After a certain age, our muscles usually start to feel tighter. Whether this is due to age, stress or lack of mobility, it can affect our overall wellbeing and energy levels. We don’t need to accept and ignore a tight body as a sign of getting older. Yoga offers simple practices to keep muscles mobile and strong. Also keeping our back healthy doesn’t have to be complicated. It’s often sufficient to know a few practices to do at home in the morning or evening, and to remember some postural habits throughout the day. These daily practices will allow you to avoid creakiness and pain in the long run. My tips to keep your back healthy aim to mobilise the spine, strengthen the core, correct posture and de-stress .
How to keep your back healthy in daily life
Check your posture regularly
We’re not always aware of how we stand or sit. Our posture is familiar to us and what feels straight, may not be straight at all. Here’s a simple trick to correct your posture, using external feedback to check if your back is straight. To improve your muscles memory, do this at least once a day.
Stand against the wall, placing both heels against or slightly in front of the wall.
Feel for the even touch of the right and left side of the pelvis against the wall.
Place both shoulder blades evenly against the wall.
If your shoulders are rounded or your head forward, it may not be possible yet for the head to touch the wall. Avoid tilting the head and lifting the chin in order to get the head against the wall. Instead, place your fingertips on the collarbones and gently encourage them to lift.
Stay in this position for a minute or so and breathe.
Adjust your car seat
The shape of car seats is often like a ‘bucket seat’ and notorious for making you slouch. To avoid driving with a rounded back, use a small cushion under your sitting bones so the hips are slightly higher than the knees, and one narrow cushion behind your lower back. Also take frequent breaks and walk around for a few minutes, to prevent the body from tightening up or your back to start hurting
It may not look terribly cool in this day and age, but sitting up straight is worth the effort. Since our parents’ or grandparents’ generation, we’ve relaxed our sitting position and slouching has become the new normal. Unfortunately, it wears and weakens our spine over time. It may be a contributing factor for why the prevalence of low back pain has increased over the last three decades.
Sitting straight may involve re-educating some muscles. To sit straight, we have to honour the four curves of the spine. Slouching will round the whole spine. Straightening the spine means there is an inward curve in the lower back and neck, a gentle outward curve for the upper back and sacrum.
At your desk:
sit on the centre of both sitting bones.
Make sure your pelvis is squared forward and your two feet are flat on the floor. Think of the crown of your head being subtly pulled upward.
Feel the width and broadness across the chest and upper back. Feel how you have created space for the breath to fill the lungs. The position will allow a more efficient breathing and give you more energy.
Finally, make sure your screen is on eye level and not too far away from your face.
At the table:
Slouching will have a negative effect on the digestive system, as the front of the body gets squashed. I must say that at the jolly tea party pictured below, we found it almost unnatural to sit upright. And yet, that’s what it takes for our digestion to work well.
On your sofa:
It’s almost impossible not to round the back on a squidgy sofa. One solution is to sit back on the sofa with the legs crossed. Alternatively, you can sit on a firmer chair or in front of your sofa.
How to keep your back healthy with yoga
Despite our best efforts to look after our posture during the day, our back may still get tight. One reason for this can be stress. Stress and a sedentary lifestyle can have a huge impact on muscle tightness and our back health. A daily, gentle mobilisation of the spine keeps the muscles from chronically contracting and putting too much pressure on the joints. Below are some basic practices that can keep the spine mobile. However, every body is different and if you find these don’t work for you, don’t worry, there are many others. Feel free to contact me here to discuss one-to-one yoga sessions: https://beneyoga.co.uk/book-a-free-consultation-call/.
In a few online or in-person private sessions we could develop a wellness home practice just for you.
On all fours, arch your spine upward while you exhale. Think of lifting the navel to the spine and allow your head to hang. Exhale all the way, there is no rush.
Inhale to bring the spine in the opposite position without overly lifting the neck and head. When we look up too much, the upper spine gets lazy and the neck muscles may strain. Better is to look forward and only slightly up.
Repeat these two movements slowly with the breath.
Finish in what is called the child position if this feels comfortable:
If your feet don’t like the stretch, place a rolled towel under the ankles.
You could also position a cushion on top of the lower legs and into the knee fold to make it easier on the knees.
Breathe and enjoy the position.
Another good movement to mobilise and stretch the spinal muscles is this supine rotation of the spine:
Lie on the back with your legs bent and feet on the floor, knees and feet together.
Gently start moving your legs from side to side. If the small movements feel fine, move the knees further to the side each time.
Exhale while the knees move to the right and move the head to look left.
Leave both shoulder blades on the floor; the legs don’t have to reach the floor.
Inhale to return to the starting position.
Repeat alternately to both sides, guided by the breath.
Finish by hugging the knees to the chest for a few moments.
Strengthen your core muscles in a safe and effective way.
Abdominal strength is necessary to support the back. A very simple exercise is to contract the abdominal and pelvic floor muscles strongly while breathing out, relaxing them as you breathe in. Repeat 10-30 times when you have to while away some time.
Even better is to work the abdominal muscles in combination with other muscles. After all, the main function of the abdominals is to keep the core stable while the limbs are either moving or held in a particular position. The practice below is an example of the abdominal muscles working to stabilise the trunk while arms and legs are moving.
Start on all fours.
Exhale and bring one knee towards the head and the head towards the knee. Allow your back to arch upward.
If it feels fine, add the opposite arm, moving it away from the head.
Inhale and lengthen the leg behind you while stretching the opposite arm forward.
Don’t allow your lower back to dip down or the leg to lift too high. Keep both hipbones aligned, facing the floor.
Repeat these two positions 4 to 6 times on each side, coordinating the breath with the movement.
You could also start with the leg only and add the arm movement later, once you are familiar with just the leg and back movement.
How to keep your back healthy with Rest and breathing
Finally, it’s wonderful for the spine to rest in a restorative position. There’s no effort involved because the relaxing position takes care of the body. One rejuvenating position for the back is with the lower legs on a chair or sofa. Use a cushion under the head if that’s more comfortable and cover yourself with a blanket.
For an extra calming and centring effect, keep your attention on the breath. Simply follow the movement of your abdomen while you breathe freely. Notice how the breath slows down. By focusing on free and calm breathing, we allow worries to fade into the background and our energy can be replenished.
You could rest in this way for 10 to 20 minutes any time during the day or before bedtime. Use it as a super effective power nap after lunch when you’ve had an interrupted night, or when you are going to have a late evening.
These tips are a good start if you would like to keep your back healthy. If you have more specific back or health issues, don’t hesitate to book a free consultation call here, to discuss how one-to-one yoga sessions could help you: https://beneyoga.co.uk/book-a-free-consultation-call/.