Spending the entire day from 9 to 6 hunched over your desk and clacking away at your keyboards—coupled with bad posture—can seriously hurt your back and spine, causing lower back pain. 
A study by Changi General Hospital Singapore found that 73% of Singaporeans had problems and pain in their necks, shoulders and backs. More appallingly, many of us dismiss our back pain woes as “normal”, “stresses of modern society” or even, “a price to pay to achieve financial freedom faster”.
We’d willingly work our bodies to the bone if it means achieving our career and financial goals.
If this sounds a lot like you, you’d better be factoring home work outs and simple yoga poses to counterbalance the back strain you’re experiencing—or wind up having serious, permanent back issues like slipped disc (the disc pops out of position and painfully presses on a nerve), worn out joints, spinal stenosis and more.
According to Dr Shaan Rai, chiropractor at Vitality Chiropractic Centre, your chest collapses inwards when you are hunched over all day, causing tight shoulders and creating strain on your back. The solution? Chest and heart-opening yoga poses. These yoga poses are perfect for counteracting the 9 to 5 sedentary torture you exact on your spine:
1. Child’s Pose, Balasana
Balasana—better known as Child’s Pose—is a resting pose in yoga asanas. It stretches your hips, thighs, ankles and gently stretches your spine and back as you round your back forwards in a relaxing surrender. It can help relieve neck and back pain and release tension in those areas.
Child’s Pose is also a lovely, gentle pose to do in the mornings when you rise from bed, to slowly wake the body from slumber. Combine it with breathwork and this could be a very therapeutic, calming start to any hectic day.
- Begin in all fours (tabletop position), with your hands and knees on the ground. Your wrists should be aligned below your shoulders, and knees just below your hips (hip-width apart). Take a deep inhalation, sucking in the belly.
- Exhale, slowly move your sitbone backwards and rest your butt on your heels.
- Inhale, reach forwards and stretch out your arms in front of you, with palms facing down.
- Exhale, bow your head down so that your forehead touches the ground. Completely relax in this pose and feel all tension ebb out of your body.
- Close your eyes and turn your attention inwards, to your breath. Inhale for 6 counts and exhale for 12 counts. Do this 10 times and focus on your breath, with an empty mind.
2. Puppy Pose, Uttana Shishosana
Uttana Shishosana—or Puppy Pose—is a pretty simple but amazingly effective back, chest and shoulder stretch. It’s no secret that we collect tension and stress mostly in our shoulders and neck, especially if you spend your entire day sitting at a desk. Overtime, this posture can help to improve the flexibility of the spine, and a flexible spine is a healthy spine!
- Come onto all fours, tabletop position. Check that your shoulders are above your wrists and your hips are above your knees, squared so you are facing the front. Take a deep inhalation, sucking in the belly.
- As you exhale, relax your feet and slowly move your buttocks and sitbone halfway back towards your heels.
- Inhale, extend and reach both arms outwards in front of you.
- Exhale, drop your chin or forehead down to the ground. Feel a nice long stretch in your spine as you elongate it and try and walk your hands further away from you as you deepen into this stretch. Breathe in this pose for 1 min, allowing more oxygen to circulate into your spine.
3. Upward Facing Dog, Urdhva Mukha Svanasana
Urdhva Mukha Svanasana—or Upward Facing Dog—is a common pose in any yoga flow, and a foundational pose in ashtanga yoga’s Sun Salutations. It’s a powerful pose that is a beautiful stretch for the stomach and chest, while awakening the upper body strength.
Caution: though it’s a common pose, many yogi beginners frequently get this pose wrong. The top two common mistakes: knees and thighs should be lifted off the mat, and shoulders should be relaxed downwards, away from the ears; be careful not to tense or scrunch up your shoulders to the ears.
- Come into a plank pose, palms aligned below your shoulders and feet hip width apart. Inhale deeply.
- As you exhale, lower your body down into a push-up (also known as chaturanga in yogi speak).
- Inhale, press your palms firmly and push your body forwards so that it glides forwards, along the floor. Straighten your arms, lift your upper torso up gently and lift your thighs a few inches off the floor.
- Look straight ahead, and try to open up your chest more, with the top of your feet firmly grounded in the mat. Hold this chest-opening pose for 20 seconds and breathe.
- Either release onto your mat, or exhale and lift your bum upwards into Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana.
4. Downward Facing Dog, Adho Mukha Svanasana
Adho Mukha Svanasana—or Downward Facing Dog—is another foundational pose and also a resting pose in yoga asanas, allowing the yogi to catch her breath. Not just a pose in a yogi’s playbook, the Downward Facing Dog pose can give you the ultimate, re-energising full body stretch as you come into this inverted V posture.
- From Upward Facing Dog or a tabletop position, spread your fingers and press your palms firmly into the mat.
- Exhale, push your tailbone and bum up towards the sky and body weight back to your heels, firmly grounding your feet onto the mat.
- Straighten your legs but be sure not to lock your knees. Make sure your feet are hip-width apart.
- Press your palms away from the mat and push your bodyweight further back, so that your legs are carrying most of your weight. Ground your heels down onto the mat.
- Firm up your shoulder blades, drawing your weight further back to your tailbone and legs, engaging your thighs and glutes.
- Keep your head between your arms and gaze at your knees.
- Here, take 5 breaths. With every breath, inhale for 6 counts, exhale for 12 counts.
5. Bow Pose, Dhanurasana
Dhanurasana—or Bow Pose—allows your body to bend and take on the shape of an archer’s bow, locked and ready to take aim. The back is deeply stretched in this pose, and can provide relief and balance to the spine that is always hunched forwards. It’s a great pose to do after a long day of desk work to deeply stretch the back, encouraging flexibility in the spine.
- Lie on your belly face down on your mat, with your arms alongside your torso, palms facing up. Take a deep inhale.
- Exhale, bend your knees to bring your heels close to your butt. Reach back with your hands and hold onto your feet or your ankles. Keep your knees hip-width apart.
- Inhale, kick your feet into your hands, away from your butt and simultaneously, lift your thighs off the mat. Continue lifting yourself higher, pulling with your arms to lift and open up your chest.
- Make sure you relax and drop your shoulders away from your ears. Stay in this pose for 15 seconds before releasing from the posture as you exhale.
- Relax into Child’s Pose.
6. Seated Spinal Twist, Ardha Matsyendrasana
Show your spine some love with this simple Seated Spinal Twist, known in Sanskrit as Ardha Matsyendrasana. This pose is said to awaken the kundalini shakti, the dormant feminine energy coiled as a serpent at the base of the spine.
Folklores aside, the Seated Spinal Twist helps with spinal rotation and flexibility, boosting blood flow to the area. This pose can be tremendously beneficial to relieve lower back pain. The pose also compresses and stretches the upper torso and massage the internal organs at alternating sides, helping to promote digestion.
- Sit upright with your legs extended in front of you. Take a deep inhalation.
- Exhale, bend your right knee and cross it over your left outstretched leg. Try and bring your right foot that is crossed over as close to your body as possible.
- Inhale, bend your left knee, fold that leg and bring your left foot close to your butt. Make sure your hips are square.
- Exhale, pull both feet closer to your butt.
- Inhale, place your right hand softly behind you on the mat and reach your left arm up to the sky simultaneously.
- Exhale, hook your left arm around your bent right knee.
- Take a deep inhale and sit taller, lengthening the spine.
- Exhale, twist your upper torso towards the right.
- Inhale, and with each exhale, gently twist your torso further to the right so that you are looking at the back of the room.
- Repeat with the other side.
These chest-opening poses are so amazing since they help strengthen those long-forgotten back muscles, and help stretch out the entire shoulders and chest area—a much-needed counterbalance to a hunched back or bad posture. Stimulating blood flow and sending oxygen throughout the whole body, these poses are so beneficial for our body and hardly take up much time. Feel-good effects guaranteed.
 Lis AM, Black KM, Korn H, Nordin M. Association between sitting and occupational LBP. Eur Spine J. 2007;16(2):283-98. doi:10.1007/s00586-006-0143-7
Cynthia has a soft spot for traditions and culture. For her, a good ol’ cup of kopi and kaya toast hits the spot better than any fancy café fare—with the sole exception of pancakes.