose! This is even more important here than our standing poses, as you bring your upper body down to the earth, bending your knees as much as possible while you bring your belly to the top of your thighs. Now remember this is a stretch for your muscles, so if your body doesn’t quite seem to do what I’m telling you to and it feels like it will hurt: please be gentle and stop wherever you need to. All you are really aiming for here is to get the weight off your back and onto your feet/legs. If you aren’t super active this is a great little leg workout, I remember only being able to forward fold for 5 seconds before coming back up. This stretch is a great one to keep repeating and I guarantee it will get easier to come into it the more you do it.
- Baby bridge
Bridge pose is one that I just started working into my routine, and it was suggested by my coworker because sitting down puts pressure on your spine, and we wanted stretches that moved the spine in all directions. We did front, we did side to side, and now we’re going backwards. Now this isn't a bridge pose that the super flexible girls would always do in school, but it’s cutely called baby bridge. The article linked here gives a more in depth look at the history of the stretch, its benefits, when to be careful doing the pose, as well as how to execute the stretch. Since it’s one I have just started working on myself, I would feel more comfortable giving advice from a more knowledgeable source.
While the semester is in session, we as students tend to get stressed more, and can prioritize school over our personal life/health. Online classes present their own challenges and the purpose of these stretches are to help you achieve some relief after hours of sitting down and hunching over a computer screen. Use these stretches as a jumping off point to increase the amount of time you are active during the day, and maybe find time for a walk or run, lift some weights, and just enjoy moving and using your body! Love your body for all it can do for you, rather than what it cannot.