// Yoga for the professional sitter


A carefully planned yoga class can provide those who spend their days hunched over desks with the movement they need to mobilise joints, lengthen tight muscles and relax the mind, says Lesley Gray.

It is highly likely that you’re sitting down reading this, but as a fitness professional this is probably a rarity in a day spent predominantly on your feet. For many of our members, participants and clients, however, the reverse is true, with hours on end spent desk-bound. I term these individuals ‘professional sitters’.

Professional sitters can be students, office workers, executives or call centre operators. They can work or study in university, a home office or a corporate environment. They are of different ages, shapes, sizes and fitness levels. Regardless of their differences, however, they share one thing: the detrimental effect to the function of joints and muscles caused by prolonged sitting.

The demands of many jobs and the pressure to meet deadlines compel many people to stay trapped, stuck behind their desk for hours at a time. This creates compression in the spine, shortening of the hip flexors and hamstrings, tightness in the shoulder and hip joints, as well as tension in the mind.

Sitting in ideal posture is difficult to maintain for more than a few minutes. As fatigue sets in, the lower back straightens out, causing the upper back to hunch and the head to poke forward. The longer an individual sits, the more likely it is that they will adopt unusual and undesirable body positions in an attempt to relieve the discomfort and strain placed upon the musculo-skeletal system. These positions include sideways leaning with one arm on the desk or arm of the chair, tucking one leg under the backside, and sliding forward and scooping the pelvis under.

Professional sitters will come to the gym to attend group exercise classes, personal training sessions or conduct their own training while experiencing such varied and complex body issues as;

  • Tightness – in the hip flexors, hamstrings, lower back, chest, front of shoulders.
  • Rigidity – in the shoulder joints, hip joints, thoracic spine, cervical spine.
  • Malfunction – in the pelvic and shoulder girdle.
  • Conditions – forward head posture, tennis/golf elbow, ‘mouse arm’ and stress.

These professional sitters need to move. They need to mobilise joints and lengthen tight muscles. They need to breathe deeply and relax the mind. Unfortunately, some of the classes they choose, such as indoor cycling, or the exercises they perform (i.e., v-sit rotations) can exacerbate their problems.

Creating movement

Many yoga poses/asanas can be performed in a subtle dynamic way to help restore proper function to the physical body. This means that instead of moving into a static position and staying there, which often compromises the integrity of joints, there is a starting position and a finishing position, with movement between the two. This style of movement dynamically releases tight muscles and mobilises rigid joints. It is achievable by all, feels comforting and helps to restore proper function to the physical body. It is important to always encourage optimal alignment and deep breathing. It is not uncommon for participants to try and push themselves too far, so it is important to remind them to avoid being influenced by their ego and being competitive with themselves, other participants and you the teacher.

Promoting awareness

The pace of modern day life can be very stressful. People often feel guilty when they do ‘nothing’ or take time to relax. As yoga teachers, we are in a position to tell people to slow down, stop thinking and ‘just be here’. During a yoga class we have the opportunity to provide guidance as to how to quieten the mind and facilitate better breathing. We can turn the physical practise of yoga into a moving meditation. Meditation and mindfulness techniques are becoming more recognised for their therapeutic benefits for the mind and the body. Encouraging a greater level of body awareness in the participants will help them to notice how they use and misuse their physical body during the day. In this way, the benefit of the yoga class extends far beyond the time spent in the studio.

Teaching tips

To encourage attention to good technique on the part of participants, work on the following points to aid your communication.

Whenever possible, speak in user-friendly language to keep your participants out of analytical mode. Chances are, there will be multiple levels of experience in one class, from beginners to advanced. This will mean not everyone will be familiar with the traditional Indian Sanskrit names of yoga asanas. For example, ‘E G Dvipadapitham’ is the traditional Sanskrit name for ‘2 legged desk pose’ which is semi supine hip extension performed dynamically. To add to the potential confusion, many yoga postures have several different names. Using simple words to describe what you want the participants to do means that everyone will understand.

Try to develop a cueing vocabulary that connects to the various personality types and different learning styles. Some participants will enjoy lots of technical detail, others will prefer to simply see and feel the movements. Some will want to know why they are doing a movement. Offering the ‘why’ can be helpful when performing movements, or sustaining stretches that can be uncomfortable. Analyse your own teaching style and discover how you can expand your cueing repertoire.

Encourage working with the eyes closed for some of the time. Visual learners may struggle with this initially, so offer the option when you feel it is appropriate. By having the eyes closed, there is less visual distraction, providing a greater opportunity to maintain focus inward.

Throughout the class pose the question ‘What is your mind doing?’ Encourage participants to stay in the present moment, and be connected mind to body. Notice how your own mind may wander, even when you are teaching. The mind is a powerful thing, and being focused requires dedication and discipline.

Avoid or minimise the inclusion of seated asanas/poses/postures as the professional sitter does not need to be loaded up in this body position. Keep a watchful eye on your class and be prepared to modify or change what you are doing to accommodate participant needs. Aim to provide a wonderful experience for everyone.

This style of yoga class may not appeal to those who enjoy pushing themselves into harsh positions of hyper flexion or hyperextension, so be prepared to offer your valid reasons as to why you have sequenced a more subtle selection of movements.

Class Plan

Download the sample class plan from the Group Exercise Instructor Tools section at www.fitnessnetwork.com.au/gymbag

Information Handout

To download or print a 'Yoga for the professional sitter' Information Handout containing helpful hints for you, your participants and clients, go to the Information Handouts section of the Member Gymbag at www.fitnessnetwork.com.au/gymbag

Yoga Anatomy, Leslie Kaminoff, Human Kinetics 2007
Yoga For Body, Breath and Mind: A Guide to Personal Reintegration, A G Mohan,
Rudra Press 1995

Lesley Gray, DipYoga
Lesley’s 26 years industry experience encompasses teaching every style of group exercise, as well as training and mentoring instructors; choreographing, coaching and judging competitive aerobics and managing group fitness. A regular convention presenter, Lesley lives by her mantra ‘do it right to get the best results’. For more information visit www.yoga2you.com.au, email leswgray@tpg.com.au or call 0414 525804.

• PP 41-44