Art in Action is a weekly post: a short, practical guide to applying the ideas and principles in the Focus Pocus posts to your body and life. As always, I love to hear from you about how you use them and how you translate the ideas into action.
The thoracic spine (the section of spine that is connected to the rib cage and pronounced thoh-RAS-ik) curves outward by design to balance the inward curve at the neck and low back. But our lives over keyboards and cutting boards and ironing boards (does anyone iron anymore?), our forward-leaning momentum over steering wheels and grocery carts and lawnmowers and baby carriages, exacerbates that curve. Throw in a bunch of crunches at the gym and you’ve got a mid-back that is over-stretched and weak and a front body that is shortened and tight. Yikes.
For the sake of body, breath and heart, counterbalance all of this by strengthening the thoracic spine and opening the front body. In short, do some back bending from the mid-back and heart rather than from the more-mobile lumbar (low back) and cervical (neck) spine! Here are 7 ways to get a classic thoracic heart opening:
During the day…
1. Stand up and stretch
Every 30 minutes or so, get up from your desk, lace your hands behind you, and stretch your shoulders and chest for several deep breaths. Feel the squeeze and strength in your mid-back.
2. Doorway push up
Place your hands flat on an open doorway at shoulder height with your feet a foot or more away from the door. Lean your weight onto your palms and let your chest open and your shoulder blades slide together. Hold for 3-5 breaths. (Thanks, Diane Goodbar!)
3. Chair Check
Check your posture in your favorite chairs – desk and otherwise. Do you hunch over after even a few minutes? Consider sitting on a physio ball or using a standing desk or both!
4. Ten Big Breaths
A couple of times during the day (perhaps before or after a meal), pause and breathe deeply into your back and side ribs. It can help to place your hands either on your front ribs and feel them knit together as you breathe to the back and side, or on your side ribs to feel the expansion into your palms. Ten big ones!
5. Lead with the Heart
Use an intention to lead with your heart. Whether you are driving or walking or dancing or working, let your heart move first with a gentle pull up and forward. Even holding the image in your mind of you moving through the world heart first can create a shift in your very bones.
In the morning and/or evening…
7. Supported Back Bending
Lying on your back on the floor (not on a bed) place a rolled towel or firm pillow under your heart and let your body passively rest in the heart opening position. For more stretch, you can use a half or full foam roller, or a yoga block (and you may need something also to support your head). Especially if I’ve been writing or cooking a lot, I often hang out in this position while watching TV or listening to music to get a nice long opening. Which leads me to…
BONUS: I am a big fan of Yin Yoga which holds poses for several minutes to let long-held connective tissue unwind and let go. It’s a class that is taught more and more so find one and check it out. Read more about why it’s worth a try here.
AWARENESS NOTE: When working on increasing the mobility in the thoracic spine, notice that the lumbar and cervical spines have more mobility (since they don’t have the whole rib cage attached to them) and may jump in on the mobility game without letting the thoracic spine in on it. Stay aware of what’s happening in your low back and neck when doing these exercises and do your best to stabilize the upper and lower spine so your mid back gets some action.
Do you have ways of creating strength and mobility in your mid-back? Please share them in the comments below or at the Focus Pocus Facebook page!
A strong back cracks open the heart, my friends!