If hunching over a desk all day has made your mid back unhappy, relief is just a few stretches away.
Movements that elongate the spine, stretch the front and back of the body, and build muscle to improve your posture are like medicine to soothe the aches.
Some of these stretches can be done anywhere. You might even take short breaks during the day to stretch the back and dissolve tension as it builds. Simply move away from your desk and stretch away!
These gentle spinal movements are an excellent way to warm the body up for more difficult postures, while releasing stiffness in the mid back.
- Start on all fours with your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips. Feel free to rest your knees on a blanket if you feel discomfort.
- Spread your fingers wide and distribute weight evenly throughout your hand. Press your palms and finger pads into the ground to avoid dumping weight into the wrist.
- Inhale, gently sending your pelvis upward and your heart forward, dipping your belly down and your face up.
- Exhale. Arch your back like a cat, rounding your spine, tucking in your pelvis, and letting your head hang loose.
- Repeat 5-7 times, feeling your spine begin to open, allowing the stretch to deepen as you warm up.
2. Passive backbend
After a long day at work, a passive backbend can help relieve tension. Hold this pose for as long as you like, preferably for at least three minutes. Incorporating this stretch into your daily routine will dramatically increase back flexibility, reduce tension, and improve your posture.
This variation uses props you can find at home, but feel free to use yoga blocks if you have them.
- Roll up a blanket, towel, or yoga mat. Place the roll on the floor. If using a yoga mat, you may want to roll only part of it, depending on your back flexibility and the mat’s thickness. A bigger roll requires more flexibility while a smaller one offers a more gentle release.
- Lie on the roll so it rests against the bottom of your shoulder blades, close to the middle of your back. If you’d like to use yoga blocks for a deeper version of this backbend, place one block under your shoulders and a second under your head. Elevate your head as much as necessary so your neck feels supported.
- Relax into the posture, placing a second blanket under your head as a pillow if necessary. Keep your breath long and deep.
3. Seated twist
Twists are a wonderful way to release the mid back and improve flexibility. In yoga philosophy, twists help to wring out the internal organs and encourage detoxification.
During the twist, keep the spine long by sitting up straight. Twists are designed to elongate the spine, but the turning action can compress the vertebrae if the back is rounded. Many students try to access a deeper twist by hunching over, but to access the true benefits of the posture, keep the spine long.
- Sit cross-legged if possible or in a chair.
- Inhale, sit up tall, and place your right hand behind you, bringing your left hand to your right knee.
- Exhale and gently twist your heart to the right. Lengthen through the spine, feeling the twist wring out tension in the middle of your back. Bring attention to the heart area and feel the back open. Do not over-twist by pulling on your knee or twisting too aggressively.
- Gaze over your right shoulder only as far as your neck will allow. Hold for 3-5 breaths and release to center, staying at center for one breath cycle.
- Repeat on the other side for the same amount of time. Repeat both sides if desired.
4. Cobra Pose
This gentle backbend both stretches and strengthens the back.
It can be tempting to use the arm muscles to access a deeper backbend, but focusing on engaging the back muscles is a more effective way to release back tension and build muscle to improve posture. Improved posture will help tension from accumulating in the back.
- Lie on your stomach, body long, chin on the mat or face down. Place your hands underneath your shoulders.
- Inhale and curl your chest off the ground, engaging your back muscles. You might even lift your hands up off the ground for a moment to test how much you’re engaging through the back.
- Press lightly into your hands to deepen the stretch. About 95 percent of the bend should come from the back, with just a little extra push coming from the hands.
- Hold for 2 breaths and release. Repeat 2 more times.
5. Bridge Pose
Another gentle back opener and strengthener, Bridge Pose also gently opens the front body. This pose places slight pressure on the neck. Be sure to keep your gaze up to a single point on the ceiling, refraining from turning your head.
- Lie on your back, bend your knees, and place your feet flat on the floor a few inches away from your tailbone. Your fingers should be able to touch your heels.
- Press your shoulders into the floor and gently tuck them further to your back, so that your chest puffs out slightly forward.
- Press into your feet and send your hips up to the sky.
- Clasp your hands underneath you, pressing into your arms and feet to lift your hips gently toward the ceiling.
- Bring awareness to your upper back, behind your heart area, and consciously send your chest toward the wall behind you. This helps bring the backbend out of the lower back and more toward the middle and upper back.
- Stay for 5-7 breaths before gently lowering down, unclasping the hands, and bringing them to rest at your side.
- Repeat 3 more times, moving slowly and mindfully as you enter and exit the posture.
Suzanne Heyn is a yoga teacher, meditation expert, and mindfulness writer based in Phoenix. Her work has appeared on popular sites like the Huffington Post and MindBodyGreen. She blogs at www.ModernYogi.today.