Five-minute filler: Yoga for poker players

May 18, 2019inPoker

The SCOOP grind is now well under way, which means thousands of men and women across the world are spending hours on end in front of their computers. While it’s fun, it’s not necessarily all that healthy, and so this article might be the most important one you read to help you stay fit in body and mind as you play online.

“Sitting on a chair all day, even one with professed lumbar support, is detrimental to our bodies in several ways,” says Lauren Gasser, a London-based yoga instructor, who focuses particularly on mental health and well-being. “We are compressing our vertebrae, restricting movement in the hamstrings, putting huge pressure on our hips and encouraging our shoulders to roll forwards.”

She adds: “In Asian countries, where it is still customary to sit cross legged or squat on the floor, older generations have far superior mobility and spinal health than those of us who always sit on chairs or sofas.”

Gasser visits offices across the capital and offers a chance for workers to break away from their desks at the end of an eight-hour shift, and help to undo the damage done by a sedentary lifestyle. But she also says that it’s possible to do some stretching exercises while sitting at a desk that can help with circulation, strength and flexibility — as well as all-over well-being.

“Aside from the obvious suggestion of getting up more often, and the often unworkable option of swapping your chair for a stability ball or cushion, just moving will make a big difference to your physical wellbeing, even while seated,” Gasser says. “Muscles and joints want to move, they need to stretch and be worked in order to stay healthy and keep functioning as they should. So rolling the shoulders back, twisting the spine, stretching the hamstrings, will all help to prevent the body from essentially stagnating.”

Gasser provided five simple exercises for poker players — or for anyone who spends too long sitting down — that can be done while either seated at an office chair, or during the five-minute tournament break every hour. Getting into new healthy habits is something worth doing immediately, and you can thank us — and Lauren — in about 30 years from now!

The backwards arm cross

Crossing your arms in front of your chest is a common resting posture and something many of us do without even realising. But the weight of those relaxed arms is actually rolling your shoulders forwards and putting added strain on the neck and upper back.

Next time you go to cross your arms, try to cross them behind your back instead. You might only be able to reach your wrists or forearms with each hand, but hold them there for as long as you can and you’ll start to feel a stretch across the front of the shoulders, chest and down the spine. This small change of habit can make a big difference to your posture and alleviate aches and pains.

The heavy head

Tight neck muscles can cause lots of problems, from back pain to headaches. Sitting and looking down a lot (at a mobile, keyboard, or hand of cards) can exacerbate the problem so it’s important to keep things moving. An easy stretch that you can practice any time involves leaning your head to one side, as if you’re trying to touch your shoulder with your ear.

Try to let the head feel heavy and both shoulders really relax downwards. You’ll probably feel quite a strong stretching straight away along the lengthened side of your neck, so take 5-10 deep breaths then slowly move to the other side. When you’ve had enough bring your chin down towards your chest and breath deeply to reset your posture and give your upper back a stretch too.

The seated twist

To keep the spine healthy we need to move it in all possible directions every day. Forward folding, arching back, and leaning from side to side are all important manoeuvers, but ones that tend to happen naturally throughout the day. Twists are brilliant for back health, loosening each vertebrae and releasing tension that builds in the spine, especially after sitting down for long periods. Sit up tall with your whole back pressed against the back of your chair. Plant both feet flat on the ground, then put your right hand on your left thigh. Look over the left shoulder and use the right hand to pull yourself into a twist, trying to move all the way from your lower spine (as if you want your belly to face the left side too). Take 5-10 deep breaths, then repeat on the other side.

The pigeon

Once you’re out of your chair, pigeon is a brilliant stretch that reaches pretty much everywhere, so especially useful if you don’t have lots of time. From all fours, bend your right knee towards your right hand, then slide the left leg back until its straight and resting on the floor behind you. Try to keep your hips about level and use your hand on the floor for support. You might find that this is quite an intense stretch, especially if your hips are tight, so just stay for 10 deep breaths then repeat on the other side. If you feel like you have more space, try coming down onto the forearms and bringing the chest closer to the floor.

Legs up the wall

This final pose is called an inversion – any position where your legs are higher than your heart. They allow all the blood to flow into the torso, giving your vital organs a rest and encouraging relaxation. The name is pretty self-explanatory – sit as close to a wall as you can then lift both legs up straight until the heals are resting against the wall and your legs can relax. Scoot your bum as close to the wall as possible then rest your arms by your sides. Close your eyes and spend a few minutes focusing on your breath, allowing the inversion to do its magic. This is the perfect posture to practice before bed, as it helps slow everything down and prepare your mind and body for sleep. It’s also nice on the lower back – try putting a cushion underneath your bum and see if your lower spine relaxes.

Lauren Gasser is a London-based yoga teacher with a particular interest in yoga for mental health and emotional well-being. She teaches in offices, universities, yoga studios, community centres and people’s homes. Visit her website,, or follow her on Twitter for regular tips.

Images: Rene Velli | Model: Jason Kirk


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