I just presented a special yoga class for our Concord food co-op, this week. More than a dozen students showed up at the Yoga Center to focus on healing their neck and shoulder issues — it’s a very “popular” area of the body for pain and tension!
Though we eventually explored a number of helpful warm-ups and postures, and investigated postural alignment and improvements, I also wanted to make something clear, right up front. Here’s what I told them:
Yoga is not a “pill” that you can take for one hour a week, and expect that it will automatically fix you. There are one hundred and sixty-seven other hours in this week – what you do during that time will determine just how healthy you and your body are.
To be clear: A good yoga class does open your body in helpful ways, which will leave you feeling both relaxed and energized. A really great class, though, will also inspire you to adopt healthy new habits, and learn to become more present, conscious, and mindful in your day-to-day life. (In fact, that’s exactly what yoga is historically designed to do — transform our lives.)
On the other hand, when you simply repeat the same well-worn behavior patterns in between classes – the consistent unconscious habits that created the tension, stiffness, pain, weight gain, etc. that you are experiencing now – then you will undoubtedly be stuck with the very same undesirable results you’ve always gotten.
What do you say we get out of that rut!
Below are two practical things you can do today, in your daily life. These can help you begin some healthy habits that will dramatically improve your spinal health, and purge the pain and stiffness from your neck, shoulders, and lower back.
TIPS: Sit Up Tall
If you read no further than this, try doing one thing before you go — sit up a bit taller.
Whenever we sit (or stand) tall, our spine elongates and finds its perfect, most natural alignment. This is a good thing! Lengthening upward like this creates proper spacing between each of our spine’s pairs of vertebrae – and this spaciousness relieves (potentially harmful) pressure on our discs. It also allows our spinal cord to function in an unimpinged way. (Say “good-bye” to your osteopath and chiropractor!)
Instead of holding ourselves up with the skeletal spine, alone, we force our core muscles to engage when we sit tall. We shift the weight burden from skeleton to muscles.
The spine loves this…and our core muscles do, too!
How To Do It. How to sit up tall? It’s really as simple as raising the top of your head as high as you can, toward the ceiling or sky. Note: It also helps to slow your breathing…and to become aware of the entire spine and torso growing taller. (When you pay attention, you can feel the spine realign itself. There is much more involved, here, than just a neck stretch…)
Go ahead and try it now…. See? It’s really pretty simple. Now, repeat, any time you can remember to do this. Trust that you’re setting into motion many, many healthy consequences from this one small act of sitting up tall.
Two Specific In-Car Tips for Your Spinal Health
Driving our car can be very hard on our neck and back. Why? Because we’re sitting for extended periods with poor posture. This bad habit wreaks havoc on our spine and the locked-up muscles trying to support it. When we get this sitting thing wrong, it affects the muscles in our neck, shoulders, upper and lower back, as well as our hips and pelvic alignment. So let’s do it right!
(Tip #1) Rolled Towel. Roll up an old, not-too-thick bath towel and place it behind you, between the car seat and your lumbar spine. Important: Don’t collapse against the back of your seat (or towel) as you ordinarily might. Use the feeling of the towel lightly touching your back to remind you to sit up tall! The idea, here, is to re-create the natural elongated curvature in your spine. (This will ease muscular pain and stress.) Remember, this is as simple as raising the top of your head toward the ceiling.. (I.e., at the place in your lower back where there should be – but probably isn’t, yet — a concave curvature. Now, sit up tall. (Can you start to feel the curve, now?)
(Tip #2) Don’t Touch that Rear-View Mirror! Another driving tip: While sitting up tall in your seat, adjust the (center) rear-view mirror so you can clearly see out the back window. Now, ready for this? Never adjust that mirror again!
Are you good with that? Leaving the mirror at this height will force you to sit up tall in order to see your car’s rear view. By now, I trust you know how good for you sitting up tall is.) No more “slouch-driving”!
These two habits, alone, will help you reverse the your unhealthy car-sitting tendencies. And that is a great start down the path of conscious, healthy living!
I hope you find these tips useful. Please let me know what you think, how it goes for you when you try them, and any questions you may have.