Too Much Sitting? Try Standing Poses

Most of us sit too much in our daily lives. That’s just the nature of the work most of us do. We sit in front of devices for hours on end. In theory, we could practice yoga stretches at our desks, but often, we get so absorbed in what we’re doing that we just don’t remember to do so.
In some ways, sitting has become the new smoking. Studies show that hazards of too much sitting include poor posture, obesity, metabolic syndrome, back problems, and chronic pain.

Yoga Has a Remedy

To be sure, there are lots of yoga poses that help relieve back pain from too much sitting. Pretty much any gentle, mindful yoga practice will help unwind back tension. But I’ve found that even a short practice will help, as long as you include these elements. A sequence for relieving back pain should include all the various movements that the spine is capable of:

  • Flexion – bending forward
  • Extension – bending backward
  • Rotation – twisting
  • Lateral bending – side bending
  • Axial extension – lengthening

The Importance of Standing Poses

In my experience, the most important back pain-relieving poses are the wide-legged standing poses—poses such as Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose) and Virabhadrasana I and II (Warrior I and II Poses). In a workshop titled “Spinal Integration” I attended with Donna Farhi, she spoke about the importance of practicing standing poses for back health:

“You can work indirectly into the axial skeleton (the spine, skull, and pelvis) through the appendicular skeleton (the limbs). The reason the standing postures are so powerful in this regard is that many of the poses keep the spine in a relatively neutral position. That is, the posture is not in and of itself demanding to the back. Yet in that neutral position, one can move force from the ground through the legs into the spine, in the same way that water moves through a hose. When the impulse from the legs is transferred clearly into the pelvis and then into the spine, the impulse itself acts to open and clear the spine, in the same way that a high-pressure flow of water can clear a blockage in a hose.”

So, not only do standing poses help you invigorate the arms, legs, shoulders, and hips after too much sitting, but they also energize the spine. Standing poses are diverse enough that if you practice a variety of standing poses, you can move the spine in all its potential directions.

Standing Poses and Spinal Movements

While all yoga asanas move the spine in one or more of the above directions, wide-legged standing poses do this more gently, and with strong support from the legs. Some poses combine spinal actions. Here’s a list of spinal movements and the wide-legged standing poses that promote them:

  • Flexion: Prasarita Padottanasana (Wide-Legged Standing Forward Bend), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose)

    female yoga student practicing pyramid pose

  • Extension: Virabhadrasana I (Warrior I Pose), Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior Pose)

    older yoga student practicing warrior I pose

  • Rotation: Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), Parvrtta Trikonasana (Revolved Triangle Pose), Parvrtta Parsvakonasana (Revolved Side Angle Pose)

    female yoga student practicing triangle pose

  • Lateral: Viparita Virabhadrasana (Reverse Warrior Pose)

    female yoga student practicing reverse warrior pose

  • Axial extension: Virabhadrasana II (Warrior II Pose), Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose), Parsvottanasana (Pyramid Pose), Trikonasana (Triangle Pose), Parsvakonasana (Side Angle Pose), Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose)

    yoga student practicing warrior II pose

Almost all of the standing poses can promote axial extension if we are practicing with the intention of lengthening the spine in mind.

So if too much sitting is causing back pain or fatigue, try sequencing a practice that includes at least one standing pose from each of the above categories. Then, of course, cool down with a few seated or supine twists and forward bends and a generous Savasana (Relaxation Pose).

Reprinted with permission from Hugger Mugger Yoga Products. 
Charlotte Bell writer

Charlotte Bell began practicing yoga in 1982 and began teaching in 1986. She was certified by B.K.S. Iyengar in 1989 following a trip to Pune. In 1986, she began practicing Insight Meditation with her mentors Pujari and Abhilasha Keays. Her asana classes blend mindfulness with physical movement. Charlotte writes a column for Catalyst Magazine and serves as editor for Yoga U Online. She is the author of two books: Mindful Yoga, Mindful Life, and Yoga for Meditators, both published by Rodmell Press. She also edits Hugger Mugger Yoga Products’ blog and is a founding board member for GreenTREE Yoga, a non-profit that brings yoga to underserved populations. A lifelong musician, she plays oboe and English horn in the Salt Lake Symphony and the folk sextet Red Rock Rondo whose 2010 PBS music special won two Emmys.

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