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The Office Worker Of The Future Supposedly Looks Like... This

Emma is "your work colleague of the future." (Photo: Matt Alexander)

Are you sitting at your desk? “Emma” wants you to get up. Right now.  

Emma is your “work colleague of the future,” a life-sized prediction of what office workers’ bodies will look like in 20 years thanks to the long-term negative physical and mental impact of increased screen time, longer hours and too much sitting. 

Emma has sallow skin from too many years of artificial light and stress-related eczema on her arms. Poor air quality has caused swollen sinuses with more nose- and ear- hairs, and red eyes. Sitting at her work station set-up has given her a permanently bent back. Was she doing work while curled into a pretzel for 20 years? Free this woman and give her a vacation! 

Emma's ankles are swollen from years of repetitive movement, too. (Photo: Matt Alexander)
S.O.S. (Photo: Matt Alexander)

Emma is part of a 2019 report commissioned by office equipment company Fellowes Brands, who partnered with behavioral futurist William Higham and other experts to determine the health effects humans will see if we don’t make changes in the workplace. 

Higham, who wrote the report that helped to inform what Emma could look like, called her a “worst-case scenario.” “Emma is what could happen to somebody in the worst case if they do everything badly,” he told HuffPost.

Higham said Emma has made people imagine the health risks more clearly. “When you start saying, ‘You could look like this. This could be you,’ I think people are more able to identify with the issue.”

You may not get a hunched back, but sitting incorrectly all day is bad for you. 

Of course, Emma does not represent all office workers; we are not all brunette, white women, for one. She is an extreme representation of a stressed, sedentary lifestyle. Her creator is an office equipment company with a vested interest in your concern about ergonomics, after all.

Good air quality and exposure to natural light does impact your productivity and your ability to work without eyestrain or headaches, but you are not going to turn into a vampire if you have an artificial light.

Don’t stress about all the ear hairs you could sprout. But it’s true that sitting down all day is not great for our health. An analysis of sedentary behavior found that regardless of how much study participants exercised, sitting down for long periods was associated with bad health outcomes. One three-year study found that people who did not meet the recommendation of at least 150 minutes of activity a week had a higher risk of mortality. 

“[Emma] made me think more,” Higham said. “I take more breaks than I used to. I stand up more. I’ll stand once an hour. I’ll make sure I’m not in the same position for a long time. I’ll take breaks from staring at the screen.” 

Can you get a permanently bent back from a bad workstation? A lifetime of poor posture can be a possible contributing factor of a hunched back, or kyphosis, among many other factors like aging and osteoporosis

Emma is a dystopian prediction of everything going wrong with your office environment without intervention. “It’s too late for Emma now,” the Fellowes website states. To that, I say: Emma, come sit with me. I’ll be your friend. We can strategize how to get you out of this job, stat. 

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Downward-Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

If you only do one yoga pose after a long day at work, make it a downward-facing dog, a holistic pose that stretches and strengthens many parts of the body. To come into the pose, move into an inverted "V' shape. With hands outstretched in front and you, lift the hips and ground the feet (at about hips-width apart) into the floor. Ground all the fingers into the floor and point them forward, bring your attention to the breath as you enjoy the stretch for 30-60 seconds. "It helps you lengthen and strengthen muscles in the body," says Vidya Bielkus, certified yoga teacher and co-founder of Health Yoga Life. "It reduces tension in the shoulders, relaxes the neck, and lets a little more blood flow get to the brain. You're also able to really stretch the legs, so if you're sitting all day, the legs are getting inactive." The pose is also great for stretching out the wrists and hands, which may become sore or tired from hours of typing.

Mountain Pose (Tadasana)

Counter a long day of contracting the back with this powerful back and chest-opening posture. Come to a comfortable standing position with feet hips-width apart, bring your hands up over your head with palms facing forward and thumbs hooked as you bend gently backwards and breathe deeply. "This is a powerful pose to free up tight chest muscles," Bielkus says.

Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Fish pose is an excellent tension reducer, and can also be therapeutic for fatigue and anxiety, according to Yoga Journal. To come into the pose, sit up on your hips with legs stretched out together in front of you and toes pointed. Bring your hands under your hips and lean back to prop yourself up on your forearms. Then, lift the chest above the shoulders and drop the head back to the ground behind you. Breathe deeply and rest in the pose for 15-30 seconds. Fish pose "releases tension in the neck, throat, and head, helps stretch the chest muscles and opens up the lungs," Bielkus says.

Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana)

A forward bend provides a soothing feeling of release -- making the pose therapeutic for stress and anxiety -- and with the added arm bind, this standing forward bend variation provides a deep shoulder stretch as well. Stand with your feet at hips-width distance, and slowly bend forward from the hips to come into the forward bend. To take the strain off the lower back, bend the knees slightly. Then, try adding an arm bind to stretch the shoulders: Interlace your hands at the lower back and stretch the arms over your head and hands towards the ground in front of you. For those with tight shoulders, hold a belt between your hands, allowing the shoulders to get a deep but less intense stretch. "By binding the hands, you also allow the arms to stretch and tight shoulders to relax," Bielkus says. "After sitting all day, it's a great idea to turn your world upside down and bring some blood back to the brain while getting a great stretch for the legs."

Cat & Cow Pose (Marjaryasana & Bitilasana)

Cat-cow tilts can be an effective headache reliever, in addition to opening up the back and stretching the spine. Start with hands and knees on the floor in a tabletop position with a neutral spine. On the inhale, round the spine and curve up into your cat pose (pictured above). On the exhale, arch the back and lift the chest to come into a cow pose. Repeat three to five times, focusing on the breath. "It also helps bring the neck back into the position over the spine -- people tend to protrude it forward, and this pose brings the vertebrae back to homeostasis," Bielkus says.

Bound Angle Pose (Baddha Konasana)

This pose helps to open the hips and ease sciatica discomfort that can be made worse by sitting for long periods. Sit up tall with the soles of the feet touching and knees spreading open, bringing the feet in toward the pelvis and clasping your hands around your feet. Flap the knees up and down several times like butterfly wings, then sit still and focus the weight of the hips and thighs into the floor, easing pain in the sciatic nerve. "The sciatic nerve starts in the lower back and runs down both leg, and sciatic nerve pain can occur when the nerve is somehow compressed," Bielkus says. "Long commutes and sitting for long periods of time exacerbates it."

Slow Neck Stretches

To counter neck discomfort from staring down at a keyboard or phone, Bielkus recommends a few repetitions of yogic slow neck stretches. Sitting in a cross-legged pose, lean the head to the right and extend the left arm and hand toward the ground until you feel a deep stretch on the left side of the neck. Breathe deeply and hold for a few breath cycles, repeating on the other side. You can also try standing in Mountain Pose and stretching the neck to one side, gently pulling with the same hand. "This can also easily be done standing anywhere, even in a cubicle," she says. "It eases neck tension and strain."

Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana)

"This pose is an accessible back bend for most people," Bielkus says. "It lengthens the spine, opens up the chest and counteracts sitting hunched over all day." Lying on the floor, put your hands on the ground slightly in front of you and tuck the elbows into the chest. Push up into your hands, lifting into a slight backbend and drawing the shoulders down. Turn your gaze upwards, and try not to take any tension into the face or jaw.

Half Pigeon Pose (Eka Pada Rajakapotasana)

The hips can get tight from long hours of sitting. To improve flexibility and range of motion in the hips, and open up the chest and shoulders, try a half pigeon pose. Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position, sliding the right knee forward and left leg back, as pictured above, trying to bend the front leg at a 90-degree angle. Sit up tall, and on the exhale, hinge the chest forward and bring the arms out in front of you to feel a deep stretch. "A half pigeon is great for opening up the hips," Bielkus says. If you're particularly tight in the hips, try rolling up a blanket under the hips and sitting upright, and then gently hinging forward.

Child's Pose (Balasana)

"Child's pose helps us turn inside and slow our minds down," Virayoga founder Elena Brower recently told The Huffington Post. The foundational resting pose in many yoga classes, the soothing Child's Pose can help put the mind at ease while also gently opening up the back, hips and shoulders, according to Bielkus. Sit down with your legs folded beneath you, toes touching and knees spread apart from each other. Drape your chest down between your thighs, bringing your forehead to the floor and either extending the arms out in front of you or resting them by your sides. Breathe deeply and rest in the pose for as long as desired.

Happy Baby Pose (Ananda Balasana)

"This pose opens the hips and groin and is very calming for the mind and body," Bielkus says. Happy Baby Pose is accessible even for beginners, but still provides an excellent stretch for the hip joints, which can get stiff from too much sitting. Lie down on your back, draw the knees into your chest and grab your feet from the inside, pulling them down so the knees extend on either side of your torso. If the stretch is too intense, grab behind your thighs. Try to bring the hips down to the floor. Breathe deeply and rock gently side to side, returning to stillness at your center for 30 seconds.

Sitali Breathing

This cooling breath is the perfect antidote to a long, stressful day. "It releases tension in body and mind, and helps us relieve stress and anger and brings us to a more balanced and clear state," says Bielkus. To perform this refreshing pranayama exercise, sit in a chair or on the floor in an easy crossed-legged position with your eyes closed. Stick your tongue out and curl up its outer edges. (If you're having trouble tongue curling, try your best and form a slight “O” with the mouth). Inhale through the mouth, letting the air pass over the tongue, feeling a cool breath, and then exhale through your nose. "Continue long rhythmic breathing for three minutes," she says. "You'll feel totally refreshed!"

This article originally appeared on HuffPost.