Sunday, June 3, 2012

Work Bringing You Down? Try These Scapular Retraction Exercises to Straighten Up!

At the start of each yoga and pilates class I teach, I ask those in attendance what part of their body they wish to focus on that particular class. The most common request is the upper back and shoulders.

So many people spend a large majority of their day sitting in a chair or driving a car that they find themselves losing track of "good posture". Their shoulders appear to round in toward their chest. The muscles on the back of the body are over stretched and those in the front body are too short. Since quitting the job that causes the problem is not a possibility, daily stretching can combat the daily wear and tear on the body.

If you have an opportunity to attend a pilates or yoga class, that would be a great way for an instructor to guide you and give you in-person attention. If you are unable to attend a class and are wondering what you can do on your own, there are many stretches, both passive and active.

Yoga Journal has a variety of poses (in a variety of levels of difficulty) that can be done to stretch the shoulders.

One of my favorite poses to start a class when people have asked for a chest opener is to do a SLOW seated twist. My instructions are a modification of this image, although the stretch can be done from this position. At the start of the class I ask students to sit in a simple cross-leg pose with their ankles under their knees and shins in line with the front of the mat (fringe benefit: hip opener!). Students are reminded to stack their spine one vertebra on top of another as if they were stacking Lego blocks (imagine the length that comes from the interlocking Lego spaces). I ask them to extend their shoulders in the direction of opposite walls and allow the crown of the head to float to the sky. (In classes where the same group comes often and knows one another...sometimes we sit back-to-back)

To perform the twist to start to open the upper spine, take the left hand to the ground behind you and take the right had across the left thigh. Start with a deep inhalation and draw the shoulders to the ears. Exhale and draw them down your back, imagining holding a quarter between your shoulder blades as they descend. Inhale and lengthen the spine, exhale and turn JUST the belly button to the left. Inhale a second time and turn the belly a bit more then turn the hear to the left. Inhale a third time and turn the belly a bit more, thoracic spine a bit more, and finally turn the gaze in the direction of the left shoulder. Inhale in the twist and use the right hand to help twist more, wringing the belly like a washcloth. REPEAT the process on the other side.

This seated twist is not only a good way to start a yoga class but a way to restore while sitting in a chair at work or recovering at home after a long day. If you are sitting in a chair, the hand that goes on teh floor can rest on the back of the chair.

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