You’ve just clicked on this article or tapped on your smartphone screen.
How many times will your wrist perform this brief movement today? Now check your posture. Take a quick body scan. Slouching, hunching, rounding? Mmm.
No blame game here; we’re all guilty in one way or another.
Overplaying my hands
At the end of the day, however, this combination of repetitive movement, tension and poor posture can result in something really painful called RSI or “repetitive strain injury.” I know how awful it feels. I’ve been there. A few years ago when I still had an office job, I had to be off work for six weeks because of RSI. The first few days, I was in so much pain that I could barely do anything. Imagine a life where using your hands for insignificant tasks feels like a small torture. In a less intense way the pain was a bit like when Bond villains send electrical current through our glamorous hero’s body.
I couldn’t chop vegetables, beat eggs, slice bread, sew a button, cut a bit of paper, read a book—holding and turning pages was hurting—and typing on a keyboard was the last gesture my hands wanted to perform. After a few months, with the skilful help of an osteopath, whose brother was a pianist who had suffered from RSI, I recovered and managed to function again. Since then, on a day when I type too energetically, knit too much, cook too enthusiastically or stay on all fours a lot in a yoga sequence, my wrists remember the pain. I’m sharing this story as a cautionary tale, for what it’s worth: these things always seem to happen to others until it’s your turn. There’s no harm however in taking some precaution, and making an effort to maintain a healthy and happy upper body.
Not a lot has been written on yoga and RSI prevention. I found two very useful books offering a series of yoga postures and sequences that can help office workers to stretch the office stress away.
Take yoga breaks
Sandy Blaine, the author of Yoga for Computer Users, has been the in-house yoga teacher for Pixar Animation Studios since 1994, taking care of the hands, wrists, shoulders and necks of the some of the most creative minds in the world.
This means that over the years she has developed a series of small sequences that help to relieve tension from the upper body and lower back. She shares her expertise in her book which is one to keep handy close to your keyboard.
Sandy Blaine reminds us that
“…the human body evolved to hunt and gather, to run and jump and climb, to play hard and rest fully, not to sit in front of a computer all day.”
Our bodies are not designed for a sedentary lifestyle that takes us from bed, to breakfast to car, to office chair to car, and then from car to sofa and to bed again. She explains that computer-related work takes its toll in many ways: back issues, RSI and the whole general stress that working in an office environment entails.
We also know that these days work doesn’t stop when we leave our desk; it follows us everywhere in a portable format; in a laptop or smartphone incarnation. In other words, these devices give us an infinity of opportunities for poor posture and repetitive muscle use.
“Yoga is an antidote to the stagnation of energy that occurs in your body as you sit at your computer. In addition to the essential musculoskeletal benefits, yoga also offers a unique stress management system, alternating between physical exertion and deep relaxation, which trains the nervous system to turn off the stress response.”
She invites the reader to incorporate yoga in their workplace by taking self-scheduled yoga breaks. Her program consists of a series of postures done using a chair, walls or the floor and includes stretches for shoulders,wrists and neck as well as supported backbends, forward ends and twists. Because doing yoga at work might pose some challenge, she gives computer users practical advice on the best way to make room and time for those breaks.
In part three, she takes yoga away from the office and guides us through a few counter poses to our computer-centered lifestyle. Office yogis will find some nice restorative poses—simple inversions and hip openers—to help them unwind after a day at work.
Sandy Blaine goes into a lot of details when it comes to describing poses and pairing them with the area they are focusing on. Yoga for Computer Users is a great resource not only for people who spend a lot of time in front of a screen, but also for yoga teachers who want to tailor their sequences to the needs of the growing number of students with upper body complaints.
The Yin side of things
My new motto is “it don’t mean a thing if you ain’t got that Yin” (doo wa doo wa). One of the first things I’ve learned from reading Bernie Clark‘s Complete Guide to Yin Yoga is that my yoga practice is not complete if it doesn’t count on the yin side of things.
“If you have been doing yoga for a while now, you might be experiencing only half of the practice and just some benefits that are available to you. Yin Yoga is the other half.”
In his guide to Yin Yoga, Bernie Clark shows that Yin yoga doesn’t stop at the navel and that the Yin principles can be applied to the upper body. This is great news for those of us who suffer from neck, wrist, and shoulder strain.
“Repetitive, yang-like movements of the hand can damage these yin-like tissues, creating problems with names such as ‘carpal tunnel syndrome’. Yin-like exercises will help thicken and strengthen these tissues, if done properly.”
However he adds that:
“Yin Yoga exercise is not designed as a yoga therapy, but rather as an aid to make your healthy tissues healthier. If you are currently experiencing pain, your health care provider may recommend that you rest the area until you are pain free, and then begin movement exercises.”
“We carry a lot of stress in the neck and shoulder area, especially when we spend great swaths of time typing or working with our hands. Tight neck and shoulder muscles can lead to headaches and shallow breathing. Chronically tight necks can lead to shortened ligaments and a very restricted range of motion.”
To counteract the tightness creeping up our neck, he teaches us to work it in six directions.
Another great piece of news is that all these Yin poses for the upper body can be held while sitting in a hip opener such as Shoelace, Square, Straddle, Toe Squat, or crossed legged. If you are pressed for time it means that you can practice targeting two areas of your body in one sitting.
Since reading Bernie Clark’s book, I’ve befriended a new Yin yoga posture called the Seagull. My husband calls it the Chicken, and I can see why. It gives my overworked wrist tendons so much release, however, that I might start walking around the house like this, no matter how silly it looks.
Click for a stretch
My Yoga Online has created a whole series of short videos meant for practice at the office called Workplace Wellness. This is definitely something easy to integrate during your lunch break. As you will see they offer a wide range of styles, specific focus, and techniques to release tensions at your desk.
If you still don’t find time for any of that today, just give yourself a good hug. Your upper body will appreciate the love.
Yoga for Computer Users by Sandy Blaine is published by Rodmell Press in their Yoga Shorts series.
The Complete Guide to Yin Yoga by Bernie Clark is published by West Cloud Press.