If you feel worried about your posture and find that your shoulders are rounding forward, if you would like to stand tall and straight, this blog is for you.
In our time many people sit for long periods, slouch in comfortable sofas or car seats, stay hunched over phone or computer, and then suddenly discover their back is weaker and less straight than they would like it to be.
“Kyphosis,” the medical term for the forward rounding of the upper spine, can develop in young or older people, as a result of slouching habits or structural changes, such as disc degeneration. There may even be emotional reasons for someone to habitually take a slumped posture, such as shyness, low confidence or grief.
Structural causes require medical attention and an ok by your doctor that you can do the pose below. This blog addresses the result most of us face when we have not paid sufficient attention to our posture. If you feel strongly that you want to improve the way you stand and hold yourself, if you want to strengthen your upper back, read on…
The well-meant but wrong advice … is to lift the chest and pull the shoulders back. In fact, try doing that now and notice how your back muscles feel: might it possibly give you a painful middle back if you keep this going?
A good posture starts with the feet grounded and the weight of the body equally balanced behind all the toes and the centre of the heels. It involves a good alignment of hips over ankles and shoulders over hips. The head and neck should always feel like they are “floating up” towards the sky. A good posture further involves the whole spine and demands both strength and flexibility. For instance, together with strong upper back muscles it is important to have released chest muscles (pectoralis major) so that the shoulders are not pulled forward. Because we are all individuals with different bodies, we all have slightly different needs. You may want to have your posture looked at and sign up for my back pain package. Right now, you can already strengthen the muscles of the upper back with what is called the cobra pose.
Cobra is often performed in a different way from the photograph below. Very often yoga students put weight on the hands and push the upper body as high as possible while looking up. There are at least 2 problems with doing cobra in this way: you may increase or create neck tension and hurt the muscles in the lower back. It may be fine for flexible students with a pain-free back, but when your lower back feels tight or painful, performing cobra by putting weight on the arms and crunching the lower back is simply not useful.
The useful way
To start cobra, lie on your abdomen with the forehead on the mat and the hands underneath the shoulders (the fingertips are in line with the top of the shoulders). Keep the elbows close to the body and soften the shoulders away form the ears. Stay for quite a few breaths in this position, breathing and allowing the hips and legs to get heavy. Lengthen the tailbone away from the centre of the body, a little more with every exhalation. This means that you tilt the pelvis so that your tailbone is more “tucked under”. This small movement lengthens the lower back muscles so that these will not over-contract and possibly get hurt. Then raise the shoulders and head WITHOUT PUTTING WEIGHT ON THE ARMS. Feel that your upper back muscles are doing the work, and not the arms or lower back. Also think that the upper spine and neck are lengthening forward and up. This is not a big movement; you may feel disappointed that you can’t come up very high. However, it is a very useful exercise if you want to strengthen the upper back and improve your posture.
Make sure that you do not look up, keep looking down to avoid hyper-extending the neck. Think of the back of your neck as long and lengthening forward.
You can inhale with the movement up and exhale down, paying attention that you always “tuck the tailbone and keep the lower back long” or you can stay with the head and shoulders up for a few breaths. The lower back should not hurt.
After cobra, rest for a few moments in child’s pose. Please don’t do child if you have recently had a herniated disc. The cobra itself may be a relief for sciatica sufferers, but instead of going into child’s pose afterwards, just lie on the abdomen or back.
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