Why You Need To Prioritize Sleep

I’ve been working on a project of creating a self-help PDF on ways to improve your sleep from a yoga perspective. Originally my interest stemmed from the fact that I, like many of you, struggled with episodes of insomnia in my life. It was particularly bad for me in my more anxious youth, before I met yoga, and I would overthink many nights into oblivion. Fast forward to now, with many years of practicing yoga, meditation, and plenty of learning about how to improve my sleep, and I can say my episodes of insomnia are much less and much more manageable. 

One of the most influential sources of motivation that brought me to a turning point of taking my sleep health more seriously was hearing an interview with sleep expert and researcher Matthew Walker. You can find many lectures, podcasts, and written work by him, but ultimately his message is loud and clear—you need to prioritize your sleep way more, as the lack of sleep is literally killing you! Until delving into his work, I always assumed I could catch up after a bad night or two, but after perusing Walker’s work, I realized this couldn’t be further from the truth. His research shows anything less than 7 hours of sleep, for most adults, is sleep deprivation, and there are major health consequences when we don’t get this amount of sleep. In fact, there does not seem to be one major organ within the body, or process within the brain, that isn’t optimally enhanced by sleep (and detrimentally impaired when we don’t get enough). So in this blog I want to share some of his more poignant points about why you need to take getting a good night’s sleep more seriously:

-Drowsy driving is the cause of hundreds of thousands of traffic accidents and fatalities each year. Tragically, one person dies in a traffic accident every hour in the United States due to a fatigue-related error, in fact, vehicle accidents caused by drowsy driving exceed those caused by alcohol and drugs combined.

-Sleep enriches a diversity of memory functions, including our ability to learn, memorize, and make logical decisions and choices. Without the recommended 7-9 hours of sleep each night, studies show severely reduced capacity in all memory functions. 

-Insufficient sleep is a key lifestyle factor determining whether or not you will develop dementia or Alzheimer’s disease.

-Sleep deprivation degrades cardiovascular health. Shorter sleep was associated with a 45 percent increased risk of developing and/or dying from coronary heart disease. Adults forty-five years or older who sleep fewer than six hours a night are 200 percent more likely to have a heart attack or stroke during their lifetime, as compared with those sleeping seven to eight hours a night.

-Sleep disruption contributes to all major psychiatric conditions, including depression, anxiety, and suicidality. Sleep recalibrates our emotional brain circuits, allowing us to navigate next-day social and psychological challenges. 

-Dreams help mollify painful memories and provide a virtual reality space in which the brain melds past and present knowledge, inspiring creativity.

-Routinely sleeping less than six or seven hours a night demolishes your immune system, more than doubling your risk of cancer. In the body, sleep restocks the immune system, helping fight malignancy, preventing infection, and warding off colds and flus.

-Sleep deprivation affects hormone balance in both males and females affecting reproductive capability.

-Inadequate sleep—even moderate reductions for just one week—disrupts blood sugar levels so profoundly that you would be classified as pre-diabetic.

-Weight gain is associated with poor sleep. Too little sleep swells concentrations of a hormone that makes you feel hungry while suppressing a companion hormone that otherwise signals food satisfaction.

-Sleep deprivation ages our skin and we literally look less attractive from it.

If you find these points intriguing, I strongly suggest you check out some of Matthew Walker’s work, starting with his very informative TED talk: Sleep is Your Superpower. My hope is to motivate you to prioritize your sleep more, as it has been a huge omission in the public health education for mind and body health—it is just as important as the type of food you eat and the amount of exercise you get, yet regularly under-considered. Don’t doubt all manner of health can be helped with a regular sleep schedule, and if you are ready to get started on improving your nightly zzz’s, I look forward to sharing more information on how to improve your sleep through yoga and other tips in the PDF I have coming out in the fall. 

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Improve Your Balance in Yoga

Balance is a learned skill, and we must practice our balance in order to improve it. For many adults, our daily activities do not challenge our balance systems enough and it worsens over time. This is why yoga is so great—many of the poses engage the body in balance and stability giving you the practice you need. With better balance we gain confidence to participate in more challenging activities and it helps us prevent falls. To set you up for success, here are five foundational principles to help you get more out of your standing balance poses:

1. Connect to Your Foundation
When we have a mindful connection to our base, we feel more stable and grounded, and in our standing balance poses, our base is our feet. Because yoga is done in bare feet it is especially great for giving us tactile feedback and we can learn more about how we weight bear and align through our feet. With this feedback, there is potential for noticing where we have asymmetrical grounding or deviated alignment (affecting our balance from the base up).

When aiming for good alignment in the feet you should feel connection through all four corners of the foot, which are: the mound of big toe, the mound of pinky toe, the inside edge of the heel, and the outside edge of the heel. You should also be aiming to weight bear evenly from the inside edge to the outside edge of the foot. Also, a lot of our foot stability comes from the toes. For improved balance, work on spreading the toes and when you need extra stability through your foot, and try pressing the big toe mound and little toe mound lightly into the ground and notice how that activates the muscles of the arches of the foot and generates a more stable feel. For more details on this, please watch this helpful video by Doug Keller on the corners of the foot and how to strengthen the arches.

2. Find Your Center of Gravity
A good rule in our standing single leg balance poses is to make sure you have shifted your center of gravity over-top the standing foot, and for most of us, our center of gravity is our pelvis. Most of us do this subtle shift unconsciously; however, sometimes this skill gets lost or disinhibited, such as when we have pain or dysfunction on one leg and we avoid complete commitment of our weight on it. This can be a learned response that can persist even after the leg problem has gone away; therefore, it is important to ensure your are shifting your pelvis-center over the standing foot for optimal balance alignment. A common mistake is to lean the torso to the balancing leg while leaving the pelvis behind.

3. Activate the Stabilizers
Our stabilizing muscles are responsible for creating the micro-adjustments required for better balance. These smaller muscles create subtle engagement closer to the bone, supporting our joints and enabling us to coordinate different parts of the body to stand or move together. There are stabilizers acting around every joint in the body during balance; however a couple key areas that weaken on people are the stabilizers around the core and hips. The stabilizing core muscles support the connection of the spine to the pelvis and they are the transverse abdominis, multifidi, the iliopsoas, and the quadratus lumborum. For the hip, the gluteus medius muscle (at the lateral hip) is a vital support when standing single-legged as it adjusts the position of the pelvis in relation to the standing leg. All these muscles should be reflexively engaging as we correct and steady in our balance poses, but if you notice weakness (maybe from an old injury or surgery) you may need to consult with a professional to learn focused training of these muscles for their optimal recruitment.

Most importantly, when training the stabilizers of the body, we need to be able to stay in our balance poses long enough to benefit. In yoga, this means choosing options that meet, and gently stretch, our current capability. It’s when we stay somewhere slightly unstable that our muscles and our nervous system learn to compensate, creating inner equilibrium that enables us to handle more challenge next time. If you choose balance poses too difficult to stay in the pose you will not be training the stabilizers.

4. Find Your Drishti
Drishti means “focal point.” It refers specifically to where we orient our eyes and, in a broader sense, to where we focus our energy. Our eyes play a large role in balance. Many of the nerve fibers from the eye neural tracts (the neural fibers within the brain that connect to the eye) interact with the vestibular system, the parts of the inner ear and brain that help control balance and eye movements. You can easily get an understanding of importance of vision in balance when trying to stand on one foot with your eyes closed.

In our standing balance poses we have better equilibrium when we take advantage of this eye-vestibular connection by fixing our gaze on an unmoving object, but we also use drishti to take advantage of the way it organizes our energy. By steadying our gaze we are consciously limiting visual distraction giving us more capacity for redirecting this energy towards internal awareness .

5. Regulate Your Breath

In the Hatha Yoga Pradipika it is said: “When the breath wanders the mind also is unsteady. But when the breath is calmed the mind too will be still…therefore, one should learn to control the breath.” This advice is particularly relevant to stability work, which depends on a delicate balance between effort and ease. It’s not uncommon to hold our breath when struggling to maintain stability; loss of easy breathing is a sign that we are trying too hard, holding too tightly, creating rigidity rather than stability. If we can let go of our attachment to a pose sufficiently to find ease in our breathing, we may begin to find physical and mental equilibrium too.

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Consistency is Key

Early on in my career as a Kinesiologist, I thought exercise prescriptions needed to exactly address the type of injury, and I would often get caught up in a textbook model of treatment. Later I realized, what actually helped my clients the most was the regularity of their routine—half the time the particular exercises, and even the intensity, were irrelevant, so long as it was a balanced routine, and they were doing it regularly. The same is true in my yoga studio. The client who comes to me for a private lesson to help with a problem, but loses the discipline to keep up with it, never benefits. While the person attending my yoga classes two to three times a week will claim surprise that they never expected their pain to go away as well.

Movement to the body is crucial to our health and healing, and since the body is an integrated system where all systems connect and relate to one another, when we do yoga and other exercises regularly, every part of us is benefiting. For example, when I am consistent with my yoga and running, not only do I feel my body is stronger and has more stamina, but I also notice my mental health is more stable, my digestion is better, and I sleep more soundly.

We all know this, regular exercise so important to overall health, so why don’t we all do it? I find one of the main issues is people make exercise feel unenjoyable. They choose something too intense for their level or they choose something they really don’t like and demanding too much time in their day. It’s important to choose wisely and start easy… For some, this might look like a 10 minute walk with a couple floor exercises, or five quick yoga poses on your work break. Ask yourself what can you commit to that doesn’t feel like a chore or doesn’t make you pay the next day. If you are unsure how to get started or lack the discipline, find an instructor to assist you, but most importantly, design it for success and make it part of your routine (much like brushing your teeth!). Remember your health is a lifelong project, and what we do on a consistent basis forms the foundation of our health.
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Your Practice is Priority

A student once asked me why some of the people coming out to yoga only come once in a while, or drop in occasionally. Being a regular attendee to the classes, he couldn’t understand what these people thought they would gain from attending so infrequently. I had a very practical answer, I said, “For some people, taking yoga classes is a luxury activity, and more “life-pressing” activities get in the way of their attendance. Some people just don’t have the privilege of time, energy, or resources to attend as they would wish.” Many people have good intentions to do yoga, but on a priority scale, it typically gets knocked down on the list. For years I thought this was very understandable and realistic way to look at it, but I have had a shift in my thoughts on this one… Reflecting back on all the positive changes yoga has given me in my mind, body, and life, since I took up practice some 20 odd years ago, none of this happened by being occasional about it. It required regular practice, effort, and sometimes making tough decisions to forgo immediate desires for the long term wellness. Yoga is a unique discipline that can affect all parts of our wellbeing and literally change your life for the better, but you will only know this experience if you practice.

Physical change is constant in the body. All the cells and tissues of the body are constantly being replaced over the months and years, and we very much are remodelling ourselves anew with the activities and behaviours we engage in. Staying consistent to the physical practice of yoga, or any other discipline/sport, over time you will literally replace the cells in your body with new memory and abilities. So despite the common belief that you are too old or unwell to start something new, your body can change; it is amazingly adaptable when you approach your practice mindfully and smartly. All it requires is repeated, gentle exposure, and tissues will gradually remold in function and tolerance. I can honestly say from yoga, I am able to move more freely and stand with better posture now than I did in my 20’s. 

It’s also not just one pose. The human body is such a marvel of connectivity through its joints, muscles, and connective tissue. True freedom of the body requires all the movements; it is as equally important to stretch as it is to contract our bodies, exploring all ranges and strengths about a joint, and linking that with other segments of the body to feel the depths of physical functionality. I can no longer teach the idea that one pose will be the missing “therapeutic piece” for someone’s improvement. The body’s structure needs the totality of the experience; it flourishes in the physical variety that yoga affords. Yoga can liberate the movement and function in your body, like few other physical disciplines. With dedication to the practice, one day you will look back and say, “I had no idea I could do that.”

Freedom in the body relates directly to freedom in the mind. In yoga, when you stretch and expand the edges of your physical expression, it translates to an exploration of your thoughts and feelings. Yoga cues us to slow down our movements so we can really connect to what is unfolding in our physical experience in the moment, giving us insight into the subtleties of mind-body connection. For example, a certain movement might trigger a certain thought pattern or emotional vulnerability, and we get to step back within ourselves to objectively witness this connection. In this way, the skill of mindfulness is constantly being rehearsed during yoga class, and by practicing yoga more often it helps you shift into “mindfulness state” more easily over time. The repeated practice of this results in a gradual unfolding of knowing yourself more objectively and intimately, and just like any relationship you cannot build it with a visit once a year. It takes time and commitment, but it is so rich and fulfilling when that relationship is truly developed. 

Between the relationship of mind and body, there is also the breath, and in yoga breath control (pranayama) should always be practiced. It might seem strange that we need to practice breathing, something so natural and automatic to life, but harnessing the control of our breath has more effect on your physical and mental state than most of us can imagine. Your breath is the one part of your autonomic system that can be under your control, and therefore can be used as a regulation piece to affect our internal health and energy. Gaining mastery over your breath is like learning a life hack for your nervous system, yet so many of us have poor connection and control of our breath. We assume breathing to always be there for us without any effort, yet as the mind and body get disregulated so too does the breath (and vice versa). To correct this we need to relearn and develop our breath control skills, and this requires repeated exposure in order for it to become automatic.

I read a quote that says, “Yoga is not a work out, but rather a work-in.” In this day and age where chronic stress, anxiety, depression, and feeling like we can’t keep up with the pace of life, we have become disconnected to ourselves, so it is critical we find ways to restore our balance within. Yoga is this platform; we don’t need another pill, we need connection, and this is exactly what yoga provides us. But yoga is experiential… The benefits can’t be lived in theory. The fruits of this discipline only come with investment of time (as with most things in life), and this takes dedication and ongoing practice. It will never hurt you to practice yoga occasionally, but I promise you, if you make your practice a priority, one day it will take you down a journey of indescribable depth and open new freedoms and abilities for you. Yoga is not a luxury, but rather a foundation for healthy living.

End note
I am aware of the privilege that comes from being in my demographic and how this plays out in having yoga accessible to me. There are many circumstances where yoga in a studio setting is not accessible—income level, where you live, access to transportation, clothes, the internet, your mental and physical health, etc. I have so much appreciation for organizations, such as Yoga Outreach, making yoga more accessible to everyone. 

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Yoga For Cyclists

As we near spring some of my friends and yoga clients who love bike riding look forward to another season of getting outdoors. Cycling is excellent fitness; it can significantly improve cardiovascular health and develop leg strength. For those of you who ride often and enjoy longer distances, there is the concern, however, of developing tension in the back, hip, and leg muscles from the static forward leaning and hip-flexed posture. I have found yoga to be extremely helpful in bringing the body’s balance back. A routine that focuses on opening the front of the body, and especially the hip flexors, can ease this tension.

YOGA SEQUENCE TO EASE THE TENSION FROM RIDING

  1. Cat/Cow

As a starting base to warm up the spine, complete a few rounds of Cat (top left) and Cow (top right) Pose. As you alternate between flexing and extending the spine, take note of the balance between these two motions and throughout the various segments of the spine. As you come across any area that feels restricted in the movement feel free to pause and hold the shape to deepen the experience into those areas.

2. Thigh Stretch

Next move to lying on your front (prone lying) and see if you are able to bend one knee and grab your foot to gently draw the heel towards your bum. If it is difficult to reach back and get a hold of your foot, you can use a yoga strap around your ankle to assist. It is important that when you come into the knee bend, the front of the hips don’t lift off the floor—you want to feel grounded through the front of the pelvis, especially on the side you are stretching. If you feel your front hip bones lifting off the floor, back out of the stretch a little and try engaging your abdominal muscles before bending your knee in. If this still doesn’t work, or if you feel any discomfort in your low back, you can do this thigh stretch lying on your side instead. Stay with the stretch for four slow breaths, and depending on the degree of tension you feel, consider doing each leg a second time.

3. Locust Pose

Next give Locust Pose a try. It is a great counteractive pose for riders as it strengthens the back extensor muscles (which may be over lengthened and/or weak from the forward leaning posture), and it opens the front body. In this pose you want to engage the back muscles to get a lift of both the upper and lower body, keeping in mind that the height of the lift is totally up to you based on comfort in the back. Also, as you lift the head and chest, let the arms come off the floor as well and draw the shoulder blades together (without shrugging the tops of the shoulders). The legs are lifting at the same time, aiming to get the knees just off the floor and creating a sense of lengthening in the body by stretching the legs back and reaching forward through the crown of the head. Try holding this pose for 3 – 4 slow breaths. As you develop your endurance for this posture, challenge yourself by staying a little longer and doing more repetitions. (Other back extensions such as cobra pose would be suitable here too).

For a progression from locust pose, you could build up to doing Bow Pose (right), which really opens all aspects of the front body. Keep in mind, this pose may be too aggressive for the individual with restricted range of motion in the hip flexors or anyone with a back condition compromising their spinal extension, e.g. stenosis. You should be able to do the thigh stretch and locust pose easefully before attempting this pose.

4. Puppy Pose

After the locust pose and Bow Pose, it tends to feel balancing to come back to kneeling and briefly stretch the back into the reverse motion. Often in class I’ll suggest doing another cat stretch or child’s pose.

For Puppy Pose (above), start on all four’s and walk the hands out in front for a long reach under the arms (hands shoulder with apart). You want to keep your hips stacked above the knees. Then let the head and chest relax downwards between the arms to feel the stretching under the arms, along the sides of the torso, and across the chest. Stay here for 3 – 4 slow breaths.

5. Kneeling Lunges

Onto the kneeling lunges—probably the most important aspect of this program in order to stretch the hip flexors. The kneeling lunges can be awkward and challenging when you first learn them, but well work the effort for cyclists! Keep in mind it is good to set yourself up for success by adding a little comfort and support in these poses. For instance, you can add padding under the knee on the floor and/or you could do these lunges beside a chair or bench to steady your balance.

First come into a high kneeling posture with one foot forward (image top left), and before you shift your hips forward into lunge, lengthen the low back by tilting the tail bone under (posterior pelvic tilt) and maintain this tilt as you lunge the hips forward (image top right). Make sure the front foot is far enough ahead that the knee lines up with the ankle below.

The second two lunges, from the images above, demonstrate additions to the basic lunge by reaching the outside arm overhead (image bottom left) and then revolving the body with one hand on the hip (image bottom right) to create greater lengthening down the lateral chain of muscles. On the revolved lunge, I rotate my trunk towards the front knee side and place my outside hand on a block. Instead of a block, you could reach your hand to the ground if this is comfortable for you, or for more height under the hand, you can rest your hand on the chair/bench. Stay in these lunge postures again for 3 – 4 slow breaths each.

6. Revolved Kneeling Lunge with Thigh Stretch

This posture is for those of you who are ready for a deeper release into the thigh and hip flexor. It is important that you can competently do the previous lunges before adding this one into your routine. With the revolved kneeling lunge, you reach back with the opposite hand to foot to add the knee bend while holding the lunge. In the image above, I am demonstrating with a block under my hand for some support and to lift in my posture.

7. Supine Hamstring Stretch

Finish on your back to stretch the hamstrings. In this pose I am demonstrating how you can use a yoga strap to assist the drawing in of the leg and use of the strap to dorsiflex the ankle (toes towards shin) for greater stretch into the lower leg (calf) muscles. Stay in the stretch for 3-4 slow breaths and do each leg once or twice depending on the level of tension you notice.

After completing the hamstring stretch, gently draw both knees towards the chest for a little hug, and then extend both legs out, arms at your sides to finish in Savasana, resting on the ground for however long feels good.

I hope this routine brings balance back into your body after those long rides and keeps your cycling pain free!

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Minimizing Upper Trapezius Pain On And Off The Mat

The other day, some participants in class were wondering how they could relieve the soreness and tension that they seem to always have in the area running from their neck to their shoulders, sometimes referred to as the area the “upper traps.” This area is a common area of discomfort; it is known for its tendency to be sore after long durations of working at our computers or during times of stress as we might unconsciously clench or shrug our shoulders. When this area gets over-stressed or tightened up, it can cause neck and upper back pain, headaches, jaw pain, and dysfunctional shoulder motion and impingement. To relieve these symptoms, certain yoga postures can be a great help, but first we have to consider the two main reasons this area is so often problematic: poor posture and over clenching in this area.

The area of the upper traps is just the top portion of the large, diamond shaped muscle known as the trapezius (image below). Each section (upper, middle, and lower) serve different actions/functions. The upper fibers of the muscle help in the shrugging (elevation) action of the shoulders and serves a role in keeping the head and neck in position during our daily activities. The upper traps are often overworked when we stay in a forward flexed/forward head-jutting posture for long periods, such as when we are working at the computer or looking down at our devices for extended periods of time. Consider the basic physics of the matter… your head is like a 10 pound weight at the end of your neck. When it leans forward, those stabilizing muscles in the posterior neck are working much, much harder than when your head rests vertically in relationship to gravity. Common sense tells us to try to sit straighter and limit forward jutting of the head to minimize the discomfort on our upper trap area.

However, posture correction is not as simple as don’t poke your head forward (*). To correct it, we need to consider what’s happening below the neck and check our alignment of the whole spine. I like to think of it as working from base up, and the base is our pelvis. If your pelvis is tilted out of neutral posture, the entire length of the spine accommodates for this alignment. In sitting, it is common to tilt the pelvis posteriorly (see image below) and this takes the lumbar spine (low back region) out of its natural curvature of being slightly arched inwards into a flattened posture. When the low back arch is flattened out, our neck posture has no chance of proper correction.
This is especially significant in yoga since we sit on the ground. Sitting low often causes a posterior tilting in the pelvis because many individuals have tight hip and leg muscles (or hip and knee joint issues) which limit their ability to move their hips in deep flexion and external rotation. With these motions being limited, sitting cross-legged becomes straining, and other areas compensate to manage the posture – namely the pelvis tilts in response to the pull of these forces. This is why yoga teachers encourage placing a lift under your seat to ease the tension through the tight hip/leg muscles pulling at the pelvis. It may not be perfect but adjusting your seat surface a little higher to encourage a more neutral pelvis and low back posturing can be a huge piece in correcting your neck pain.

The thoracic (middle back) segment of the spine can be just as much of a hindrance in supporting our neck posture. Individuals tend to collapse through their mid backs in sitting, often viewed as a rounded or hunched back posture. This posture is so common because it requires very little energy to sit this way – the postural, support muscles get to take a break and the spine slumps in response to gravity. Then the neck posture compensates in response, and the upper traps get overworked to hold the head in place this way. In yoga we regularly cue to lengthen the spine in our poses. Not only is this a really important way to create space between the vertebrae of the spine (which is good to prevent collapsing and compression of the spine in poses), but it is the key to adjusting posture through the mid back. I encourage my students to feel the lift upwards coming from the top of their breast bone (the manubrium), which creates a lengthening in the thoracic spine. This simple action creates a more vertical head/neck alignment. So yes, it takes a bit of effort to sit up straight  but it’s worth it!

Outside of spinal posture, the other main reason for pain and tension in the upper traps is if you have a habit of being an over-shrugger. The upper trapezius is one the main muscles which elevates the shoulders upwards (the other being the levator scapulae). Tensing or shrugging the shoulders is one of those conditioned responses to stress for many people. A certain thought, an uncomfortable situation can result in the shrug and people don’t even realize they are constantly, habitually clenching this area, and eventually this causes stiffness and pain.

To undo the effects of over-shrugging and train yourself out of this unconscious habit, It’s not enough to stretch these muscles. Instead consider doing the opposite motion to release the tension from the shrug. The opposite motion is lowering the shoulders down, known as depression, and this is done by activating the lower fibers of the trapezius muscle, which moves the shoulder blades down the back and lowers the shoulders. Also, activating the lower portion of the trapezius sends a reciprocal signal to the upper traps to release and stretch. (To get a better sense of the muscles involved in elevating and depressing the shoulders, click here for a short video animation).

Returning to posture, in order for this technique of shoulder depression to be effective, it’s really important that our spinal posture is in check. For example if you are sitting slouched and move your shoulders downwards, the shoulders might pull forward by the chest muscles and the lower traps won’t get activated, which is required for the upper traps to release.

The way I describe the correct technique in class is to first sit or stand tall, lift through the top of the breast bone, draw shoulders slightly back, and then lower the shoulders downwards –feeling shoulder blades move slightly together and down the back towards the hips. This will create an open spacious feeling from tops of shoulders to ears. (Note, you don’t have to do this motion with all your might, just a little bit of activation in this direction is sufficient). Then this technique can be applied to more complex motions and postures, such as your yoga poses. Cobra and Warrior II are a couple of my favourites to practice this. With practice your mid back muscles will strengthen, and the new, lowered shoulder posture will become more automatic.

Anytime we are trying to create change in our bodies, it requires awareness of our habits and plenty of practice before the new way sets in. To minimize upper trap pain, take advantage of your yoga classes to learn how to adjust your posture for more lift and neutrality in the spine, and then apply the practice of activating the lower trapezius muscle to release the shoulders down during the poses. In time you will feel your shoulder rest easier and the upper trap pains disappear.

*It is important to remember that your computer and chair set up can be the source of your postural problems. For instance if your monitor is too low, your body will compensate in posture to get an adequate eye line and vision to the screen and in this case no amount of knowledge of the spine will help. It’s equally as important to adjust your workstation.

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Yoga for Long Days at the Computer

When we spend long hours at the computer or on our other devices, we tend to sit with our heads leaned forward and our shoulders and upper backs rounded. Too much time in this posture inevitably leads to tension and sometimes soreness around the neck and upper back. If we do this day after day, structural changes in the joints and muscles can eventually develop that leave us with imbalances and even chronic pain issues such as headaches or nerve root pain from the neck.

Getting out to a class at least once a week can make a world of difference to the build up effect of tension in the upper body. Yoga is especially good because it mobilizes the spine in all directions and promotes balance and circulation in the muscles and joints. In addition, the mindfulness aspect of yoga gives us insight about our habits, such as postural tendencies or how we might chronically tense certain body parts. It really is worth the effort to make it a part of your weekly routine.

Outside of classes, we need to take care to break up our sitting posture throughout the day. I recently read a fun quote, “Your body needs movement snacks just as much as it needs food snacks.” Take these words to heart! Whether you take a walk around the block or do a few favourite stretches, these short bouts of movement can really help break up your day at the computer.

Below I’ve included a video where I lead you through a chair yoga sequence that you can do whenever you feel tension develop in the upper body. I find this short sequence really helps to generate circulation and balance in the upper body after “computering” for too long.

*If you want to skip the introduction (described in the paragraph above), go to the 45 second mark in the video.*

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