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Hey everyone! I recently did a podcast on back care based on what I learned in my 300 hour teacher training (which I just finished, woot woot!), and I’m excited to host a Yoga for Strength and Self Care workshop in Chicago, June 18th, to talk more about postural awareness and how we can bring more balance to our bodies and a Back Care workshop at Namaslay® Studios to dive even deeper into pain-free living. Today, our Editorial Director, Ashley, talks about a few things she does to balance out her body’s posture during the work day. More to come on this, so leave any questions in the comments! xo- Candace
Most of my day is spent in a box. I drive to work, knees bent, shoulders hunched over my steering wheel. I sit at my desk in the same position, typing away, making phone calls, and scrolling on my cell phone. If I don’t make it a point to move my body in some other way, through yoga or a gym workout, I can easily end the day in the same position, seated in a chair watching Netflix or reading. This is how so many people live their lives, inside these tiny squares of movement, never breaking the patterns to which their bodies have become accustomed. The work of inactive muscles gets picked up by other muscles, taxing them disproportionately and impacting an entire chain from head to toe. We become imbalanced and the compensatory patterns we develop can eventually cause pain and lead to injury.
I was complaining of shoulder pain recently, and my boyfriend mentioned when I feel stressed, anxious, or even just uncomfortable, my right shoulder creeps up by my ear. I stop paying attention to my breath and posture in these moments and rely on my neck and shoulders to keep my breath moving. Ideally, I would maintain a strong core, standing firmly through my feet, and breathing into my belly, but old habits die hard. He introduced me to a few exercises which ring true to my yoga brain and coincide with much of what Candace has offered in her recent post on back pain. We must recruit the larger muscles that lie dormant in our sedentary lifestyles to do their jobs, thus freeing up our smaller muscles to play the roles they’re meant for, reducing pain and increasing comfortable ranges of motion.
I’ve learned a few things, through yoga, reading and my own experience, that change the way I warm up for yoga or just pause in my day to bring a little attention to myself. The body works as a closely integrated unit, so a weak, inactive muscle in one area can impact your balance and muscle groups in others. Strengthening a weak muscle is important, but it’s not necessarily enough to work a specific muscle group if it’s not used to firing properly. The compensating muscles may still take on the bulk of the work, and your movement may not yield the best results. To allow my shoulders to soften from my ears, and reduce low back pain, I’ve been using these simple exercises to wake up my glutes, allow release in my hamstrings and hip flexors and engage my core for more mindful movements in my yoga practice, workouts and regular routine.
1. Legs in a chair (static back) - Lie on your back with both legs bent at right angles on a chair. It’s simple enough, but the work here is to bring your full attention to breathing from your diaphragm and imagine release in your hip flexors. It helps to bring your arms to a T with palms facing up. The muscles of your low back are actually doing some stability work here, and if you can sit still for 5-10 minutes at a time, breathing deeply, you’ll feel a difference.
You can also try the static wall variation pictured below. Get your hips as close to the wall as you can before sending your legs up. Flex your feet, drawing your toes toward your face. Breathe and let your shoulders melt into the floor.
2. In line glute squeezes - Stand with one foot in front of the other, like you’re walking a tight rope. Bring your hands to your glutes and squeeze them together. I sometimes teach this in class and ask my students to imagine cracking a walnut with their butt cheeks (they laugh, but it works). Notice if you struggle to engage one glute more than the other. By bringing your weight slightly more into the front foot, you may notice the opposite glute is easier to fire. Do both sides. I usually pulse for a 15-20 reps, then hold for a few seconds, and occasionally I’ll spend more time with my left foot forward as it’s the side I need more activation in to bring balance to my right shoulder.
3. Elbow curls - Stand against a wall, bringing heels and sacrum to touch it. (I was instructed to bring the back of my head to the wall too, but my butt is too big for this to feel natural - so modify for your body.) Bring your hands, thumbs down and palms forward, to your temples. Draw your elbows in line with your shoulders and slowly bring them together in front of you, keeping the hands in place. 25 reps is great.
These exercises are simple enough, don’t take much time, and really help me feel what sensations should arise when the proper muscles are doing their jobs. We can build the strength and stability, but we have to understand what it feels like in our bodies to engage muscles that have been sleeping. Once you have a little more internal awareness, and you’re getting more reactivity in the sleepy glutes (or wherever you need focus), I think you’ll notice an impact in your yoga practice, weightlifting and other movement routines.
I’d love to hear from you in the comments, if you have any other exercises or questions to share! You can also find me on Instagram @breathingbird. Thanks for being here!