“Sitting is the new smoking!” is the dramatic headline that has popped up on many a health and fitness site in the last few years.
In fact, a study, published by the American Journal of Epidemiology, suggested that sitting for six-plus hours can make someone at least 18% more likely to die from diabetes, heart disease, and obesity than those who sit for less than three. But, before you consign your office chair to the bin and buy that standing desk, the other extreme, by definition, doesn’t work either. According to Bryan Walsh'sTime article,The Dangers of Sitting at Work—and Standing, standing for long periods can hurt the feet and back, and can also increase the risks of carotid atherosclerosis ninefold.
So the answer, of course, is balance. Suzan Colón's new iPhone app brings yoga to desk jockeys by reminding them when to take a break and what to do.
Colón is a multi-certified yoga instructor, but she’s also a former senior editor of Oprah’s O magazine and the author of 10 books. (So she’s no stranger to sitting!) And she’s come up with a solution that fits in your pocket: Take a Yoga Break, a new iPhone app that will add movement to your day, and even remind you to do it.
The app is a series of easy-to-follow yoga-based moves designed to help counteract the dangerous health problems associated with long-term sitting.
“I started practicing yoga around 1990 after a major life change,” said Colón. “In the space of three months, I was laid off from my job, a relationship broke apart, and I relocated to Miami Beach. My parents said, ‘if you’re going to be unemployed, you might as well be unemployed in good weather!” She laughed. “And that 'emptying out' of your life makes you very open to new things.”
But, even as a yogi, Colón realized her other life as a writer and editor was still way too
sedentary. “As a writer who’s sat up to 12 hours a day on deadline, I was alarmed about this information,” she said. Thus, Colón drew upon her two worlds and devised her app.
“This could be a person's first exposure to yoga, so let me make it as accessible as possible,” said Colón of her self-created brief. “And remembering that I am not making yogis out of a legion of people, but rather to help them stay healthier on the job. With that, it’s like yoga’s the application, not the goal, to help them fight the health dangers that come from work where they absolutely must sit.”
The exercises include classic yoga poses like Eagle and Tree, which are easy to do in any environment. But there are also custom poses that are perfect for the workplace, like Chair Ballet, Waterskiing and Corporate Cat—all of which can be done with the aid of an office chair. The illustrations, lovingly rendered by Colón, eschew the "yoga body" and simply show all kinds of body shapes and sizes. They are accompanied by step-by-step instructions that are crystal clear.
The app allows you to create a schedule by selecting an exercise from the list and setting a time to do it; it will even alert you when it’s time to get up and stretch.
“They’re not a sequence,” noted Colón of the exercises. “They’re displayed in alphabetical order so that people can choose their favorites, set a time, or randomize them. But also considering physical concerns—people with knee issues would not choose the one with knee bends.
“The poses chosen are based on a number of factors,” she said. “I want people of any age, any size, any fitness level to do them. And looking at the average poses I would teach in a level 1 yoga class and seeing what’s doable. Like Mountain pose, which, of course, is not just standing still! Tree in stage one, where you keep the foot right at the ankle level. Time was also a big consideration, so it had to be things where people could get up, do a simple pose, and get back to work.”
Was Colón concerned that invoking the word "yoga" might intimidate some?
“There are still people in parts of the country that are a little shy about yoga,” she agreed. “They don’t know what it is, or they think it’s a religion. So I considered calling the app something else, but I was in love with the name ‘Take a Yoga Break!’ But you can certainly call them exercises.’ But if the intention is to help people, you can never go wrong.”
The app was a labor of love for Colón—karma yoga in the truest sense. “The intention was, ‘this is going to help people,’ and if I need it, other people must need it. I was taught, at Integral Health Institute, that we’re here to help people. We’re here to serve.”