If you spend most of your waking time sitting in front of a computer, the chances are you have experienced upper back and neck pain, stiffness in your thorax and even changes to your posture such as hunched back and shoulders rolling forward.
In yoga, when we focus on spinal mobility, it’s often about twisting and bending from our waste, that is from our lumbar spine, which is already very mobile. It takes a skilled teacher to guide you into subtler movements and help you direct your twists and bends higher up towards the thorax. Giving a bit of love and attention to your thoracic spine goes a long way, and helps with prevention, conditioning and with undoing of the existing stiffness and discomfort.
What else may you resolve with healthy and mobile thoracic spine? There’s a major positive spill-over effect on your shoulders and neck, as well as overall posture. One of my favorite benefits of well-functioning thorax is certainly space and freedom to breathe. Your lungs are sitting right in your thoracic cage and your diaphragm, your breathing muscle, is attached to your lower ribs. If your body has the space it needs to breathe efficiently, you’re a step closer to pain-free, radiant life.
What can you do to keep your thorax free and mobile? Here is a mobility practice with five of my favorite exercises. You can use the below video as a self-standing practice, or you weave the exercises into your yoga asana or exercise routine.
If you have very little time or want to plug the individual exercises into your movement routine, here's a little overview.
Start with easy natural breath.
Gently direct your breath into the sides of your ribcage and the back of your heart.
When you’re comfortable, breath in for count of 5, breathe out for count of 5.
On your next breath, breathe in for 6, out for 6.
Continue adding one second to each part of your breath up to 10:10. Your breath should be smooth, relaxed and easy. If you feel like you can go on, continue up to 15:15.
Start on all 4, knees aligned with hips, wrists with shoulders.
Round your back, relax your pelvis, engage your navel towards the spine.
Start rolling your tailbone up. Move very slowly. Continue with your sacrum, low back, middle back, upper back. Head goes last. Look straight forward. Then reverse.
Roll back into round back, little by little from tailbone up. Head moves last.
Repeat 5 times.
Breathe easy for the duration of the exercise.
Thread the Needle
Stay on all 4.
With inhale, open through your right arm leading with your shoulder and chest.
Exhale, bring your right arm through the gap between your left knee and wrist. Reach through.
Then stay in the lower position at the end for 3-5 breaths, gently pressing into your right shoulder, neck in extension of your spine.
Repeat to the other side.
Lie down on your side, with a suitable prop under your head.
Bring your knees towards your chest, then straighten your bottom leg to the extent that is comfortable for you.
Extend your arms in front of you.
Start bringing your top arm close to the ground (as close as your body allows you, no straining) over head.
Continue until you draw a full half circle with your arm.
Slowly rotate back.
Repeat 5-10x on each side.
Thoracic Block Supported Drill
Grab a block or a foam roller and place it so that you can rest your middle back on it (the area of your bra or heart monitor strap).
Interlace your fingers behind your head without pulling the head forward. Elbows point forward.
With exhale, engage your abdominals. Keep them strong.
Inhale, slowly tilt back over the prop without flaring your ribs. Don’t release your belly.
Slowly come back.
That's it, dear friend. If you enjoyed this post, I'd love for you to share your thoughts in the comments. You can also connect with me by subscribing to my mailing list (there's a free e-book that you'll receive with that called How to Breathe, yai!) and/or to my YouTube channel.
I look forward to sharing yoga with you next week!