For most esports athletes and gamers, physical injury isn't high on the list of risks they associate with their hobby or career. But a sedentary lifestyle can pose danger with poor circulation, posture and repetitive strain contributing to health problems at what should be an active age. However, there are those hoping to change the habits that lead to such injuries being commonplace, using all tools at their disposal.
Amber Moss, AKA AmberGlowYoga, is tackling aches and pains in the wider Twitch community by combining her loves of dance, yoga and streaming. We found Amber leading a Yoga For Gamers session at TwitchCon in San Diego this weekend and asked her how to stay fit while streaming and gaming, and find out that Knight Artorias had the answers all along.
Amber describes herself as a ball of sunshine with a passion for dark horror games, which fits nicely with her interest in yoga: everything in balance. She graduated with a degree in dance and is now turning to the health benefits of an active lifestyle to help those in passive hobbies.
"As I got older and left performing, yoga seemed like a logical next step for me," says Amber. "It keeps me moving and focused. I realized the gaming community tends to have some not-so-healthy habits & I knew yoga could help, so Yoga For Gamers was born and my mission is to help gamers get healthier and happier through movement and mindfulness."
Gaming's reputation as a less physically demanding pastime has been compounded in recent years by the ease of having a burrito delivered straight to your door through phone apps. However esports athletes are often evangelists when it comes to the importance of taking breaks to head to the gym, as it improves both their physical and mental wellbeing. However not all of us can be paid a lucrative contract to play games and take care of our backs.
"I personally go to the gym at least three times a week, as well as teaching my yoga classes on stream, but I realize not everyone has that time luxury," she says. "And not everyone is excited about exercise."
The double-edged sword of gaming as a hobby is the necessity to stay sitting for long periods, and if you already have a desk job that takes away even more time from active hours. If you aren't aware of your setup's ergonomics, holding your wrists at an angle while typing or using WASD can pinch nerves causing carpal tunnel syndrome, and slouching in a desk chair that's slightly too high from the ground can lead to back problems which manifest in strange ways throughout the entire body so it can be hard to realize what's causing it.
"No matter what it is you do, paying attention to your body is imperative!" Amber says. "Tiny aches can turn into real issues, if not addressed. I always say: Listen to your body while it’s whispering. You won’t like it if you wait til it’s screaming. Postural issues, nerve damage, blood clots, are all scary things. Get up and move regularly!"
When you walk, any one of the joints from the ground to your skull can become inflamed if just one link in the chain is out of alignment. Your knee, your back, your neck, even the bones in your feet. So it's important to keep moving and stretching out these joints instead of letting them slip into a painful misalignment.
While it's true that many of us would prefer to stay indoors and keep racking up victory royales than head out for a run, Amber believes it doesn't always have to be a choice between having fun and staying healthy.
"I think there can be fun ways to incorporate fitness into streams," she says. "Setting a timer and doing a stretch break with viewers is an option. Using pushups or jumping jacks for tips or bits can be engaging for everyone involved, and joining a Yoga For Gamers stream is also a good time."
Amber runs Yoga For Gamers streams as a way to spread wellness through the online streaming community, splicing together gameplay and chat with a guided instructional session of yoga, providing stretches that are precision-targeted for many of the problems that gamers are most at risk of developing.
While getting up from the PC and heading out for a long walk is the best way to make sure you don't end up with any problems (most experts recommend at least 30 minutes of exercise a day) it's not the only way. Even very small changes to the way you play can help your body out. Amber's number one tip is on loading screens or during match making, simply stand up. For games with a longer matchmaking time, you could even touch your toes, do arm circles, do a gentle spinal twist by planting your feet and rotating your upper body, or roll out your wrists to stop yourself getting carpal tunnel.
But when it comes to the most effective solution, she always comes back to yoga as a way to carefully and gently get your body back into the correct shape after you've been slouching like a gremlin for 20 rounds of Apex in a row. Turns out Artorias had the right idea.
"A Yoga Sun Salutation covers a lot of bases!" she says, invoking the infamous Praise The Sun stance from Dark Souls. "It gets the blood flowing and works the back, wrists, legs, core, shoulders, neck, and more. It’s an easy pattern of postures and is great to do before, during, and after a stream. You can learn how to do a Sun Salutation during my Yoga For Gamers classes."
You can find Amber on Twitch as AmberGlowYoga where she plays a variety of horror games and teaches you how to downward dog.