by Angela Clark
We all want to stand up tall when we’re 108 years old, don’t we? Unfortunately a lot of our modern lifestyle hinders the development of a strong back. From sitting in chairs, to working on laptops, texting on smart phones, fatigue, and improper alignment while exercising, working out or attending yoga class can exacerbate poor posture. So, where does that leave us? Lower back pain, neck pain, maybe even tension headaches, or a wide array of other injuries, weaknesses, or general discomforts.
We recognize that not all discomfort is avoidable and some back issues really need the intervention of a professional, but here are three simple yoga poses to inform the mind of your body’s placement in space, help you stand up tall, and maintain a stronger back.
1. Urdhva Hastasana (Arms Up Pose) Doing this pose on the back will give a firm sense of your back body (and not just because you are lying on your back). It will make you aware of just how much you need to engage from the legs to the core (aka, the transverse abdominus) to keep the spine long and extended rather than bowing into habitual patterns.
We start with the arms reaching towards the ceiling to make sure the muscles of the back are engaged before we bring them up and overhead.
Getting into the pose:
- Begin by finding Tadasana (Mountain Pose) on your back.
- Flex the ankle joints so the toes face the ceiling and draw back on the outer edges of your feet.
- Ground the thighs towards the floor, paying special attention to the inner thighs drawing down
- Think width across the sacral area (back of pelvis)
- Allow the back ribs to descend to the floor, and widen the upper back
- Extend your arms to the ceiling with a block between the palms (no gripping with the fingers).
- Do not let your elbows bend.
- Try and touch your fingers to the ceiling. The shoulders will come away from the floor a little, allowing the scapulae to do their upward rotation, as you begin to raise your arms alongside the ears
- Build the hold for up to 2 minutes or 50 breaths
- If you have shoulder limitation use blankets to support the arms (see photo)
2. Plank Pose: Although this seems solely core, once again you have to connect your legs and your arms to your core not let the back sag. Hold this long enough and your core muscles help support your spine!
3. Shalabhasana (Locust Pose): Usually we do this one lying directly on the floor but I’m going to have you set up on two blocks (or books of the same thickness) and a blanket.
- Place one block under the pelvis and second one under the lower ribs and abdomen. Notice there will be some space between the blocks but how much space depends on the length of your torso.
- Make sure the block is supporting your lower rib-cage, otherwise your belly will drop through the two blocks sinking the lower back.
- Place the blanket on top of the blocks for a little extra padding and lift the legs, head and chest. You can extend your arms forward or keep them by your side.
- Lift the upper body with your chest, not your chin by maintaining length in the back of the neck.
- Hold for 10-15 breathes – repeat!