'Push your heart forward' is a term I've learnt recently from the amount of Yoga I have been doing during lockdown. It's a phrase that I really love as to me it channels into being confident and standing tall as well as just moving the body to open the chest.
Now I initially planned this blog to be a simple chest stretching blog - discussing the pectoral muscles and how to stretch them. But as I sit here hunched over my laptop I have decided to make the exercises I'm going to give you much more functional and encompassing. In order to combat the effects of sitting, especially hunched over a desk or our laptops as many of us are at the moment, we need to work on the pectorals, the thoracic spine, the neck and the shoulders - and obviously our core! Head to my blogs on core exercises to start activating yours now!
So taking my new found love of Yoga I'd like to introduce you to 6 of my favourite easy chest openers to help combat the effects rounded shoulders and a slouched posture. I have picked ones for beginners progressing them to more advanced moves. I have also enlisted the help of a great buddy of mine, fellow military wife and excellent Yoga teacher Kirsty Burdis! Please, please go check out her FaceBook and Insta pages. Not only are they very well done but she is currently posting live Yoga Classes each day at 12pm to help us all through lockdown!
Now some of these poses involve extension through the spine. If this is something that you find uncomfortable please do contact me for further variations which can be used to open up the chest or if you are unsure that these are for you or if you are doing them properly I'm more than happy to run you through them on a video call.
So have a read, check out Kirsty demonstrating each pose and give them ago!
Exercise 1 - Sphinx - The first stage to encouraging thoracic extension! (Beginner)
Lie on your tummy with your arms by your sides. Tuck you tail bone underneath you to help protect your spine (posteriorly tilt your pelvis).
Actively reach with your toes behind you to engage your legs, your gluts should be firm but not clenched, neck and jaw relaxed.
Fix your elbows under your shoulders with your forearms on the floor hands pointing straight out in front of you
Inhale and lift your upper body off the floor into a mild back bend.
Keep you shoulders rolled back and down away from your ears - this not only opens up the chest but also helps to lengthen the neck.
Now gently pull in your core - bring your lower abdominals gently towards your spine
Hold for 15-30 second breathing easily
Kirsty's Top Tips:
Ensure that your shoulders and elbows are stacked
Don't crowd the ears with your shoulders
Draw shoulders back and down
Actively engage your back muscles!
Exercise 2 - Cobra - A little more thoracic extension!
Lie on your tummy, hands under your shoulders, elbows tucked in and legs actively stretching out behind you, tops of your feet on the floor.
Keeping your elbows tucked in, inhale as you push your upper body off the floor leading with your sternum.
Only push up as far as you can maintain contact with the floor with the front of your pelvis and legs
Keep your tail bone tucked under you with you lower abs engaged and you guts firm but not clenched.
Keep you shoulders back and down away from your ears
Envisage the curve of you back being equal throughout your spine, lower slightly if you feel more curve in your lower back and think about leading more with your sternum
Hold for 15-30 seconds breathing easily
Kirsty's Top Tips:
Make sure your hands are under your shoulders
Keep a micro bend in the elbows
Don't over extend the neck - it should be a continuation of the spine
Exercise 3 - Upward Facing dog - Thoracic extension, strengthening for your legs and your shoulders!
Lie on your tummy, hands spread next to your waist, elbows tucked in and legs actively stretching out behind you, tops of your feet on the floor.
Keeping you elbows tucked in, inhale as you strongly push your upper body off the floor, straightening your arms
Keep you core engaged and tail bone tucked under as the front of your pelvis lifts off the floor
Keep you legs actively straight to lift your thighs off the floor.
Roll your shoulders back and down away from your ears keeping your neck long
If it is comfortable for your neck raise your gaze to the ceiling
Hold for 15-30 seconds
Kirsty's Top Tips:
Exercise 4 - Cat Cow - this is a more dynamic pose than the others but a great one for mobilising the spine as well as opening the chest. It is also a great way to incorporate breathing into your movements. (Beginner).
Start in a four point kneeling position, hands under shoulders and knees under hips.
Inhale and sink you tummy towards the ground, raising your gaze up to the sky and lifting you tail bone up as you spine hollows down. Squeeze your shoulder blades back and down
Exhale and draw you abs back towards your spine, dropping your head and pushing you back up towards the sky - really push through your shoulder blades towards the ceiling.
Repeat 5 times using your breath to guide you
Kirsty's Top Tips:
Lead each movement with the pelvis
Follow with the spine moving one vertebra at a time
Use the full breath for the transition between the two positions
Raise/lower the head last
Exercise 5 - Easy Camel - This is the precursor to the Camel pose. Both are great ways of opening up the entire front of the body, chest, abs and hip flexors! (Beginner)
Start kneeling, shins and tops of the feet on the floor, knees under hips, lower legs parallel.
Tuck your tail bone underneath you and feel your spine lengthen.
Place your hands on your back, fingers pointing towards the floor over the upper rim of your pelvis.
Gently squeeze you elbows together behind you
Inhale and each up through the crown of your head.
Hold for 15-30 seconds or until you feel relaxed and stable
Gently now inhale and lift your chest towards the sky. Focus on keeping your lower back long (- check your tail bone) and creating the bend in your upper back.
Hold for 15-30 seconds lengthening you spine with each breath.
Relax back to kneeling, sitting on your heels for a few moments before continuing to camel if you feel ready
Exercise 6 - Camel - Once you are happy with the easy camel you can start to progress into more of a back bend. Again we are opening up the whole of the front of the body, chest, abs and hip flexors and well as now bringing a stretch to the quads also.
Come into easy camel as above
This time release you hands and reach for your heels - if this is too difficult you can use blocks placed by your feet to reach for. Point your finger tips towards your toes.
Roll your shoulders back and squeeze your shoulder blades together and down away from your ears.
Try not to lunge your hips forward, keep you tail bone tucked under you to keep you lower back safe and long.
Reach your chest towards the sky and gently allow you head to sink back if this is comfortable or keep it inline with your spine.
Stay for 15 seconds breathing steadily
To come out of this pose gently tuck your chin to your chest and rise up to kneeling
Kirsty's Top Tips for Camel and Easy Camel:
Always make sure the hips are stacked above the knees
Actively keep the pelvis forward
Control your breath through your nose, keeping your mouth shut
Spending 30 seconds in one of these poses every couple of hours will be a great way to start the fight against desk based posture. Or why not turn your lunch break into a Yoga session with Kirsty?!