We live in a hunchy world: driving, typing, nursing a baby (I’m doing two of those right now, guess which ones!) and it can effect our physical as well as our emotional well-being. In addition to a myriad of back problems, slouching forward cultivates feelings of depression and withdrawal into oneself. This practice works to opens the front body literally and the heart metaphorically and emotionally. Pretty cool, right? You may be surprised at how much a short period of bringing awareness and movement into the upper back and shoulders can improve your mood and your physical comfort!
You can do this short sequence in ordinary clothing on any comfortable surface.
Start by finding a comfortable seat, whatever that means to you right now. If you choose to sit on the floor, give your lumbar spine some support by placing something- a thin cushion, a yoga block, a heavy blanket folded a few times- under your sitting bones. Sit on the bottom of your pelvis rather than on your sacrum, the base of your spine. Close the eyes and enjoy a few deep, natural but mindful breaths here. Feel your sit bones root down to allow you to lift a little taller through the crown of your head.
Let your right ear fall toward your right shoulder, chin tilted slightly upward, for one full round of breath. Inhale back up, then to the left. Repeat on the right side, taking left fingertips to the top of you left shoulder and bringing the right hand over the head to rest the right fingertips near the top of the left ear. Allow gravity and the weight of your hand to enhance the stretch, without pulling the head closer to the shoulder. Keep the tops of the shoulders soft throughout as you inhale to release and repeat on the left. Come back to centre.
Exhale and move your sternum and pubic bone toward one another as you arch your back, feeling the spine pressing out from between your shoulder blades. Inhale to move the breastbone forward, spreading the collarbones as the shoulder blades hug together on the back. Lift the gaze. Link these two movements with your next five breaths, arching back as you exhale, coming forward as you inhale. At the end of five breaths, return to a neutral posture.
Reach your hands brightly overhead. Spread the fingers and engage the hands, as though holding a big beach ball aloft. Lift the gaze and soften the tops of your shoulders. Feel the collarbones broadening as you inhale, the shoulderblades softening as you exhale.
Interlace the fingers at the sacrum and send the knuckles toward the floor. Broaden the collarbones, lift the gaze and move the shoulderblades together on the back. Hold for three breaths. Bring the hands in front, interlace the fingers and press the palms straight out.Shrug the heads of the arm bones back into their sockets, then inhale and lift the arms overhead. Root evenly through both sit bones, keep reaching through the palms and tip over to the right for one full round of breath, inhale back to centre, then over to the left.
Take the right fingertips to the floor by the sacrum, the back of the left and to the top of your right thigh. Inhale to lengthen the spine and as you exhale, twist to the right, moving from your core rather than using the hands to bring you in. The gaze can follow to the right if it’s comfortable but if the neck is tight, maintain a neutral gaze. Stay for three breaths, inhaling to lengthen the crown of the head toward the ceiling, exhaling to twist. Inhale back to centre, then repeat on the opposite side.
Bend at the elbows, stacking the right elbow in the crook of the left. Bring the backs of the hands together, or take the right hand behind the left and bring the palms together. Inhale to lift the elbows higher; exhale to press the hands away from you. Breathe into the space of the upper back for three breaths, then release the arms wide, shining the heart forward. Repeat on the other side.
Come forward to hands and knees. Keep the hips stacked over the heels and walk the hands forward, melting the heart toward the floor. Forehead, chin or throat can come to the floor according to what’s most comfortable. Keep the arms active, elbows lifted, armpits hollow, as the heart moves toward the floor. Slide the hands back toward you and return to hands and knees.
Release the hips to the heels, separate the knees and release the torso forward between the thighs. Stretch the arms forward and root through the fingertips, lifting the palms. Keep engagement in the arms as the centre of the chest releases toward the floor, the shoulderblades moving toward one another. Walk the hands to the right for three breaths, back to centre, to the left for three breaths, back to centre. Release all effort from the pose and remain for as long as you like. To come out, walk the hands back toward the his, slowly rolling up the spine, allowing the head to arrive at the top of the spine very last. Take three deep, mindful breaths here, and move on through the rest of your day with greater openness and ease.
So there’s your homework for this week: find a few minutes to give yourself some love. What other poses do you do for a quick pick-me-up in the middle of a busy day/week/life?