Words by Samantha Ickes

Next week is it. All 15 weeks have led up to the much anticipated finals week—the week every professor has been talking about since the syllabus landed in front of us.

For me, finals week consists of late-night studying, midday naps and hours on the computer researching sources for papers. While sitting in front of my computer and leaning over my books, I get this familiar ache in the center of my spine.

According to the American Chiropractic Association, 31 million Americans experience back pain each year. Students subject themselves to back pain by leaning over laptops or hunching over books while studying. I know every half-hour or so of studying I have to take a quick break and stretch it out. After a while, my back starts to hurt, and I start squirming around in my seat trying to get comfortable. Meanwhile, my concentration decreases because I’m too focused on alleviating the pain in my back.

While sitting in your desk chair or even at the kitchen table, there are stretching poses you can do without even getting out of your chair. Some of these poses may be familiar with a variation of using a chair as a prop. Here’s a few poses for you to try in between your study time to keep your back and neck from tightening up:

Cat/cow variation: Sit upright in your chair with your feet together in front of you. Place your hands on your thighs as you arch your back, pulling your spine toward your navel. Exhale as you round your spine. Look down as you round your spine into the cat position.

Forward fold variation: Remaining in the same upright position, bend down until your belly touches the top of your thighs. Place your hands on the tops of your feet or on the floor beside your feet. Loosen your neck by drawing circles with your head, clockwise and then counterclockwise.

Extended side angle: Slowly rise back up until your spine is straight. Open your arms wide, keeping them parallel to the floor. Twist your body to the right so that your arms are not perpendicular with the floor. Bend down to touch your fingertips to the ground. Repeat this move by twisting on the left side.

Spinal twist: Slowly rise back up to the traditional sitting pose with your spine straight. Place your hands on the back on your chair and gently pull your body toward your hands, twisting your spine. Be careful not to be too forceful. You’re only aiming for a gentle twist. Hold this for 30 seconds before repeating it on the opposite side.

High altar pose: Coming back to the upright seated position, fold your fingertips together and lift your arms over your head, twisting your hands so your palms face the ceiling. Lean toward the left and then to the right, holding each side for a few counts. Return to the center and release your fingers, stretching your arms in a circle before bringing them to your lap.

I hope these five simple poses benefit you as you begin your studying for finals week. Remember to take breaks and to listen to your body. Your body will tell you when you need to take time to stretch those muscles to alleviate back pain and improve your concentration.