Sitting tall is a hard habit to learn, and if you don’t, a variety of postural issues can begin to affect your musculoskeletal system. Whether you are sitting at a desk, driving your car, or watching television, it’s always a good idea to focus on lifting your chest toward the sky to help align each vertebra on top of the one below. This “stacking of your spine” will help the other parts of your kinetic chain to fall into place. Yoga has many benefits that will not only help your body to align properly, but bring awareness and mindfulness to your body as a whole integrative system. A common postural issue we see these days is called Upper Crossed Syndrome, which is described in detail below.
Upper Crossed Syndrome
· Characterized by: Rounded shoulders and a forward head posture. Shoulders are depressed, hands rolled inward over the thighs. This pattern is common in individuals who sit a lot or who develop pattern overload from uni-dimensional exercise.
· Short Muscles: Pectoralis major and minor, latissimus dorsi, teres major, upper trapezius, levator scapulae, sternocleidomastoid, scalenes.
· Lengthened Muscles: Lower and middle trapezius, serratus anterior, rhomboids, teres minor, infraspinatus, posterior deltoid, and deep cervical flexors.
· Common injuries: Rotator cuff impingement, shoulder instability, biceps tendonitis, thoracic outlet syndrome, headaches.
Most of us are rounded forward in our chest to some degree. Heart Opening poses have several benefits for all of us–especially for this type of musculoskeletal misalignment. In heart opening poses, you work toward opening tight muscles on the front portion of the body while activating the lengthened and weak muscles on the posterior portion of the trunk. In the poses below, we will target specific muscles and muscle groups in the kinetic chain.
1.) Name: Anuvittasana or Standing Backbend
Basic Shape: Start Standing. Cactus your elbows out to the side.
Go Deeper: Press feet into the ground. Roll your inner thighs back and hug them toward one another. Lengthen your tailbone down to create space in your spine. Draw your scapula down and in toward your spine. Broaden your collarbones and reach your heart towards the sky. Draw your front ribs back.
2.) Name: Dhanurasana or Floor Bow Pose
Basic Shape: Lay prone. Bend your knees and grab the inside of your feet or grab the outside of your feet if the previous is unavailable.
Go Deeper: Hug of your inner thighs toward one another. Lengthen your tailbone toward the back of your knees. Soften your glutes. Draw your navel in and up. Retract your shoulder blades. Broaden your chest. Lift your toes and the crown of your head toward the sky.
3.) Name: Ustrasana or Camel Pose
Basic Shape: Start standing on your knees with knees hip width distance apart. Toes tucked or untucked. Place your hands on either side of your SI Joint. Stack your hips over knees. Lift your heart upward and bend back.
Go Deeper: Firm your inner thighs and internally rotate them slightly. Lengthen your tailbone down. Soften your glutes. Lift your low belly up and in. Retract your shoulder blades. Stay long in the back of your neck. Imagine a string attached to your sternum lifting you up. Reach for your heals if you can maintain the integrity of engagement throughout your body and the lift of your chest. Resist bending solely in your lumbar spine.
4.) Name: Bhujangasana or Cobra Pose
Basic Shape: Start prone. Untuck your toes. Place your hands by your chest with your hands light on the ground. Lift your chest forward and up. Lengthen the back of your neck.
Go Deeper: Press your toe nails into the ground so hard that your knees and shins lift. Focus on pressing into your pinky toe nails to disengage your glutes slightly. Lengthen your tailbone back and tone your navel in. Traction your palms lightly back and reach your heart heart forward and up while you slide your scapula on the back of your ribs. Lengthen the crown of your head toward the sky.
5.) Name: Sukhasana Variation or Seated Lateral Stretch
Basic Shape: Start seated with your legs crossed. Release your right hand to the ground and lift your left hand up and over to the right.
Go Deeper: Ground both into the earth. Lift your chest upwards. Remain long in both sides of your torso as if lifting up and over a beach ball. Continue to lift the top of your head so you feel lightness and even a mild stretch in your neck. Reach actively through your fingertips.
6.) Name: Neck Stretches
Part 1: Basic Shape: Start seated tall. Gaze forward. Release your right ear toward your right shoulder.
Part 1: Go Deeper: Ground your hips into the earth. Sit tall. Retract and depress your left scapula. Relax your left arm and hand. Breathe. To add more stretch place your right hand on the top of your head and lightly guide movement in the direction of the stretch.
Part 2:Basic Shape: Start seated tall. Turn your chin toward your right shoulder and tilt in down.
Part 2: Go Deeper: Root you hips down. Lift your chest. Retract and depress your left scapula. Relax your left arm and hand. Breathe. To add more stretch, place your right hand on the top of your head and lightly guide movement in the direction of the stretch.
7.) Name: Halasana or Plow Pose
Basic Shape: Start supine. Lift your legs toward the sky. Place your hands by your low back. Lift your hips and shimmy your shoulders underneath you. Place hands at hips for support and reach your feet up and over toward the ground.
Go Deeper: Hug elbows inwards. Press your shoulders and triceps down. Draw your belly in. Lift your hips and stack them over your shoulders. Lightly place your toes on the earth and reach long through your heels. If your toes do not touch the earth you can place a block beneath them for support.
-Laurel Van Den Cline, Yoga Therapist at True Motion