Digital Wellness, mental health, physical health, stretch, yoga

3 Simple Yoga Poses to Help Counter the Sedentary Lifestyle in the Digital Age

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3 Simple Yoga Poses to Help Counter the Sedentary Lifestyle in the Digital Age

Words by Celeste Goh

Malaysia is currently in the midst of its second imposed Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), in its effort to combat the rising COVID-19 cases during the second wave of the pandemic. Most schools and offices remain closed to encourage students and employees to practise social distancing and stop the potential spread of the virus, as recreational parks and sports centres have shut down under governmental order to have people stay at home. 

After close to nine months of self-quarantine at home, you may begin to feel aches and pains on your body that you may not experience before. Once, we were allowed the time for lunch breaks and recess outside of the office and classrooms, as well as the weekly workout sessions at the gym and strolls in the neighbourhood park. Now, they are replaced with unchecked long hours in front of your computer, whether it’s for work, for school, or for leisure – part and parcel of the “new normal” we are forced into, although not one that we should get used to.

“When I was in publishing, I would work long hours. I’d be in front of the computer working 12 hours a day, go home, and then come back the next day, and do the same thing – there was zero work life balance,” shares April Kuan, a yoga instructor who was a magazine editor in her past life. “At that time, you didn’t think about anything else: this is part and parcel of life, and that was it, just chasing the career and the money.”

“Nowadays, I can’t even look at my phone too long, never mind sitting in front of my computer for too long. While I’m on Facebook and Instagram, I only post very rarely, maybe once or twice a week, at most, twice a week,” she adds. “Any more than that, my body will reject the screen time, and I’ll start to get aches and brain fog with sudden headaches.”

Even before the pandemic, we are guilty of spending long hours in front of our computers and lazing on our couch strolling through our mobile devices, which contributes to the distasteful body postures Gerard Malanga, MD of Spine Universe calls the “sitting disease”. According to a 2012 study from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Surveys, as many as 70% of people spend 6 or more hours each day sitting down; and the impact of this level of inactivity often leads to neck, shoulder and back pain, which about 1 in 4 adults has experienced at least for a day during a 3-month period.

Meanwhile, studies have shown that there is a 65.3% overall prevalence of incorrect posture in children and adolescents; with the girls and students over the age of 10 having a higher prevalence of incorrect posture than boys and students under the age of 10. Nearly 80% of children and adolescents were reported to have at least one sign of incorrect postures, with less than a fifth of them having a correct body posture.

April shares: “I teach private yoga classes with a friend of mine, and she has two kids. Her 14-year-old daughter has very bad Scoliosis; it’s the curvature of the spine, and it’s super rounded. She’s been like this since young, and when you’re always looking down at your phone, the next thing you know, your back is used to the roundedness, and it’s very tough to keep it straight anymore.”

“While the daughter is all about Instagram and Tik Tok, her 6-year-old son is about gaming, so he’s always on his iPad playing games,” she continues. “When we want to do family yoga with the children, the son just doesn’t want to. He’d start acting up, and throwing tantrums, because we’re pulling him away from his iPad.”

For adults, years of unchecked slouching can already wear away your spine, making it more fragile and prone to injury; imagine the long-term repercussions it will have for children and adolescents, whose physical bodies have yet to settle and are still growing!

Children and adolescents are susceptible to postural alignments that deviate from a good neutral posture, such as Kyphosis, Lordosis, sway back and flat back postures. If not straightened out, they will be more prone to cardiovascular disease, certain cancers (breast, colon, colorectal, endometrial, and epithelial ovarian), and type 2 diabetes later in life.

Moreover, an extremely hunched posture, or hyperkyphosis, affects up to two-thirds of senior women and half of senior men. Such postural alignment, if not treated, has been associated with back pain, weakness and trouble breathing; and more serious cases can limit everyday activities, like brushing your hair and dressing yourself.

“One way to improve your posture is to be aware of it in the first place. It’s important to take a look at your posture before it becomes a problem,” says Dr. Cris Zampieri, physical therapist at News in Health. “Yoga, tai chi and other types of classes that focus on body awareness and mindfulness can help you learn to feel what’s wrong in your own posture.”

So, we have sought after yoga instructor April Kuan’s advice for some simple yoga poses to help counter the sedentary lifestyle that is prone to the “sitting disease – especially at a time when we are not allowed to head to the gym and parks for our regular exercises, but also something that we can practise at home, even after the pandemic has passed.

what they recommend is six times a week, and then rest one day. But, I think for me, for normal people, three times a week is good enough to see changes in your body. Obviously, the more you practise something, the better you are at it. So, it’s the same with any kind of exercise. You see that changes faster.

“When you’re age 7 onwards is the best time to start yoga. It’s like when parents send their kids to ballet at a young age, and they’re flexible their whole life – it’s the same thing with yoga,” says April, who also thinks that practising yoga three times a week is already good enough to see changes in your body. “It’s also never too late to start yoga, even if you’re 55. I mean, I started when I was in my late 30s!”

Cat-Cow Pose (Chakravakasana)

“Spending much of your day in a seated position can leave your spine sore, stiff, and in pain,” notes Gerard Malanga, MD of Spine Universe. “That’s because too much sitting, while it may be relaxing, puts stress on the muscles and discs of your back and neck.”

April adds that “sitting up straight for long hours is not easy – it’s very tiring. You start to get a backache, and you start to round your spine after you feel tired holding your body up.”

Slouching can cause the spinal ligaments to stretch beyond their healthy limit, and poor posture can strain your spinal discs,” Malanga also adds. “This often results in increased strain of the outer annulus of the disc and can increase disc bulging and disc pressures.”

The Cat-Cow Pose is a very basic yoga pose regular yogi does for warm up. It’s a spinal articulation move that opens up the chest and gets the spine moving in all directions. Not only that, the Cat-Cow Pose builds confidence, which affects one’s mental health, as Drs Zampieri states that “someone with depression may appear more closed in, curved, and tend to look down.”

“The energy centre comes from the heart, and it releases dopamine that makes you feel happier,” April says. “So, any pose that opens up the chest will in turn open up the heart, creating a more joyful and positive feeling.”

Bridge Pose (Setu Bandha Sarvāṅgāsana)

When we get tired of holding our body up while sitting, we may find ourselves leaning against the back of the chair, but before we know it, hours have passed as we stay in that presumably comfortable position, and we have slid further down the chair. We will have developed a posterior tilt unwittingly, whereby the front of the pelvis rises, and the back of the pelvis drops, creating a kind of scooped body posture.

“Such a body posture contributes to lower back pain, and a lot of people [with a desk job] suffer from that,” April says. “Lower back pain happens when we don’t have enough core strength to pull ourselves up and sit straight.”

The Bridge Pose is really good for lower back issues, as it helps lengthen the front body, and also the back body. Those who already suffer lower back issues, but may or not be aware of it, maye have trouble performing this pose. But April suggests a restorative pose in which the lower back is supported with piled up pillows while you stay in the Bridge Pose. Whereas for the ones with a healthier lower back may opt to move up and down while in the Bridge Pose.

Pigeon Pose (Kapotasana)

Another part of the body that has suffered due to the “sitting disease” is the hip flexors, the muscles near the top of your thighs that are key in the movement of the lower body. 

“The [sitting] position results in tightness of your hip flexors, such as the iliopsoas muscle, and pressure and ischemia (restricted blood flow) of your buttock muscles – the gluteus maximus. This muscle is an important supporter of the spine,” Malanga notes. 

In more layman terms, April mentions: “The front thigh muscles shorten and your hips start to get tight when you sit for long periods, and you want to counter that by doing yoga poses that stretch the legs to the back, so it lengthens the front thigh muscles, and also get the quads and hip flexors working.

The Pigeon Pose does just that, as it opens up the knees and hips, and helps lose the tightness in your hips, which contribute to lower back issues. 

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