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Cover image for 5 Yoga Poses Every Dev Should Try

5 Yoga Poses Every Dev Should Try

daraghbyrne profile image Daragh Byrne Originally published at codingmindfully.com ・9 min read

In case you didn’t already know, sitting is the new smoking. It’s also a pretty prominent feature of most coder's lives. Coding is a stationary, chair-bound activity for the most part (unless you have a fancy stand-up desk).

This article was originally posted on Codingmindfully.com.

Coding jobs require you to occupy your chair for hours on end (unless, like me, you’re a work from home freelancer type, in which case you can sit on your couch for hours on end!)

I don’t know about you, but I’m pretty attached to the mobility my spine affords me.

I like being able to move around during non-work hours as much as I please. I take pleasure in a number of physical activities that I wouldn’t be able to carry out if it weren’t for the thirty-three carefully engineered bones, supporting muscles small and large, cartilage, and other tissue that comprise my spine.

I especially value that my spine keeps me upright when I’m trying to earn my living. I’d like to keep it doing that for as long as I can.

In my early career, I wasn’t as good about taking care of myself as I am now.

My interest in yoga started when I was completing my master’s degree – way longer ago than I want to admit (ok, eighteen years – wow!)

I went to my first class, saw some people doing headstands, and thought it looked pretty cool.

I was fortunate to discover yoga at that point of my life.

Even at the age of 21, I was already struggling with bouts of back pain from too much chair time.

My lower back would ache, whether I was sitting or engaged in physical activity. And I had what felt like a solid brick of tension right across my shoulders.

I looked at older people with hunched backs, and worried I would end up like them!

As I was just starting out on my programming career, I knew that I was likely to spend a lot more of my time sitting in the coming years. I needed a solution.

Proper posture is certainly important. Having a movement routine to counteract the damage is also necessary. Yoga fit the bill for me!

The Problems with Sitting

Sitting for extended periods contributes to several common problems in your body.

Compression of intervertebral discs

When sitting all day, the forces of gravity gently draw your vertebrae – the bones that make up your spine – together, causing pressure on the precious discs of cartilage between them.

These discs are extremely useful! They act as ligaments, holding the spine together. They also act as shock absorbers. This is important for simple day-to-day activities, like walking around.

Reduced strength

The muscles of your back can switch off when sitting, causing them to weaken. This means you’re less able to hold yourself upright, and more likely to strain something when you do move. Strong muscles prevent injury.

When muscles aren’t used appropriately, they weaken. Sitting is almost guaranteed to weaken your spine.

Tightness in the hip flexors

When sitting upright, the deep-seated muscles at the front of your hips are almost permanently on. The human body isn’t really designed to be at a 90 degree angle like this for long times.

The hip flexors activate to maintain this unnatural forward tilt of the pelvis. This can lead to tightness and shortening of the muscles.

This is Not Good – it means less mobility through your pelvis, which can lead directly to lumbar back pain (pain in the lower back) as the muscles there become strained during normal movement.

Hunched shoulders and rounded upper back

Nobody wants to be a hunchback, right? I sure don’t! But sitting with the hands extended towards a keyboard, with occasional pauses to squint at a screen, is a sure step towards Notre Dame territory.

Reduced abdominal strength

It’s very easy for your belly muscles to switch off completely when you’re sitting – as mentioned above, your hip flexors are over-working to keep you upright.

Your abdominals are an important part of your core muscle structure. The core is involved in pretty much every movement you make – if you’ve ever had a rib injury, you’ll know how debilitating it is.

Keeping the core strong is a vital part of any movement regimen.

Reduced leg strength

Your glutes (the muscles in your butt and upper legs) go to sleep while sitting, again weakening them. These muscles are generally important for moving around, you don’t want that to happen.

So what’s a programmer to do?

How Yoga can Help

Everybody knows that getting up and moving around is pretty much mandatory to deal with the problems sitting causes.

Yoga provides a great set of movements that directly counteract the above problems.

I’m going to share five of my favourite poses, complete with instructions on how to do them, and the problems they solve.

Disclaimer and Warning: your body is a clever device. It will probably let you know, in the shape of pain or serious discomfort, if there is something wrong with it. If you experience pain, stop immediately.

If this type of movement is new for you, go easy and listen to the signals from your body.

If any pose causes pain, come out of it gently.

If you are suffering from severe discomfort or pain in your spine or any other part of your body, please see a specialist before attempting any of these exercises.

I’ve included the fancy Sanskrit names for the poses in case you decide to visit a yoga studio – which I’d highly recommend!

Forward fold (Uttanasana)

Helps with: compression of the spine. Tightness in the neck and shoulders.

How to do it: This one is easy. Stand tall and slowly start to fold forward from your hips. As you lower your head and hands towards the floor, start to bend your knees.

When fully folded, your knees should be bent enough so that your lower belly rests on the tops of your thighs. Don't stress about this though.

In this pose, let gravity pull your head gently towards the ground. There will be a gentle suspension of the pressure between your vertebrae, giving a breather to those important spinal discs.

Watch out if: you have noticeable lower back pain already. Bend your knees deeper if this is the case. Or try the same pose while seated.

As you progress: work towards straightening your knees. This will help you understand where you might need to work on flexibility in the hamstrings.

Cobra pose

A.K.A: Bhugangasana

Helps with: this will help to strengthen the muscles along your spine. It will also counteract shoulder hunching, opening up the front of the chest.

How to do it: lie on your belly with your forehead on the floor. Place your hands on the ground underneath your elbows at mid-chest height.

Let your big toes touch and press them gently into the floor beneath you.

Activate your legs by pulling your kneecaps upward. Imagine your tailbone lengthening towards your heels. Press your hips into the floor as you activate the muscles of your lower back.

Peel your forehead, chest, shoulders, and finally your hands away from the floor. Keep your neck long by looking down towards the floor. Feel yourself rise and fall as you breathe in and out.

Draw the tips of your shoulder blades together at the middle of your back as you breathe into the center of your chest.

Hold for several breaths, then lower your chest and forehead to the floor to release.

Watch out if: you’re suffering from lower back or disc problems.

As you progress: work towards locust pose (shalabasana). Start with your hands face down by your hips and raise your upper body as before. Keep your glutes active and your toes together as you raise your legs and then your hands away from the floor, for a deep, full-body backbend.

Plank pose

A.K.A: Dandasana

Helps with: strengthening through the core, including belly and shoulders. Increases arm strength.

How to do it: this is a high push-up position. Start on your hands and knees, wrists slightly in front of your shoulders.

Take your weight into your hands and pop your knees off the floor, so that your body forms a straight line from your heels to the top of your head.

Press back through your heels and switch on your legs by pulling your kneecaps up. Lengthen your tailbone towards your heels. Push into all four corners of your palms and draw your lower belly gently towards your spine.

If you wish, you can drop your knees to the floor for a less intense version.

To come out, lower to the floor slowly – see if you can get your chest and belly to touch the floor at the same time!

Watch out if: you have recent or chronic shoulder or arm injuries or injuries to the spine.

As you progress: as you maintain the length throughout your body, lower yourself to lie flat on the floor with your face on the ground. From here, you can push back up into plank, or rise up into cobra as above.

Low lunge

Helps with: this is a really great pose to work on the tight hip flexors (the muscles at the front of the hips towards the top of the thighs).

How to do it: Start folded forward, as above. Extend your right leg back and rest your right knee on the floor. Untuck your toes so they point behind you with the top of your right foot on the floor.

Take a moment to find your balance. Inhale and reach both hands up above your head as you raise your torso. Your front (left) knee stays over your front ankle. Press your front foot gently into the floor.

Your shoulders rest over your hips. Spread your fingers and extend the crown of your head towards the ceiling.

Return to folded and repeat on the other side

Watch out if: you have any significant hip or knee problems. A rolled up towel can act as a nice cushion for your back knee. Also be careful with your ankles!

Seated twist

Helps with: range of movement in the hips and spinal compression.

How to do it: Start out sitting, with your legs straight in front of you. It’s often a good idea to raise your hips from the floor, perhaps with a folded towel or mat. Bend your knees so that your feet are flat on the floor.

Rest the outside of your left thigh on the floor with the left knee pointed forward. Step your right foot over the left knee – your right knee is still pointing up at the ceiling and the foot is still flat on the floor.

With an inhale, lengthen your tailbone into the floor as you reach the crown of your head to the ceiling – you’re feeling for length in your spine. Press the right foot into the floor and as you exhale, twist your torso around to the right. Placing your right fingertips on the floor behind you can help.

With every inhale, feel for length in the front of the body and lengthen the spine. As you exhale, gently ease your way deeper into the twist.

Watch out if: you are suffering from spinal injuries of any kind.

As you progress: If you are feeling the flexibility, you might hook your left elbow outside your right knee.

Go Forth and Yoga

Programmers need to actively work to protect and strengthen their body due to the the sedentary nature of their work. Healthy minds exist in healthy bodies.

Modern yoga is a blend of ancient Eastern practice and philosophy with more recent techniques from Western gymnastics training. It can be a great tool for programmers, or anyone who spends a long time seated.

You don’t need to work with the philosophical aspects of the practice to gain protection for your spine – although I do, and have seen great mental and physical benefits.

Practicing each of these poses alone will have benefits. Each pose is designed to care for a number of related parts of your musculoskeletal system.

A good yoga class will begin to flow poses from one to the other in sequences. A knowledgeable teacher will create sequences that balance strength and flexibility. I totally recommend you try one!

This article was originally posted on Codingmindfully.com.

Posted on Nov 24 '18 by:

daraghbyrne profile

Daragh Byrne

@daraghbyrne

I care about my sanity and yours too

Discussion

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Heed these warnings well, folks. You do NOT want problems with those intervertebral discs becoming prematurely compressed (they'll already do that sufficiently on their own as you age -- don't accelerate the process with extended sitting/bad posture/bad ergonomics).

Ask me how I know.

 

What do you recommend sitting posture wise? I have a crappy chair I hate but I don't want to spend $500 on a new chair. Though I use it 10-12 hours DAILY.

What's your recommendation? I am exercising regularly (3-4 times a week). Mostly strength elements - calisthenics. I did try yoga though and I loved it. But I hardly can find motivation to do it daily or just regularly.

 

There are a lot of good online resources for good ergonomics for tech workers -- find one and follow its guidance.

This one looks pretty good: techrepublic.com/article/10-ergono...

For me, it's all about keeping the spine aligned, shoulders relaxed and back (avoiding that rounded-shoulder tech worker slump), forearms parallel to the floor, keyboard closer to you so you're not reaching for it, and keeping the head and sightline to the monitor neutral -- you don't want to be looking down at your monitor like you do a cell phone. Basically avoid anything that's going to be putting a compressing force in one direction on your cervical vertebrae for extended periods of time.

I already experience the rounded-shoulder problem. I have been gaming since I was 8 years old when I started sitting in front of my PC all day. I become overweight and my shoulders are rounded. So that's crap. Though I lost the extra weight and now I am fit, I still have the same rounded shoulders. I haven't done anything to fix it though so yeah....

Thanks for your reply! Gotta check out that link!

 

Bringing as much movement as you can remember to will help. Also, tractioning the spine (deadhangs from a pull-up bar) can work wonders!

do the reverse poses from what we mostly do, do you do so much sitting , then do yoga that make you do the reverse of sitting, like standing, backbending, twisting, an etc.I had bad headache before (in every morning) because I have my screen time and sitting during the day (8-5), then I do yoga regularly,joins some classes, then it's gone! no neeed fancy chair at all :)

 

Really good post Daragh! I started yoga a month ago and I cannot be more in love with it. My column is rectified and my kinesiologist recommended me yoga as a way to correct my postures. I'm slowly noting improvements!

 

Wonderful! What's the biggest improvement you noticed?

 

I have my shoulders better aligned! haha. Now I pay more attention about my postures while I'm working, and I have more lengthening :)

 

Hey Daragh, great article! I do a couple of these myself pretty much every time I get from my seat. They really do help!

Just a quick bit of feedback— the snake pose, is actually ‘bhujangasana‘, with a j, bhujanga meaning snake. :)

And if you are interested, the low lunge is called Anjaneyasana, named after one of the Hindu gods, and the seated twist is the Ardha-Matsyendrasana, Ardha meaning half, and Matsyendra meaning Lord of the Fishes.

 

Oh thank you so much for catching that, I really appreciate it! I'm glad the poses help. I'm absolutely interested to hear that too (I've heard the names elsewhere, I think my editing was inconsistent!)

I'm hopeful to put together more yoga for programmers resources soon :)

 

Absolutely! Will look forward to that post as well.

Yoga helped me get over a bad back problem from my college days. Now I‘m lithe as ever. :D

 
 

Thank you for this. I've implemented most of these poses in my morning routine. Really good to start the day with a few stretches.

 

Excellent. Good to get the body and brain going as soon as you can!

 
 

Bookmarked right away. Thanks for all of this info

 
 

Oh man thanks! By I don't catch all the instructions. Will be too much if you can upload a video/videos doing the excerises?

 

Yes I plan to! If you head over to my site and sign up to my mailing list I’ll send it later!