We regret to inform you that your mother was right all along: you need to stop slouching. Many of our spines are paying the toll of our new commute-free, lunchtime-stroll-free lifestyle. It’s a crick in your neck here, a nagging pain in your shoulder blade there. Here are five simple things you can do to help your back stay happy and healthy.
Standing up straight is about more than etiquette, it’s essential for your health. Take this simple test to check you’re standing correctly. Stand with your back to a wall. The back of your head, shoulders, elbows, lower back and wrists should all be touching it. Slowly sweep your arms out to the side and up overhead over your head until they’re in a goalpost position. Repeat 10 times. If you’re not able to keep any of the points touching the wall, you may not have the core strength necessary to maintain correct posture.
Work on fixing this by regularly checking in with yourself. Are your shoulders back? Is your head held high? Lower back engaged? Any signs of slumping or slouching? By making a habit of these posture checks, you can help support and maintain a healthy spine.
STRETCH IT OUT
Yoga is one of the easiest ways to keep your back feeling stretched and relaxed. Look for sequences that focus on 360º spinal mobility, such as cat/cow pose, downward facing dog, or cobra. Also, hip openers like pigeon pose and figure four stretch can help balance hidden stressors on your spine.
An easy sequence for nurturing your spine might look like this: start on your hands and knees, with your spine in a neutral table-top position. Inhale, looking up to the ceiling and arching your belly towards the mat. Stay in this position for a beat, then exhale deeply, rounding your face downwards and your back up towards the sky. Feel the elongation down your spine. Repeat this five times. After your next inhale, curl your toes under, spread your fingers and toes wide against the mat and push yourself up into downward facing dog. Push actively with your hands, feeling your shoulders flex and elongate. Stay in this pose for five breaths, then shift your weight forward into a high plank. Gently lower yourself to the ground, elbows to your side. Adjust yourself so your hands are under your shoulders, then ease your torso upwards, face looking up. Release and repeat.
STEP AWAY FROM YOUR SCREEN
At home, our setup may be less than the ergonomic ideal. Straining to peer into a tiny laptop sitting on your desk can take a toll on your shoulder and neck muscles. After every 55 minutes at your screen, take those remaining 5 minutes away from your desk. Stand up, stretch. Walk around a little. Roll your shoulders back and down, nod your head back and forth. Try massaging away the tension with your fingers. Your back will thank you.
WORK YOUR CORE
We always say it, but it’s true: your core is one of the most important parts of your body. That band of muscles around your stomach and back does more than just look good during bikini season: it supports you while you’re standing upright and keeps you balanced. Treat yours to this challenging yet relaxing yoga and Pilates workout.
DE-STRESS WITH MEDITATION
One of the secret causes of back pain is stress. When you encounter a stressful situation the most ancient part of your brain kicks in, sending you into fight or flight mode. Your muscles tense, your shoulders pull upward, and your breathing accelerates. Adrenaline floods your bloodstream. It’d all be very useful if you were face-to-face with a cave bear in an ancient forest – but today, when all you’re facing is an irritating conference call, it just overloads your system and put pressure on your spine.
Luckily, we can tamp down our stress response through meditation. This simple body scan exercise takes only 10 minutes, and can work marvels on your sense of calm and connection to your inner self. Give yourself a moment before the start of your workday or in the middle of your afternoon to find peace and unclench your back.