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Pilates You Can Do at Your Desk

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Movement & Motherhood

By: Kristin Colsky Gavin   |  September 7, 2023

September in Marin means warm days, back to school, and a fresh start. The end of summer seems to always come with mixed emotions, but there is something inspiring about this time of year. It can be a great time to take stock of what has gone well so far and what could be improved upon for these final few months. The kids going back to school could mean less activity outdoors and more sitting at desks for not just them, but also for the parents. 

For the days when we are tied to a desk for multiple hours in a row, it can be so refreshing to take a break to stretch and strengthen the body. Taking just a few minutes to move whenever we have been sitting for a long time can leave us feeling reinvigorated, calmer, and more focused. 

Here are five modified Pilates exercises that you can do from your desk. What I love about these movements is that they move the spine in all directions, alleviating stiffness and making space in the body.  

1. Seated roll down
I often start a Pilates workout or class with a standing roll down, but we also can do a modified version staying seated. To set up, make sure you scoot your chair back slightly so you have space, scoot yourself all the way to the back of the chair so you can feel it, and plant your feet evenly about hip distance apart. Then start by sitting up really tall, elongating your spine up to the crown of your head. Take an inhale to prepare, and as you exhale, nod your chin to your chest and slowly peel your spine away from the chair as you roll down one vertebra at a time. Go as far as feels comfortable, maybe resting your torso on your thighs if you get there. Relax your arms and your head and neck. Take an inhale there, and as you exhale, engage your abdominals as you slowly roll back up, finally letting your head come up last. Sit up tall again and gently roll your shoulders back. Repeat at least two more times.

2. Flexion
Scoot yourself slightly forward on your chair so that there is a little space between your back and the chair. Sit up tall and interlace your hands behind your head (or fingertips to the sides of your head if your shoulders are feeling tight), then gently draw your ribs in. Breathe in to prepare, and as you breathe out, tuck your tailbone under, rounding your spine and drawing your abdominals in until your body resembles the letter “C.” Focus on rounding through the lower back and engaging the lower abdominals, without pulling on the head or neck with your hands. Come back to your starting position with an inhale, and repeat 8-10 times. 

3. Lateral Flexion
Sit up tall on your chair with your hand interlaced behind your head (or fingertips to the sides of your head). Draw your lower ribs and belly button in slightly while reaching up through the crown of your head. As you inhale, dip your left elbow to the side, focusing on lengthening through the sides of your waist. As you exhale, engage the right side of your waist to lift your body up to your starting position. Try to move at your waist and keep the lower body quiet, rooting down into the chair. Repeat this movement to the right side. Do 8-10 times on both sides.

4. Extension
Begin by sitting up tall, with your hands either behind the head or you could try placing your arms in a goal post position, with your upper arms at shoulder height and elbows bent at 90 degrees, palms facing forward. As you inhale, extend your upper back, opening across the chest, gazing slightly upwards, and engaging the muscles in the upper back. Try to keep the abdominals drawn in. This should be a pretty small movement. Make sure to keep your head in line with your spine and the back of your neck long. Use your exhale to stack your spine, returning to your starting position. Do 8-10 times.

5. Figure Four Stretch
End this mini movement session with a nice figure four stretch. Sit up tall, bend your left leg and place the ankle just across the top of the right thigh. If your hips are feeling tight and this is too intense, sitting up higher can help, so you could place a pillow or some other prop on the seat underneath you. Flex the left foot and breathe, gently drawing your left knee down and feeling a stretch through the left hip. If you have a lot of space, lean forward, hinging at the hips and keeping your back long. Repeat with the other leg, making sure to take several deep breaths on each side. 

Anytime you need a break from sitting and staring at a screen, this is a perfect, short routine that you can practice right from your desk. Taking a few minutes to connect movement and breath can relieve stress and tension in both our bodies and our minds, leaving us feeling centered and ready to take on the rest of our day.

Kristin Colsky Gavin is a native of Sausalito and lives there now with her husband, John, and her two-year-old son, William. She is a UC Berkeley graduate and Pilates instructor with ten years of experience and her own business, Kristin Gavin Pilates. Kristin has worked with all kinds of bodies, ages, and fitness levels but has a particular passion for working with pregnant and postpartum clients. She is also studying to consult on nutrition for pregnancy, postpartum, and babies. Contact her at Website coming soon!

When not practicing or teaching Pilates, Kristin can be found swimming, practicing yoga, hiking the trails of Marin, cooking, writing, studying languages, traveling near and far, and spending time with her family. She started open water swimming several years ago and has completed the Alcatraz to San Francisco swim three times.

More from this issue:

A Child’s Second Home 

In Defense of the Ordinary Barbie HERE >>

Pilates You Can Do at Your Desk HERE >>

Playgroup Spotlight: October-December 2022 HERE >>

Sharing Financial Wisdom With Your Kids HERE >>

Want Your Child’s School and Your Local Parks to Stop Spraying Pesticides? HERE >>