How many hours do you sit in a chair every day?  Think about time spent at your desk at work, in your car, and sitting at a computer.  For most of us, the answer is at least eight hours, and possibly much higher.  (For example, I sit for at least twelve hours a day during the week!)

Sitting— and slouching while sitting— alters the natural alignment of our spine, which can cause stiffness and pain over time.  Prolonged sitting is most commonly associated with pain in the lower back, as well as the pelvis and hips.

This post will guide you through five simple poses to help counteract the negative effects of too much sitting:

1 – Cat Pose (Marjaryasana) and 2 – Cow Pose (Bitilasana). These two poses, typically practiced together, engage and stretch the entire spine.  They also encourage your spine to take its natural curvature, helping to open up tight or compressed spaces.

Begin on your hands and knees with a straight spine.  Inhale to cow pose by arching your back, beginning with lifting your tailbone towards the sky.  Relax your belly, move your shoulders down the back, and look forward, feeling the chest move forward between the arms.

Pause for a moment, then exhale to cat pose by rounding your spine. Again, initiate the movement at your tailbone, tucking it in and under.  Pull your belly-button up into your spine and gently drop your chin towards your chest.  Move between these poses several times, feeling the full range of movement in your spine.

3 – Standing forward fold (Uttanasana). This amazingly simple pose uses gravity to lengthen your back and relieve pent-up tension. It also stretches the hamstrings, which tend to tighten up when we remain sedentary.

Begin by standing up straight with your feet parallel and hip-width apart. Press your feet evenly into the floor.  Exhale and bend forward from the hips to drape your torso over your thighs. Point your seat bones towards the sky, bringing your weight forward into the balls of your feet.  Bend your knees as much as needed to bring your chest towards your thighs.  Breathe in and out and relax into the fold, allowing your body to soften gradually into the posture.

4 – Cobra pose (Bhujangasana). This supported backbend strengthens the spine and opens up the chest, combating the negative effects of slouching and hunching.

Lie belly-down on the floor.  Place your hands next to or underneath your shoulders, elbows pointed straight up.  Stretch the legs long behind you and press your feet and thighs into the floor.  Inhale and begin to gently lift the chest off the floor, to whatever height is comfortable for you.  Use your hands for support, but do not rely on them to lift you higher.  Keep your gaze forward and relaxed, and continue to press your hips and legs into the ground.  Breathe into the ribs and spine, gently stretching them with the breath.

5 – Downward-facing dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana). It should come as no surprise that the most iconic yoga pose is good for your entire body, including your back! Down dog lengthens the spine and relieves tension in the neck and back.

Begin in your hands and knees, just like Cat Pose/Cow Pose.  Tuck your toes under and press into your fingers and palms.  Exhale and lift your knees up and away from the floor, while pointing your seat towards the sky. Lengthen your arms and slide your shoulder blades down the back, away from your ears.  Gently press your thighs back and feel your heels lowering towards the floor, even if they don’t touch down.  Keep reaching your seat bones to the sky and pressing your hands and feet into the ground.

Once you are comfortable in this pose, practice rolling from Downward-facing dog into plank pose and back again.  Move slowly and mindfully from the base of your spine, feeling each vertebra move as you transition between these two postures.