Inspired by an article in my local paper today, I want to give you a Chinese medicine take on simple stretches you can do to combat all that sitting. These simple stretches help you enhance your overall health, elevate your mood, and strengthen your immune system.
You know that sitting for hours, whether on the couch watching TV or at your desk working on the computer, can harm your health. In Chinese medicine the concept is even more important because sitting for long periods of time has two damaging effects on the body:
- Blood and qi become stagnant and cannot nourish your organs and muscles, leading to physical and emotional problems.
- Sitting compresses the spine. Qi flows up the back of the spine and down the front. If the spine is compressed, qi stagnates and cannot flow as needed.
You can learn more about how important the movement of qi and blood are in our article on the "Difference between Chinese and Western Medicine."
The good news is that simple, easy movements done regularly can have a tremendous, positive impact.
Let’s tackle different problems from sitting with simple stretches for each.
For strained eyes
Too much screen time can harm your eyes, and in turn your liver. Yes, your liver. The eyes are the conduit to the liver in Chinese medicine. Stagnated qi in the liver means your body cannot process toxins as effectively, including germs.
You should complete each of the exercises below, or others you like, at least twice a day.
What simple stretches can you do for your eyes?
Video - Complete this easy to follow eye and face massage routine to relax and rejuvenate your eyes. Click here to link to eye and face massage video.
Read and do - Simple exercise to reduce eye strain
- Rub your hands together
- Close your eyes and place your warmed hands over your eyes for 20 seconds
- Pat your eyes gently with the base of your palms
- Open your eyes
- Repeat 3 times
For a sore neck and tense shoulders
Typing on a computer, watching a movie on a computer screen, or craning your neck to watch TV can all tighten the muscles in your neck and shoulders.
Tight muscles in your neck and shoulder inhibit the smooth flow of blood and qi, which can lead to puffy eyes, a stuffy nose, headache, and more.
What simple stretches can you do for your neck and shoulders?
Video - We have a series of videos designed to release tension in the neck and shoulders. If you watch the first one below, you can then link to all of the others. Click here to link to the video.
Read and do - Neck and shoulder exercises
Neck and shoulder massage
- Sit or stand with your spine straight
- With your right fingers together, massage the right side of your neck with your right hand for 15 seconds
- Repeat on the left side
- Return to the right side, but this time you’ll use your left hand
- Put your left fingers together
- Put your left palm on your right shoulder and knead 10-20 times
- Repeat on the left side by kneading with your right hand
- In a sitting or standing position, interlace your fingers with your palms up in front of your belly button
- Lift your hands up to your chest
- Turn your palms up and out as you lift your hands and push them up over your head
- Hold this position for 5 seconds
- Separate your hands and bring them out in an arc, down along your sides
- Interlace your fingers again at your belly button
- Repeat the sequence 3 times
For a tight back
Remember, sitting compresses your spine. Exercises designed to stretch the spine release that compression, reducing discomfort and pain, as well as allowing qi to flow.
What simple exercises can you do for a tight back?
Video - We have several from which to choose! Some of the best exercises for the back are part of our, “How to Prevent or Reverse Gray Hair” naturally series. Click here to link to the video pictured.
Why? According to Chinese medicine, gray hair is in part the result of insufficient blood flow to the scalp. Tension along the spine and hamstrings inhibits the flow of blood. By stretching and releasing the muscles, you allow blood to flow smoothly. Getting enough blood to the muscles also reduces cramping, swelling, and discomfort.
A tight back can also result from tight hamstrings and hip flexers. By releasing these muscles at the same time, you loosen back muscles and you’re helping your body even more!
Read and do - a tight back
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart, or sit on the edge of your chair
- If standing, bend your knees slightly
- Tuck your chin into your neck and very slowly roll down
- If standing, roll down as far forward as you can go, resting your hands on your thighs, shins, or the floor
- If sitting, ideally roll down until your head is below your knees
- Take 3 long, slow breaths in this position
- Slowly roll back to standing or sitting, lifting your head last
Simple stretches to Release your glutes and hamstrings
As you read, tight hamstrings can cause back problems. By strengthening and releasing your glutes and hamstrings, you take pressure off the back, especially the lower back.
What simple stretches can you do for your glutes and hamstrings?
Video - In our Kidney Jing video, you can learn three exercises that you complete in a slight squat. Just by standing in the squat, you are releasing tension at the lower back and strengthening your lower body muscles. Click here for these simple exercises to strengthen your glutes and hamstrings.
Read and do - glutes and hamstrings
- Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart, toes facing forward
- Bend your knees to a squat, keeping your torso naturally erect
- Put your hands face down at your waist, hip-width apart, fingers facing forward
- Now turn your torso to the left, keeping your hands at the waist
- Next turn back to center, with your hands still at your waist
- Turn your torso to the right, hands at the waist
Don’t forget your feet!
Sitting for long periods restricts the flow of blood and qi to our feet. Moving your knees and feet will help loosen the muscles and open up the flow of vital energy in your body.
What simple exercises can you do for your feet and ankles?
These exercises strengthen your ankles and leg muscles. They also invigorate kidney functioning and clear the meridians, channels along which qi flows in your body.
Read and do - Feet and ankles
Rotating the knees
- Stand up with your feet together
- Bend the knees in a squat, putting your hands on your knees
- Lean forward slightly from the waist, eyes looking in front of you
- Rotate your knees clockwise 6-8 times
- Rotate your knees counterclockwise 6-8 times
Raise and lower your heels
- Stand with your feet together
- Place all of the weight on the balls of your feet and slowly lift your heels as high as possible
- Keep your gaze fixed on one point in front of you to hold your balance
- Hold for 1-2 seconds and then release your heels to the ground
- Repeat 6-8 times
Learning how to stretch and exercise briefly will keep you healthy and better able to handle the stress and chaos of these changing times. These movements produce immediate benefits that will leave you feeling rejuvenated and full of energy!