With all the sitting people do in the workplace today, problems are inevitable. You’ve probably read that sitting at a computer can lead to sciatica, neck issues, and poor posture.
While these things may all be true, the news is so spine-centric. It can be easy to forget about how all that sitting and computer work affects your arms.
But it turns out that stretching your arms does more than prevent and treat tendonitis and carpal tunnel syndrome. It can also help reduce back pain, neck pain, and improve posture.
Doing these yoga stretches a few times a day will give you a good excuse to move around during your workday. It can also help prevent stiffness and increase circulation.
If you’re new to stretching, start by doing this routine a few times a week to ease into it.
1. Eagle arms (Garudasana arms)
This move stretches your shoulders and upper back. It also stabilizes and flexes your shoulder joint. It helps increase flexibility and range of motion. It can help combat slumping over a laptop or keyboard.
Muscles worked: trapezius, infraspinatus, teres minor and major
- As you inhale, stretch your arms out to your sides.
- As you exhale, bring them in front of you, swinging your right arm under your left and grabbing your shoulders with opposite hands. Imagine you’re giving yourself a hug.
- If you have more flexibility in your shoulders, you can release your grip and continue wrapping your forearms around each other. If your palms can touch, let your right fingers press in your left palm. If they can’t, press the backs of your hands together.
- Inhaling, lift your elbows a few inches higher.
- Exhaling, relax your shoulders down away from your ears.
- Take a few breaths, repeating the elbow lift and shoulder roll, if you like.
- When ready, switch sides, so that your left arm is the bottom arm.
2. Reverse Prayer (Parsva Anjali Mudra)
Reverse Prayer internally rotates your upper arms. That isn’t a common movement for your upper arms, which is one of the reasons it can be so beneficial. It makes sure you go through your full range of motion. It’s also a wonderful stretch for your forearms.
Muscles worked: muscles throughout your shoulder and forearms
- Bring your hands behind your back, fingertips pointing toward the ground, and elbows bent. Take a deep breath in. As you exhale, rotate your hands so your fingers point toward the ceiling, and then try to bring your opposite fingertips to touch.
- When you inhale, let yourself sink into and feel the stretch, assessing if you should go deeper.
- If your body wants a deeper stretch, as you exhale, continue moving your hands closer together. This will move them up along the line of your spine.
- If your palms can press fully against each other, concentrate on the thumb side of your hands and keeping them gently pressing.
If the above feels too intense, consider doing a reverse arm hold instead.
- As you inhale, stretch both arms out to a “T,” keeping palms facing down.
- As you exhale, roll both shoulders forward. This rolls your palms so they are facing behind you.
- Inhale deeply. As you exhale, bend your elbows and let your hands swing behind your back.
- Clasp your hands using your fingers, hands, wrists, or elbows. Gently pull your hands away from each other. One hand will be on top naturally.
- When you’ve held this for 5 deep breaths with one hand on top, switch to the other side and hold for the same amount of time.
3. Cow Face Pose arms (Gomukhasana arms)
Cow Face Pose stretches your shoulders, armpits, triceps, and chest. It’s notoriously difficult for people with tight shoulders. If that applies to you, jump to the modified version below, using a strap or towel.
Muscles worked: teres minor, triceps brachii, subscapularis, posterior deltoid, rhomboids
- On an inhale, stretch your right arm out to the side and turn it palm facing down.
- Continue to roll your palm back until your thumb is pointing behind you and your shoulder is rolled forward.
- Raise your left arm to the sky, then bend the elbow so your elbow is pointed toward the ceiling and you are patting yourself on the back, by your shoulder blades.
- On your exhale, bend your right elbow and tuck your forearm behind your back. The back of your right hand should be resting against your lower back.
- You want to gently work your two arms together, as close to parallel to your spine as possible. Try to keep your hands moving together, toward the space between your shoulder blades.
If you have tighter shoulders, follow the instructions below.
- Put one end of your strap in your left hand. As you inhale, stretch your left arm to the side at shoulder height, palm up.
- As you exhale, lift that arm straight up to the sky and bend your elbow, as though to pat yourself on the back. The strap should dangle down your back now. You can grab it with your right hand.
- Wait until you’re naturally exhaling to gently pull the strap in opposite directions. Sit in this stretch, slowly breathing in and out.
- As you inhale, let everything naturally lift. As you exhale, concentrate on gently rolling your shoulders down, moving your shoulder blades down your back.
- Switch sides. Don’t be surprised if one side feels different than the other.
4. Assisted side bend
This stretch is one of those that you may just want to sink into and keep doing. It opens up your side body, gives length throughout your torso, and stretches your arms. You’re gently pulling on your arm, so it can also relieve pain and pressure in your shoulder joint.
Muscles worked: latissimus dorsi, teres major, posterior deltoid, serratus anterior, obliques
- Sit up straight.
- As you inhale, sweep your hands out and up, meeting above your head. Flip your right palm to the sky and clasp your right wrist with your left hand.
- As you exhale root down into your pelvis (or feet, if you’re standing) and lean to the left, pulling gently on your right arm with your left hand.
- Relax into this as you breathe deeply and slowly. As the stretch continues, bring your awareness to your ribs. If they’re flaring out, shift them back, so your spine is stretching laterally and the stretch remains in your arm and side.
- When you’re ready, switch sides and stretch the other arm.
5. Fingers up and down stretch
To really stretch out your forearms, hands, and wrists, nothing beats a simple fingers up and fingers down stretch. While this doesn’t have a name in yoga, it’s done to loosen up everything and maintain range of motion. This means it can be beneficial if you sit and type all day.
Muscles worked: extensor carpi radialis longus, extensor carpi radialis brevis, extensor digitorum, brachialis, brachioradialis, flexor carpi
- Stretch your right arm out in front of you, keeping it at shoulder height. Pull your fingers up, as if you’re going to place your palm flat against a wall.
- With your left hand, gently pull back on the fingers of your right hand. Breathe here and hold this stretch for at least 3 deep breaths.
- Let your right wrist go limp, the fingers pointing down. Now gently pull on the back of your hand.
- Keep your fingers relaxed as you breathe at least 3 times here.
- Switch and do your other side.
Even though you probably sit and type all day, you might still overlook your hands, wrists, and arms. Unless you actively have problems like carpal tunnel or tendonitis, it’s easy to forget that these muscles and joints do a lot of work. They deserve your attention.
Practice these stretches a few times a day to give yourself a break from keyboard work. They can all be done seated or standing. They’re even discreet enough for the workplace.