Day 12 #SFYMindfulMay #upperback – If you’re experiencing stiffness or pain in your shoulders in yoga poses such as child’s pose (#balasana) or downward dog (#adhomukhasvanasana), in addition to opening your shoulders with the poses with straps I posted earlier, consider adding this supported upper back stretch to bring mobility to your spine. Use a foam roller, a bolster, or roll up a beach towel and place it underneath your shoulder blades at the bra strap; laying on your roller with cactus arms point your elbows down towards the ground and the bolster should touch your forearms. Choose a bolster/roller with the appropriate firmness and height so that you can touch or almost touch your elbows to the floor and which allows you to relax on the bolster without pain. Initial discomfort or tightness is typical and can be relieved as you stay and breathe in this pose. But, if your breath remains shallow, you feel like dropping f-bombs, or you’re clenching your face or jaw, then roll off that bolster slowly onto your side into a fetal position. Take a few breaths in this fetal pose to let intensity in your back to settle down. Slowly use your hands to push up to a seated position, then look for a towel or blanket you can roll up to minimize the intensity in this upper back opener. You may also want to start this pose just on the mat without any support under your back.
Consider staying in this pose with your arms out to a T or above your head. If you experience pinching in the back of your neck then place a pillow under your head. Explore placing support under the backs of your hands such as blocks or a cushion to see if this allows you to better relax your arms and the front of the chest and shoulders. Keep your shoulders down from your ears and let the fronts of your shoulders and chest relax, let your back sink into the roller. Bend your knees with the soles of your feet wide on your mat. Start with 5 slow, even ujjayi breaths. Over time build up to laying in this pose for 5 minutes. Deepen this pose by increasing the height of the rounded support under your back or progressing to use a yoga block at different heights.
Often stiffness in shoulders is connected to tightness in the upper back. Bringing mobility in your thoracic spine, (the upper third section of your spine), will give increase ease and access to all your yoga poses as well as improving your overall posture and health.
Be mindful in any yoga pose, consulting your doctor if you have known back or neck issues. And, breathe…slowly, intentionally, fully, and joyfully.
Day 10 – On your knees with a cushion, or sitting in a chair, start holding a strap wider than your shoulders above your head, reach up from your tailbone with a long spine and neutral pelvis, then lean to the right with straight arms. Keep slight tension on the strap with a loose grip in the hands. Keep length in both sides of the waist as you inhale length in the spine, then exhale leaning to the right continuing to gently pull on the strap with straight arms.
Choose a comfortable position for your neck with your shoulders softened down from your ears, allowing for space on both sides of your neck. Either gaze up towards your top hand or straight ahead. Continue this stretch for five breaths being mindful to breathe through the lenghtening and release through the shoulder and the QL (quadratus lumborum).
You may feel this stretch all the way from the outside of your left leg (IT band), up through the waist (the QL), near the armpit (the lattisimus dorsi), the outside of the arm (the tricep) and to the wrist. Breathe slowly and avoid collapsing into the right waist; keep the right side long. Keep the muscles in the face and your gaze soft. Invite the softening and lengthening throughout your side body.
After your fifth exhale, inhale back to center with your arms evenly above your head, connect to your long spine and neutral pelvis, then exhale to repeat this stretch leaning towards the left side. Continue lengthening and reaching for five breaths. Keep the arms straight and long, gently keeping tension on your strap, and keeping space on both sides of your waist, and both sides of your long neck. Keep your shoulders down from your ears. Continue breathing slowly, inhaling and exhaling through the nostrils, and keep your face and gaze soft.
After your fifth exhale, inhale back to center, gently drop the strap then close your eyes, sit back on your heels, set your hands on your thighs, breathe and feel what you feel. Repeat one more set on each side. With each breath, keep that spine long and feel the expansion in your rib cage on both sides, into your back, and under your collarbones. With each inhale, keep the shoulders down from the ears.
Enjoy the openness in your shoulders and back. Notice how this pose creates space in your abdomen and invites expansion for your breath. Sigh and smile. Namaste…
Day 9 – Start standing in prasarita, wide-legged foward fold, and clasp your hands behind your back or grab a strap, gently pulling the strap apart about shoulder width. Breathe your heart open, shoulders down, root down into your tadasana legs and feet, then hinge at the hips, folding forward with a long spine. Let your arms or strap come away from your body towards the ground. Hold for five breaths, gently squeezing the shoulder blades together. Keep the neck long with the shoulders down from the ears.
Photo note: to take these photos I set up my self-timer on my Nikon D7000. Unfortunately, my blooper was not caught on camera. In the bottom photo where I was reaching my arms towards the ground, my wrists reached Paco’s back and I completely somersaulted and landed on top of him…which he loved! LOL
Day 5 – grab a strap, gently pulling the strap apart to create some tension as you bring the strap behind your back. Breathe through the sticky spots as you stretch through your shoulder joints. Softly engage your core and adjust your tailbone to avoid overarching your lower back. Bring the hands closer on the strap with each rep as your shoulders open up. Be mindful of your posture and keeping your arms straight as you bring the strap above and behind your back. Do this pose “standing” on your knees, or release tension in the arches of your feet by tucking the toes, sitting on your heels and coming into a toe squat. Do as many reps as you like…enjoy!
Because of a recently diagnosed frozen shoulder and my awareness of so many of my yoga students reporting shoulder tightness and pain, I am committing to extra TLC for shoulders! Right now I can’t grasp my fingers but, with the help of a strap I am reaching towards clasping them again!
Hold the pose on each side for 5 breaths, slowly reaching your fingers of each hand towards each other, and gently pulling the strap using the top hand, helping the bottom hand reach up the back. Repeat on the other side, then repeat both sides again to complete two full sets.
Remember to breathe and post your progress on this month’s #SFYMindfulMay instagram challenge!
Here’s to happy, free shoulders!