Is Sitting The New Smoking?

Prolonged-sitting has been described as the new smoking for its potential damage to our overall wellbeing.  Here we look at ways we can counteract unhealthy habits to give ourselves greater ease and comfort, now and in the future.

What’s wrong with sitting?

Nothing is inherently wrong with sitting. But in modern life, there is a great trend towards health issues for people who sit for long periods of time working at a desk, or anyone with a sedentary lifestyle.

Many of us are not aware how to ergonomically best set ourselves up for working at a desk, so right away we may be unknowingly inviting discomfort, strain and tightness into our bodies.

But even with a great desk set-up, one of the biggest mistakes we make is simply staying in one fixed, seated position for too long. The body loves regular movement, to keep joints supple, muscles relaxed and to ease out any tightness, but there’s more at stake here than simply keeping our body supple.

Prolonged sitting can increase the risk of:

  • Musculoskeletal issues
  • Poor metabolism, weight gain, heart issues and other chronic conditions, plus
  • Mental health issues such as depression
  • Energetic stagnation

Musculoskeletal issues can arise in the form of pain in the neck, back and shoulders, tightness in the hips. More specifically, sitting can increase the pressure on the lumbar discs in your lower back, while weight-transfer compensation can mean shoulders end up hunched and rounded, with a forward-head posture, creating additional problems for ligaments and discs in the upper back and neck (made worse of course by our constant mobile phone gazing)

Hip pain can arise as hip flexor muscles become shorter and weaker from prolonged sitting. 

Other chronic conditions linked to prolonged sitting include varicose veins, cardiovascular issues, weight gain, high blood pressure, metabolic syndrome, and diabetes.

Mental health issues such as anxiety and depression have been linked to sitting, with research continuing to pinpoint exactly why.  One strong theory is that physical movement has a protective effect against such conditions and without it, we simply put ourselves at greater risk of mental health issues.


Energetic stagnation, which means prana cannot flow smoothly and well, which can impact our mind, body and emotions.

A yogic lifestyle moves us towards flow, and away from stagnation

What Can We Do?

  1. Workplace Desk Set-Up

    Start by getting the basics right. Choose a chair that supports your spinal curves and allows your feet to rest flat on the ground (or on a footrest).

    Adjust your chair so that your knees are about level with your hips.

    Upper arms should be comfortably close to the body while working, with hands at or just below elbow height.  Position mouse and keyboard to avoid crunching in the wrists.

    Your screen should be at eye level, to prevent neck strain.

    If you’re fortunate enough to have an adaptable desk that goes from sitting to standing, take advantage of this benefit.  Pedal machines under the desk are increasingly popular too, to keep blood circulating well. 

    Don’t forget!  Where possible, make your work environment pleasant with a clean space, natural light and real plants.  These may not save your posture, but they will help your frame of mind on those stressful days, as part of overall wellbeing.

  2. Get Up and Move Regularly!

    Regular breaks to stand up, wriggle and stretch are not just useful for easing tension out of the body, they give your precious eyes a rest from the monitor, and also act as a natural stress-release.

    Try to give your eyes a break every 15 minutes, and at the same time you can do simple seated releases such as spinal twists, wrist circles and neck stretches.  

    Endeavour to stand up every 30 minutes, wriggle your hips, stretch your legs and take more spinal movements such as a mini backbend.

    You might like to take a phone call while standing, suggest to a colleague you walk together for a one-on-one meeting.

    “I can’t stop, I’m in the zone/facing a deadline/just want to be finished and get home…etc”

    Sound familiar? There will be conscious choices on your part involved, some discipline. We know breaking habits can be very difficult. If stopping every 30 minutes starting tomorrow sounds insurmountable, start with at least a few breaks throughout the day. The all-or-nothing mindset is not helpful here. Just like your yoga practice, start where you can and build up over time.

    You are worth the effort to protect your wellbeing.

    Sometimes we need to remind ourselves that if we don’t make time for our health, we’ll eventually end up having to make time for our illness. Each time you remember AND action a little break and stretch, congratulate yourself!

  3. Yoga While You’re Sitting….

    Start with a few deep, slow cleansing breaths and try some easy postures and stretches to break desk-sitting:

    – Gentle neck rolls
    – Seated Cat and Cow spinal movement
    – Wrist and finger stretches
    – Seated side stretch and spinal twists
    – Seated cobra backbend with arms wide
    – Sit-and-stand repetitions
    – High squat hip opener
    – Seated forward fold

    Need some guidance or inspiration? Here’s a little sitting practice we love from Tim Senesi (Yoga With Tim) to help release tension during the day:
    Enjoy a 6-minute Yoga With Tim desk break

  4. And Yoga When You Can Get On Your Mat

     – Chosen breathwork
     – Child Pose
    – Neck rolls
    – Cat & Cow
    – Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)
    – Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)
    – Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
    – Cobra (Bhujangasana)
    – Seated Butterfly (Baddha Konasana)
    – Bridge (Dvipada Pitham or Setu Bandhasana)
    – Supine Twist
    – Legs Up The Wall


Yoga doesn’t just help undo the physical dangers of sitting. It can also help with total-person wellbeing by reducing stress and easing emotional distress, states often associated with work.

Existing Health Issues?

A yoga therapist can work with you to understand your lifestyle and health issues, and develop a practice tailored just for you, to help you manage and improve an existing condition.

Written by Nicole Small, The Yoga Institute

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