A 5-Minute Routine to Improve Your Posture

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When we think of improving our posture we might think of holding the head high, or rooting evenly into our feet. Maybe we adjust the way we hold our pelvis or lift our chest to gain height. There is one area of our body that often gets neglected – our middle back or thoracic spine. Abused by hours of computer work or texting, our poor thoracic spine is an important part of spinal and full body mobility and when nurtured, can transform the way we hold our body.

A Closer Look at the Middle Back

The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae and starts at the bottom of the neck and ends at the bottom of the rib cage. Our 12 ribs attach at the back to the thoracic vertebrae and at the front to the sternum (with the exception of our lower “floating” ribs which do not attach at the sternum). Each vertebrae stacks on top of the next connecting via a facet joint which angles up and down. The angle of the joints in the spine affect the motion in each section. In the case of the thoracic there is the most freedom in rotation.

The Hunch

A common posture in the western world is a closed chest, which rounds the upper back. In turn this results in the chin jutting forward to keep our eyes level. The low back takes on additional load as the thoracic spine is no longer architecturally positioned to transfer load effectively from our upper body. Our shoulder range of motion is limited because the scapulae or shoulder blades have to alter their motion in relation to the rounded upper back and closed space at the front of the chest.

Simply spending five minutes a day sending a little love to our thoracic spine can have a trickle down effect improving our whole body alignment.

The 5-minute Thoracic Routine

Cat Cow on Elbows

Come onto your hands and knees, then lower onto your elbows, stacking your elbows under your shoulders. Inhale and lift your head, dropping your heart towards the floor. Exhale reverse the motion, leading with your head, send the space between your shoulder blades up towards the sky. Repeat 10-20 breaths.

Cat Cow Rotation on Elbows

From the same position as above, bring your forearms together in the centre of your mat. Place your right hand behind your head, lightly resting on your skull. As you inhale, twist open to the right, exhale back to centre. Repeat 10 breaths then switch sides, twisting open to the left.

Reverse Sit-up

Keeping your yoga mat rolled up, place it horizontal to your spine. Position yourself so that you are lying over your mat placed around the bottom of your shoulder blades. Support your neck with both hands (skip this one altogether if you have neck pain) and slowly do a tiny back bend over the mat then return to neutral. Slide down to the next vertebrae and repeat, back-bending ever so slightly over the mat. Repeat until you reach the top of the thoracic spine.

Chest Opener

Next turn your rolled mat so it is in line with your spine, the bottom of the mat at the bottom of your shoulder blades as you lie back onto the roll. If your chin is jutting up to the sky, place a small amount of height under your head (which should be supported by the rolled mat) to level out your spine. Open your palms and decide what feels better for your low back–knees bent, or legs extended. Then just breathe.

Walk Proud

Simply taking five minutes out of your day to give your mid-back some attention can go a long way to improving your posture and alignment. It may even relieve that achey feeling so many of us suffer from. Don’t be surprised if you feel a little funny at first–most of us aren’t used to being in alignment. Just enjoy your new open posture.



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Upset tummy? Try yoga for digestive relief

What else can yoga do for you? If you’ve overeaten or are facing digestive discomfort, fifteen minutes or so of yoga can make all the difference, according to Zayna Gold, creator of Healing Through Movement and a Boston-based yoga instructor. Here are just a few of the poses she recommends for settling your tummy, flattening out bloat, and easing stomach pains.

Don’t worry; these moves are very gentle and will work with the lightest of touches on calming your insides (both literal and metaphorical!). “You will feel less stress when your nervous system is relaxed. The health benefits will spread to the rest of your body and ease your digestion,” says Gold. Plus, the less you train your body to rely on over-the-counter meds like Pepto Bismol and Tums, the better! The natural, effective way is always preferable for long-term benefits.

  1. Apanasana

Benefits:

Practicing Apanasana, knees-to-chest pose, is a gentle way to restore proper flow and function to the organs of your torso. As you release excess pressure from your digestive organs and low back, your mind will begin to release its pressures and tensions, as well. It’s a simple way to encourage your body, mind, and spirit to remain pure and balanced throughout your day, as well as gives relief from excess digestive air, indigestion, bloating, flatulence, acidity, and constipation. Suffering from irritable bowel syndrome? This is the pose for you.

Plus, this pose helps to keep your low back limber. It is often used as a soothing counter-pose to backbends and spinal twists. Because your body is compact in the pose, your thoughts are more easily drawn inward, which is useful for calming the mind and rebalancing your energy.

However, make sure not to practice this pose if you are recovering from abdominal surgery or a hernia. Also avoid this pose if you have a spinal, knee, or hip injury. If you have a neck injury, do not lift your head.

Try It Out:

  1. Begin by lying on your back, with your legs and arms extended.

  2. As you exhale, draw both of your knees to your chest. Clasp your hands around them. If it is possible for you, wrap your forearms over your shins and clasp each elbow with the opposite hand.

  3. Keep your back flat on the mat. Release your shoulder blades down toward your waist. Broaden across your collar bones.

  4. Draw your tailbone and sacrum down toward the mat, lengthening your spine even more.

  5. If it is comfortable for you to do so, softly rock backward and forward or side-to-side for a gentle spinal massage.

  6. Tuck your chin slightly and gaze down the center line of your body.

  7. Hold for up to one minute. Keep your breath smooth and even.

  8. With an exhalation, release and extend both legs along the floor and rest. Repeat up to six times.

  9. Bridge Pose


Benefits:

Bridge Pose is a chest, heart, and shoulders opener and works to stretch the spine, the back of the neck, the thighs, and the hip flexors (front hip joints). Because your heart is higher than your head in this pose, it is considered a mild inversion (less strenuous than other inversions, such as Headstand) and holds all the benefits of inversions, like relief from stress, fatigue, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, and mild depression. Get ready to have your mind be calmed and your blood pressure treated, and if you have asthma, it’s great for increasing lung capacity by opening the chest.

Why is Bridge Pose so great for digestion? It also stimulates the abdominal organs and thyroid glands, which improves digestion and helps to regulate metabolism. Because it revitalizes the legs and stretches the shoulders, it can be a particularly rejuvenating pose for those who spend the day sitting in front of a computer or driving.

Practicing Bridge Pose can be a potent lesson in learning to slow down and listen to your body. Your spine, shoulders, and thighs will tell you how far to take the pose. The less you push, the more the pose will open up. Turn your awareness inward and notice how your body releases its grip when you don’t force it. Let your Bridge be a connection between your body, mind, and spirit.

Try It Out:

  1. Lie supine on the floor, and if necessary, place a thickly folded blanket under your shoulders to protect your neck. Bend your knees and set your feet on the floor, heels as close to the sitting bones as possible.

  2. Exhale and, pressing your inner feet and arms actively into the floor, push your tailbone upward toward the pubis, firming (but not hardening) the buttocks, and lift the buttocks off the floor. Keep your thighs and inner feet parallel. Clasp the hands below your pelvis and extend through the arms to help you stay on the tops of your shoulders.

  3. Lift your buttocks until the thighs are about parallel to the floor. Keep your knees directly over the heels, but push them forward, away from the hips, and lengthen the tailbone toward the backs of the knees. Lift the pubis toward the navel.

  4. Lift your chin slightly away from the sternum and, firming the shoulder blades against your back, press the top of the sternum toward the chin. Firm the outer arms, broaden the shoulder blades, and try to lift the space between them at the base of the neck (where it’s resting on the blanket) up into the torso.

  5. Stay in the pose anywhere from 30 seconds to 1 minute. Release with an exhalation, rolling the spine slowly down onto the floor.

  6. Seated Forward Bend


Benefits:

Seated forward bend, or paschimottanasana, stretches the spine, shoulders, pelvis, and hamstrings. It also stimulates and balances the liver, kidneys, adrenal glands, ovaries, and uterus. And while traditional yoga texts say Paschimottanasana can cure disease, modern-day yoga teachers agree to its many other benefits, which include relief from stress, improved digestion and appetite, relief from menstrual pain and symptoms of menopause, a calmer mind, reduced anxiety and fatigue, improved sleep and relief from insomnia. This pose is also believed to be therapeutic for high blood pressure, infertility, and sinusitis. It is reputed to be beneficial for overcoming obesity, as well.

Though Paschimottanasana can feel “intense,” it can be easy to push your body too much, seeking more intense sensations as signs of progress. Be careful not to misinterpret painful, sharp, or piercing sensations as positive signs! Back off if you are injuring yourself.

The more you relax in the pose, the more naturally your body will open up. Forcing forward folds will actually cause your muscles to shorten and resist even more. Breathe deeply and evenly. Settle into the moment. Turn your thoughts inward and allow resistance to gently fade away.

Try It Out:

  1. Sit on the floor with your buttocks supported on a folded blanket and your legs straight in front of you. Press actively through your heels. Rock slightly onto your left buttock, and pull your right sitting bone away from the heel with your right hand. Repeat on the other side. Turn the top thighs in slightly and press them down into the floor. Press through your palms or finger tips on the floor beside your hips and lift the top of the sternum toward the ceiling as the top thighs descend.

  2. Draw the inner groins deep into the pelvis. Inhale, and keeping the front torso long, lean forward from the hip joints, not the waist. Lengthen the tailbone away from the back of your pelvis. If possible take the sides of the feet with your hands, thumbs on the soles, elbows fully extended; if this isn’t possible, loop a strap around the foot soles, and hold the strap firmly. Be sure your elbows are straight, not bent.

  3. When you are ready to go further, don’t forcefully pull yourself into the forward bend, whether your hands are on the feet or holding the strap. Always lengthen the front torso into the pose, keeping your head raised. If you are holding the feet, bend the elbows out to the sides and lift them away from the floor; if holding the strap, lighten your grip and walk the hands forward, keeping the arms long. The lower belly should touch the thighs first, then the upper belly, then the ribs, and the head last.

  4. With each inhalation, lift and lengthen the front torso just slightly; with each exhalation release a little more fully into the forward bend. In this way the torso oscillates and lengthens almost imperceptibly with the breath. Eventually you may be able to stretch the arms out beyond the feet on the floor.

  5. Stay in the pose anywhere from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, first lift the torso away from the thighs and straighten the elbows again if they are bent. Then inhale and lift the torso up by pulling the tailbone down and into the pelvis.

  6. Balasana/Child’s Pose


Benefits:

The perfect way to wrap up your yoga therapy, Child’s Pose helps to stretch the hips, thighs, and ankles while reducing stress and fatigue. It gently relaxes the muscles on the front of the body while softly and passively stretching the muscles of the back torso.

This resting pose centers, calms, and soothes the brain, making it a therapeutic posture for relieving stress. When performed with the head and torso supported, it can also help relieve back and neck pain. Sometimes used as a counter-pose to backbends, Child’s Pose restores balance and equanimity to the body.

Life is the period between one breath and the next; the person who only half breathes, only half lives. He who breathes correctly acquires control of the whole being.

Regular practice of Child’s Pose also teaches conscious exploration of the breath. As the front of the body releases onto the thighs, the frontal ribs and abdominal muscles become slightly compressed. This restriction allows for a deeper opening of the back of the torso as the lungs expand behind the body. As this happens, keeping the breath slow, long, and steady allows for a new awareness of the breath’s path through the front and back of the body.

Try It Out:

  1. Kneel on the floor. Touch your big toes together and sit on your heels, then separate your knees about as wide as your hips.

  2. Exhale and lay your torso down between your thighs. Broaden your sacrum across the back of your pelvis and narrow your hip points toward the navel, so that they nestle down onto the inner thighs. Lengthen your tailbone away from the back of the pelvis while you lift the base of your skull away from the back of your neck.

  3. Lay your hands on the floor alongside your torso, palms up, and release the fronts of your shoulders toward the floor. Feel how the weight of the front shoulders pulls the shoulder blades wide across your back.

  4. Balasana is a resting pose. Stay anywhere from 30 seconds to a few minutes. Beginners can also use Balasana to get a taste of a deep forward bend, where the torso rests on the thighs. Stay in the pose from 1 to 3 minutes. To come up, first lengthen the front torso, and then with an inhalation lift from the tailbone as it presses down and into the pelvis.

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