Sitting at a desk the whole day can tighten and strain the muscles of the neck, shoulders and back. If the posture is not right, it can lead to cervical spondylosis (a painful degenerative condition of the neck vertebrae) and back problems. Regular practice of yoga helps you become more aware of your body and you start to pay attention to your spine. Here are four simple stretches to keep your muscles relaxed and help you maintain a correct posture through the day.
Why you should do it: This pose opens the chest, decreasing rounded shoulders and releasing tightness in the middle back. In addition, it helps decrease kyphosis (extreme forward curvature of the thoracic spine).
Getting started: Sit on the edge of a chair and place your hands behind you on the top of the backrest. Lean slightly forward. Exhale and relax your shoulders away from your ears. If your hands do not reach the top of
the chair’s backrest, clasp the sides and pull your chest forward, relaxing your shoulders and opening your upper chest. Hold for 10-15 breaths, sinking into the stretch. With an exhalation, slowly release your hands and bring them down by your sides. Sit for a while and notice how your back feels more open and relaxed.
The count: Repeat once.
Why you should do it: Twists are the best thing to do if you are sitting for long periods of time. Twisting helps release all the muscles in your back (particularly in the middle back) that have been locked into position from sitting for a long time. They also help open up the chest and shoulders.
Getting started: Sit to the front of your chair and swivel your body over one side. Make sure you are sitting on your sit bones. Inhale and lengthen your spine. Then, while exhaling, twist to face the back of the chair, holding on to either side of the backrest with both hands. Consciously relax the muscles in your back and gently twist a little farther, trying to get your chest parallel to the backrest. Drop your shoulder blades down gently. Lift your chest and breathe into your rib cage, taking slow, long breaths. Stay in the pose for 10-15 breaths. Return to your centre with an exhalation and repeat on the opposite side.
The count: Once for each side.
Why you should do it: This stretch is particularly good for a stiff and compressed neck. You can feel how it lengthens and stretches the neck, creating space between each of the vertebrae in the cervical area.
Getting started: Sit upright without letting your back touch the backrest of the chair. You can also do this standing. Align your head directly over your spine so you can feel the crown of your head lifting towards the ceiling to correct your posture. Breathe in, and on the exhalation, drop your right ear towards your right shoulder, without turning your head and without lifting your shoulders. Breathe in and out three-five times, feeling the stretch on the left side of your neck. Visualize your neck and spine lengthening. Slowly straighten your head to upright position and switch sides to repeat the sequence.
The count: Repeat twice with each side.
Why you should do it: Movement is one of the best things for your back if you’ve been sitting in the same position for a while. This particular movement helps relieve tension in the upper back and shoulders, where the trapezius muscle is located and where most of the tightness accumulates during the day.
Getting started: Sit upright; inhale as you lift your right shoulder to your ear. Exhale as you slowly circle your shoulder around and back, dropping it away from your ear. Continue these shoulder rolls three more times, alternating right and left.
Now, inhale as you lift both shoulders up to the ears. Exhale as you circle them around and back again.
The count: Repeat five times.
Maya Rao is a Mumbai-based authorized Ashtanga yoga teacher who conducts private classes.
Photographs by Abhijit Bhatlekar/Mint
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