Are you hunched over your phone all day? That smartphone may be handy, but it does have one drawback: a perpetually, often painfully crunched back and neck.
The average person uses their phone two to four hours daily, and high school students often far more. That’s hundreds, if not thousands, of hours per year spent with a lot of excess pressure on your spine.
One spinal surgeon has estimated looking down at a 45-degree angle puts almost 50 pounds of pressure on your neck — comparing it to carrying a child around your neck for hours a day.
For those of us who already sit at a computer to work, “text neck” only compounds existing posture problems. Yet daily posture is not just a question of physical strain: slumping can correlate with depression, while standing tall and strong brings about feelings of confidence and power.
If you find yourself frequently slumping — and have the sore neck, back, and shoulders to prove it — yoga can help. Not only can specific yoga poses counteract the slouch, but they’ll also increase body awareness and make good spinal alignment feel natural.
The following sequence should take about 15 minutes to complete. The poses will lengthen and stretch the hips, chest, and entire front of the body while strengthening the back and providing release for the neck. Perform them a few times a week, and you’ll be sitting and standing taller in no time.
1. Mountain pose. Begin standing and bring your feet together, heels slightly apart. (Your knees should have the slightest bend — don't lock them.) Let your arms hang gently by your sides, palms facing forward, pinkies back. Now, contract your abdomen while tucking your pelvis. To visualize this, imagine a bowl resting at your hips, and tilt the bowl slightly up so that any liquid inside is unable to spill. Experience how doing so naturally brings your shoulders back and neck upright while correcting any overcurvature (called lordosis) in your lower spine. You may feel a gentle stretch at your heart, the front of your shoulders, and the tops of your thighs. Hold for three breaths.
2. Standing forward bend. Step your feet to hip’s-width distance apart. Take opposite elbows and fold forward, bending your knees deeply. Focus on lengthening your torso and back from the “hinge” of your hips as you let your head and neck hang loosely between your knees. Take four breaths.
3. Runner’s lunge, right leg forward. To release from your forward bend, place your palms flat on the floor, keeping your knees bent. (If the floor seems too far, move your hands to blocks.) Step your left leg straight back, keeping your right leg bent at a 90-degree angle over your ankle. Maintain your spine and neck in a flat, neutral position, looking either to the floor or slightly ahead. Hold your left leg strong by firming your inner thigh and curling your toes under. The gentle yet powerful stretch through the hip of your back leg in this pose will help lengthen the front of your body, allowing your lower back maintain its natural curve when standing. Begin by holding this pose for 30 seconds and, if you can, work up to one to two minutes.
4. Downward Dog. From your lunge, step your right leg back to come into Downward Dog. With your feet at hips’ width distance, press your hands and heels into the floor and lift your hips. Try to keep your middle and index fingers pointing forward while microbending your elbows (don’t lock them) and hugging your arms to your sides. Your spine, head, and neck should line up in a neutral position, or you can let your head hang comfortably. Focus on rolling your shoulders down your back, or try pushing forward with your hands while deeply bending your knees to get a full stretch down the length of your spine. Rest here for four breaths.
5. Runner’s lunge, left leg forward. From Downward Dog, step your right leg back and come into a high lunge. Hold the pose for as long as you did on the right side. Then take Downward Dog for four breaths.
6. Locust. From Downward Dog, lower to the floor till you’re lying flat on your belly, arms by your sides. (You may want to pad your hips and pelvis with a blanket.) To come into Locust, lift your arms and legs gently to the same degree, holding your torso off the ground as if you were “flying.” Point your fingers behind you, keeping your arms parallel to the floor, and firm your back legs. (For a variation with less of a chest stretch, try pointing your arms forward in “Superman” position.) Look down or forward to your degree of comfort, keeping the back of your neck long. This pose is a powerful stretch for your shoulders, arms, and front of your body, while it simultaneously strengthens your back muscles, helping align standing posture. Hold here for three to five breaths, then come back to the floor and rest for one breath. Repeat once more for three to five breaths.
7. Supported Savasana. This resting pose helps open your chest, counteracting slumped shoulders. Place a blanket, bolster, or firm pillow beneath your back, parallel to your torso and stopping at the middle of your shoulder blades, so your chest arcs upward slightly. You can put a small pillow beneath your head if that’s more comfortable, but try to have your head resting slightly below the chest. Then, allow your head to hang loosely and comfortably as you recline on your back and fully relax into this final pose. Rest here for at least 90 seconds, gently bringing your attention to your breath, or for as long as you’d like.
July 08, 2016
Janet O’Dell, RN