How to destress at your desk with simple exercises

When was the last time you put your mental health before your physical health?


Despite one in four of us experiencing mental health issues every year, we still put our mental wellbeing on the back burner.

However, just a few minutes investment into mental health each day can make a huge difference.

That’s why wellbeing guru and former rugby player Richie Norton has come up with a series of easy desk exercises designed to ‘boost your energy at your desk, or wherever you are.’

Norton’s own anxiety started when he was young, though it was not one thing that brought it about: ‘It’s a bit of a blur to when it all started and what triggered it as a kid. I have some faint memories from adjusting to a new school, getting bullied by the older kids and not wanting to tell anyone, my parents having problems and separating,’ says Norton.

And he’s very honest that, as a man, he didn’t deal with it in a healthy way: ‘I didn’t know how to share my feelings, that’s just not what guys did. The anger and frustration that built up inside eventually came out. I’d get into fights at school or in town with my mates, I’d drink and get in all sorts of trouble,’ explains Norton.

However, it was rugby that saved him. It gave him a healthy outlet and changed his whole being. But, after his rugby career came to an end, Norton had to find another outlet. So he founded The Strength Temple, a VIP personal training, diet and wellness hub.

Norton has spent the last 10 years getting athletes game-ready and actors movie-ready, focusing on both their physical and mental wellbeing. He uses a combination of meditation, breath work, callisthenics, capoeira, and yoga.

‘Just like the physical body needs to be trained to remain healthy, fit and strong, the mind is no different. When I’m able to move and have my headspace clear, I feel unstoppable,’ says Norton.

With that in mind, Norton has created a workout series that explores desk exercises, breath work to help with sleep, mindfulness and exercise to help beat stress and improve focus.

With the desk exercises, ‘the purpose is to get you to move and mobilise your shoulders and loosen up in order to find focus and calm, enabling you to have more energy and be more alert,’ says Norton.

‘Desk exercises have been around for a while, but still, I feel we need another reminder to how helpful they can be, knowing what we know about poor posture, stress and how it all affects our energy and mood.

‘We can forget how much it can help to take just a few minutes to go through some simple exercises, combined with a few mindful breaths and a chance to ‘check-in’ on how you’re feeling,’ Norton explains.

‘I’ve spent time hunched over an office desk, had to repair a broken rugby body, experimented with yoga, mobilisation tools and other movement practices over the years. Desk exercises are just the start, but I’ve seen it transform people’s lives at work,’ says Norton.

Norton has launched these new desk exercises in partnership with AXA, as part of their new ‘Headstrong’ initiative – helping with their mission to shift the nation’s attitude to championing mental health as well as physical health.

So, take five minutes at your desk and enjoy these seven easy steps to getting your day and your mind back on track:

Step one:

Start with a nice calm breathing rhythm. Take a full inhale in and out through the nose and keep with that rhythm. Try and focus your mind on your breathing, or on an object, like the chair youre sitting on.

Step two:

Maintaining your breathing rhythm, conduct the first exercise. Place your left hand on your knee and right arm up in the air and breathe in. When you breathe out, reach over and stretch the right-hand side of your body and bring back round. Switch sides and repeat the exercise.

Step three:

Cross your left shin over your right knee and take a nice big breath in. As you breathe out, fold yourself forwards over your left leg. Take another breath in and out, and release. Change sides and repeat the exercise.

Step four:

Slightly widen your feet and take a full breath in. Reach down towards the floor, lengthening and stretching your back and pushing down towards the floor. Take a breath in and soften as you breathe out – you might even be able to touch the floor.

Step five:

Cross your left arm over to hold the top of your right thigh. Take a big breath in and put your right arm in the air and as you stretch over to the left, breathe out. Bring your arm all the way round and reach forwards in a circular motion, twisting through your back gently. Switch sides and repeat the exercise.

Step six:

Take a nice big breath in and open up your chest, pushing your shoulders back. Grab hold of the back of your chair and take a deep breath in. As you breathe out, move away from the back of the chair, while still holding, and slowly drop your chest through your shoulders. Open up your chest and take another big breath in and as you breathe out, soften your body and let your head hang down. Take a breath in, sit back up and inhale through your nose and back out through your nose.

Step seven:

Don’t rush – check-in with yourself at the end and go through the whole cycle again if you have time.

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