5-minute office exercises

Many New Yorkers are desk jockeys – sitting at our desks from 9-to -5.  We tend to slouch and quickly abandon proper posture, allowing our shoulders to round forward and exaggerating the curve of our upper back.  Unfortunately, this manifests in uncomfortable aches and pains.

When the spine is in a neutral position it has four natural curves, two outer and two inner.  The cervical spine, or neck, has an inward curve, and so does the lumbar spine, or lower back.  The two outward curves are the thoracic spine, or upper back, and the sacrum and coccyx – the fused bones connecting the back of the pelvis and the tailbone.  These curves balance and support the weight of the spine.  When one of the curves is out of alignment, it puts extra strain on the surrounding muscles.

When we slump over, the weight of the head and upper body is slightly forward.  This taxes the muscles at the nape of the neck and down the spine causing tight shoulders, nagging neck pain and a stiff lower back.

Pilates is one of the best ways to stabilize these structural weaknesses and alleviate these aches by strengthening our anchoring muscles.


Here are some simple, yet extremely effective, solutions:

1)  a. Using a large exercise ball (available at any sporting goods store or your local health club), lay back over the ball with your feet firmly on the ground, hip width apart, knees bent at a 90-degree angle.  The ball will support your lower back but it’s important to keep your abdominals engaged.

Laying back will take some balance but once you feel stable, bring your arms up in front of you, palms facing in, let them open sideways toward the floor.  This forces the chest and the front of the shoulders to broaden.  Your neck and head can rest on the ball, but this shouldn’t strain your neck (move feet forward/backward until you are comfortable).

Don’t forget to breathe, and enjoy the stretch!

b. In this position, bring your hands behind your head, scoop the belly in, and do a few slow curl-ups to strengthen abs.  A stronger core will prevent future back pain and reinforce better posture!

Another great stretch for the front of your shoulders:

2) a.  Sitting on the ground, bend your knees, feet on the floor hip width apart, toes facing forward.  Lean back, into a V-shaped position, place hands slightly behind you, fingers pointing forward.  Inhale and think of floating your sternum (mid-chest) upward and forward, to causing a small arch in the thoracic spine (upper back).  Keep your lower back neutral and lengthen the nape of your neck.  Breathe deeply and hold for a count of ten, then return to neutral (repeat as often as you like).

b.  From this position, engage your core by scooping the belly up and in.  Distribute your weight into your hands and feet and lift your body into a tabletop position.  Keep your neck inline with your spine; hold it so it doesn’t fall back toward the floor (if that is too taxing, bring your chin to your chest).  Keep your abs engaged so you don’t strain your back.  Your glutes and hamstrings (butt and rear thigh muscles) will engage and work to keep the hips raised.  If you feel strain on your knees, make sure they are aligned with your hips and at a 90-degree angle, directly over your feet.  Take 5-10 deep breaths here, then gently lower down.  Circle your wrists a few times to loosen up the joints and then repeat as desired.

Not only will this open your chest and shoulders but also, you will feel a stretch in the front of the hips and thighs, key areas to stretch as well after sitting all day.

Try these easy moves during or at the end of the day.  You will find your muscles strengthening and your increased awareness will help avoid those nagging aches and pains.


Principles of Pilates


The use of breath is of the utmost importance to any exercise. It provides the necessary oxygen to the muscles at work. Pilates integrates the breath into the movement so that it flows naturally and works to assist the movement.


When movement is initiated through the center, through the powerhouse muscles, it creates stability that allows the spine and limbs to move with greater power and less effort and strain. Energy comes from the center and radiates outward.

Control and precision
Exercises should be done with great precision. Knowing what to tell the body to do help teach the body the correct movement pattern. This is closely connected with the control of the movement. Only do as much as you can control and keep the integrity of the movement intact. Always value Quality over Quantity.


Nothing about the exercises should be abrupt or shaky. When working in a state of fluid motion, the body has to coordinate both big and small muscles groups. Practicing fluid, smooth and precise movements provides you with greater range of control over the muscles.


The mind has to be focused at the task at hand. Part of the reason Pilates is also seen to be a relaxing form of exercise is that it forces the mind to be present in the moment and not drifting off to go over the long “to-do” list that’s in everyone’s thoughts. The challenge of the movements forces the student to concentrate and stay mentally involved.


Part of keeping students mentally involved is an educational process. In order to get the full results of these exercises it’s important to know why you are doing them. Keeping the intention of the movement in mind helps with the control, fluidity, and precision as well.


If a student does not understand a movement cue, how is she expected to do the movement correctly? Using visual cues has become an essential part of the Pilates teaching methods. Visualization helps keep the mind involved and remind the student to think three-dimensionally.

Dynamic Opposition

Lines of oppositional energy are used in almost every single Pilates exercise. These dynamic oppositions create balance and stability, seeing the body as an integrated whole not just the individual parts directly linked to the action.

Getting Started: The Scoop on Pilates

At this time of year my mind and spirit shout Spring, but my body still reflects those extra layers of winter “insulation.”  What a great time to re-energize and reboot my workout!  I find Pilates is just the thing for me.  I love sharing what Pilates has done for me which is why I began to study to be a certified instructor.

Like many mind-body techniques, Pilates offers a wide range of benefits.  Do you have lower back pain?  By strengthening your abdominal muscles you can better support your low back, and by increasing your range of motion, you can release any tension pulling you out of alignment.

As a low impact workout, Pilates is a great form of exercise regardless of skill level as a good teacher can always modify the movements based on your needs.  We can make adjustments to go easier on joints and ligaments, or more for the more advanced we can really challenge the muscles.

I was first introduced to Pilates in grade school while training with a pre-professional dance company.  The Artistic director surprised the class one morning by asking the entire company to lie down on mats instead of starting at the ballet barre.  The Director’s objective for inviting a Pilates instructor was to teach us how to better control our movements, but I think she also thought we were getting too soft!

The mat exercises focus on the “powerhouse” which is a term Joseph Pilates used to describe the core abdominal muscles.  Historically, Mr. Pilates called his technique Contrology.  The controlled, coordinated movements focus on the deep postural muscles at the core of establishing strength and balance.

Pilates teaches efficiency of movement by bringing awareness inward.  In discovering muscle imbalances, you will begin to understand and learn to correct your posture and gait.  It will even change the way you think about doing mundane activities like washing the dishes or sitting at a computer.

Hooked from the start, I found the exercises highlighted my body’s strengths and weaknesses and I quickly saw results, even in my dancing.  But you don’t have to be a dancer to reap the rewards.  Pilates aims at increasing flexibility while building long lean muscles.  So whether you suffer from aching joints, want to get back into your skinny jeans or if you’re just looking for a new routine, Pilates is a great place to start!


*first published on http://www.yinovacenter.com/blog/