No sitting around, guys... this is how to walk your yoga! If you are lucky enough to be outside today, that summer feeling of open armed grass-lounging is a welcome release from the back to school-back to work grind of September. But if you really want to keep hold of that summer holiday feeling, despite being back at 'school,' look no further than your posture.
Most of us in our life will experience moderate to significant back pain or injury. This makes spine health a bit of an epidemic. The backlash against sitting has shed some much needed light on the ills of a sedentary culture, but to feel full power, energised, mentally relaxed and avoid back pain, beating the slouch has to be number one on your bucket list.
The spine has evolved into a perfect S shape curve from base of the skull to the tailbone to shock absorb, stabilise, protect the nervous system, and provide flexibility. Imagine bad posture as repetitive strain injury and that awesome interconnected skeletal system begins to seriously break down.
Here are 3 tips on releasing your spine and strengthening your posture:
1. NOSE DIVING vs SMILING IN YOUR CHIN
The neck (cervical spine) is made of 7 vertebrae that naturally curve in (lordosis) and are built to provide lots of mobility. Since the head is the extremely heavy HQ of the entire body and mind, the neck stabilising muscles (scalenes, SCM) have to work incredibly hard to keep your eyes straight as you move throughout your day. Since our heady intellectual culture requires we think fast and act alert, we mostly inhabit the body as a vehicle to transport the brain around - thus instinctively jutting the chin and head forward. On top of that since the eyes are at the front rather than side of our head we 'lean in' to all activities: computer, text, reading, conversation. This can lead to a forward stoop of the neck, causing headaches and chronic neck and back tension any where from the neck to the middle spine. Releasing chest and shoulder tension is also really important here.
SOLUTION 1: Stand your back on the edge of an open door, and press the back of your skull into the door. This is most likely where your 'neutral spine' is - notice how far back the head comes in order to line up with the spine. Now visualise the curve of your chin crease against your neck smiling up to your ears so you are not jutting your chin forward or nose up but lengthening through the top of the neck.
2. GET YOUR BACK UP
The middle of your back (thoracic spine) is built of 12 vertebrae to protect. It's the beefed up 'bouncer' portion of the spine that guards the heart and the lungs, and as a result there is much less mobility here. The ribs intersect the vertebrae of the thoracic spine like fish scales so its all very knitted together here with tissue and muscles that weave in different directions. Most of our spinal rotation comes from the thoracic spine.
SOLUTION 2: To free the hunch, pop a yoga brick in the centre of your back (around the bra strap line ladies, men.. imagine) vertically. Its great to try and keep it here as you sit and work at a desk, or when watching TV or meditating against a wall, sitting on a blanket to lift sit bones up. Maintaining this position in your spine, hug the wings of your shoulder blades down whilst pressing up through the head as if balancing a water jug on your head. Now press your inner shoulder blades in towards the spine and forwards as if aiming to burst them through the chest at the front. Fingers on the floor either side of your legs, turn a few inches side to side from the rib cage whilst pointing your belly button forward - you'll feel the opposite side abdomen turn on and fire up. Repeat side to side - smaller movements the better.
3. EMBRACE YOUR CURVES... I AINT NO HOLLABACK GIRL
The lower spine has the biggest vertabrae (5) in a deeper curve (lordosis) to weight bear and shock absorb movements made both above and below. We want the part of the spine to be fluid and mobile - but its very easy to dump into the lower back, putting pressure on the lower back discs. The muscles around the bum and hips also have a major impact on pain in the lower back - so releasing your quads/thighs, your gluts and your hip flexors is really important.
SOLUTION 3: Stand up against a wall as you would without thinking (ie default slouch position). Place a hand, or two, in the curve of your lower back and measure it with your fists. The folowing is great for those of us that sag into the lower back and hang belly or hips forward - not if you have flat lower back. Lie on your back, knees bent, feet on ground hip distance. Place one hand under the lower back and notice your 'neutral spine'. Now put hands on your stomach and exhale to press the lower back towards the ground and tilt the pubic bone up to your ribs, without the tailbone lifting. Repeat until you feel you lower abs have worked. Standing throughout your day check you're 'hugging' your digestive organs into the spine without flattening your back. This will become second nature with practice.
Once you've finished this little practice loosen up the sides of your spine with some lovely side arm stretches and gentle neck leans and rotations. Take a yoga brick to work to put in the small of your back as you sit - trying to avoid the embarrassing clatter of a block falling will definitely keep you upright! Try setting an alert on your phone to go off every few hours to "sit up and shine!"
KEEP A PROUD HEART : HUMBLE CHIN!