Yoga-style workout can be done at your desk

  • By Vicky Hallett The Washington Post
  • Monday, September 24, 2012 4:47pm
  • Life

My new office habit: When I’m feeling overwhelmed, I get as floppy as possible in my chair. With my chest resting on my thighs, my hair brushing the tops of my feet and my knuckles touching the ground,

I take a few deep breaths. I enjoy the stretch along the backs of my legs. A sense of calm overtakes me. And when I sit back up, I’m greeted by an awesome head rush — and not a single strange look from my colleagues.

That’s because they know I’m just practicing Centeredbeing, a mindful movement system that’s designed to fight sedentary behavior and stress.

The techniques, which are adapted from yoga and Pilates, can be strung together to build a solid workout, but they’re also handy whenever you need a moment to focus on your body rather than your computer screen.

“Your mood can improve in 10 minutes even if your biceps don’t look different,” said Centeredbeing co-creator Suzie Carmack, whom I lured to the office as part of my yearlong effort to create a more healthful work environment.

As a group of my colleagues grabbed chairs and circled up for a workshop, Carmack warned us we wouldn’t be sitting for long.

“We’re big on using ‘movement’ instead of ‘exercise,’” Carmack said. “Exercise is a clunky word, and everyone has to move.”

These days, however, movement often has to be within reach of a desk. Whether it’s because of responsibilities that demand constant attention or bosses who frown on afternoon strolls, it can be tough to get away.

Carmack’s solution is not to fight the chair but to use it.

So she had us face our chairs, grip the sides of the seat and perform push-ups. (Standing in a lunge lessens the load, while picking up a leg boosts the difficulty.)

We turned around to squat, and then took a seat to rotate to the right and the left, holding the stretch for several breaths.

Carmack showed us a variety of moves, including how to maneuver into Warrior 2 yoga pose while keeping our butts on the chairs, how to extend our arms to the sides and roll our shoulders forward and backward, and how to walk our legs out from our chairs until we were supported by just our palms on the seats.

That’s reverse plank, which helps counteract the effects of sitting hunched over for hours.

We ended the session by lying down with our backs on the floor and our calves resting on the chairs while listening to Carmack talk about respect, courage and kindness. Then everyone floated back to their desks ready to face whatever.

The Centeredbeing website features several 10-minute chair-based workouts. And she left us with handouts on “2/4/6/8/10,” Carmack’s numeric device that makes it easier to understand anatomy.

Two through eight represent joints that need to be moved every day, and 10 is a reminder to take 10 breaths for mindfulness and to set aside 10 minutes to think about your health.

The goal is to make activity as easy and as accessible as possible, said Carmack, who co-founded Centeredbeing with fellow yoga instructor Mary Elko Comfort.

Carmack and Comfort have trained a national network of 150 Centeredcoaches over the past three years. The next step is launching the Centeredbeing app, expected to debut soon in the iTunes store. It’s filled with more video clips and a structured wellness program.

If you don’t have time to tap into these new resources, don’t stress out about it. But I do recommend trying to get floppy in your chair.

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