Okay, if you’ve got really serious, long-term back conditions, this may only provide temporary relief.
That being said, even temporary relief is good, right? And if your back and neck are just tight for today, this will do the trick.
In three steps, with multiple illustrations so it’s all clear:
1. Sit down and grab a yoga block—foam works best. Or, if you have a 6″ to 8″ (15-20 cm) inflatable ball, that would work even better. If you don’t have either, get one, preferably the ball. There’s no suitable substitute.
Place the block midway or most of the way up on your back (it depends where you need to release tension) and lie down on top of the block. Adjust the block up or down until it feels comfortable.
2. As you lie atop the block, bend your knees, interlace your fingers and bring your hands behind your head, as pictured. Allow your shoulders and chest to open up and relax. Hold your head in your hands, without forcing the position any way: don’t press the head back, and don’t lift it, either. Just relax into the pose and take five very slow breaths. If this feels especially useful, you may want to remain here a lot longer—10 slow breaths or more, for up to five minutes.
3. Now, holding your head with your left hand, reach your right arm straight up. Press the right shoulder high, away from the floor, to where you feel the stretch through the arm and shoulder. Please note that your head may or may not be on the floor—whatever feels right to you. But do note that your butt is on the floor, to emphasize the curvature of your spine.
Now, while holding your head with your left hand, turn your head slightly to your left, as pictured. Breathe three slow breaths. Here’s another angle on what this should look like from the side, with the block (or ball) underneath your back:
You don’t need to stay here as long—three slow breaths should suffice. Switch the hands, lift your left arm and turn your head to the right to repeat on the other side.
When you’re done, remove the ball or block, lie on your back with your knees still bent and let your back absorb the stretch.
Benefits: Gently stretches the trapezius (upper back); deltoid (the muscle that caps the shoulder); sternocleidomastoid (runs from your breastbone and collarbone to where it attaches at the back of the skull on either side of the neck); pectoralis major (chest muscles) and a few others muscles like the latissimus dorsi and the teres major that we tend to think collectively of as “the back muscles.”
Avoid if: Avoid if you can’t find a spot on your back to place the block where things don’t hurt. Alternatively, find an inflatable ball that’s not so inflated as to be hard—one with plenty of “give.” If that doesn’t work, skip this process entirely and see your deep tissue massage practitioner.
Final thoughts: While you’re holding onto the back of your head with both hands and lying on the block, try picturing yourself in the same position, but sitting somewhere preferably tropical, lying back on a beach chair with a pina colada within easy reach. This doesn’t mean that you can open your eyes, find yourself in your cubicle and say, “Hey! I know what’ll relax me better than this yoga stuff! I’ll just go get a pina colada right now!”
Remember, you want to release your back in three yogic steps—not at a 12-step meeting.
Author: Ricardo das Neves
Editor: Evan Yerburgh
Images: courtesy of the author