Here is another series that can easily be done at work with no equipment. These exercises are all meant to reduce the upper body tension that comes with computer/office work. Alternate this upper body series with the lower body exercises from Part 1 to hit the whole body!
1) Head Ramping: Instead of the “forward head” position that creates compression of the cervical spine, gently slide the head back. Pay attention to your head position when you are looking at the computer screen and driving. Ramp the head as often as you remember.
2) Head Hang: Let the chin drop towards the chest to lengthen the back of the neck. Relieving tension in the neck improves circulation to the brain which can reduce headaches and brain fog. Hold for 1 minute, repeat several times a day.
3) Hand Stretching: Do you have “claw hands” from computer work? This tension in your hands may seem insignificant, but it can lead to things like carpal tunnel syndrome and osteoarthritis. With your palm face up and your elbow by your side, stretch each finger towards the floor.
4) Thoracic Stretch: Place your hands on a wall, roll the elbows in towards each other so the elbow “pits” point up towards the ceiling and elbows point towards the floor. Drop the chest towards the floor as you hinge forward from the hips. (If you have learned about rib position, try to pull the ribs “up” instead of letting them slide towards the floor.) Hold for 1 minute.
5) Standing Crescent Stretch: Stand with your feet a few inches from the wall and your gluts against the wall. Keep the ribs down while you lift the arms over head. Arch your body towards the right, breathing into the right side of the rib cage. Hold for 1 min and repeat on the other side.
Want more for the shoulders? Try an Alignment Snack (20 min online classes) on your lunch break. For upper body work, I love these: Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck.
I also recommend Katy Bowman’s book, Don’t Just Sit There. It’s a comprehensive guide to sitting less and moving more, without compromising your productivity.
You are going to love this! These are some of my favorite exercises for relieving shoulder and upper back tension that accumulates during the day. We do so many things with our arms: computer work, driving, studying, carrying babies, breastfeeding, yard work…. add misalignment, old injuries, weak muscles and stress to the mix and you have a recipe for serious discomfort. If you experience shoulder & upper back pain and/or tension, you will love this routine. It only takes 10 minutes and you’ll feel great! (See additional resources at the bottom of this post as well.)
Minute 1: Rhomboid Push Up
The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine and the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retraction=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. I know that this position is often taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about posture vs. alignment.) When you retract your scapula it looks good, but holding this position habitually is sabotaging your shoulder girdle and spinal health. These muscles help hold the spine upright, and when they are tight and weak, they can’t do their job, resulting in hyperkyphosis.
To restore the length of these muscles, try this. Start on your hands and knees. Roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger (see picture). Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending.
Let the chest drop towards the floor and feel the scapula come together (retraction) WITHOUT BENDING YOUR ELBOWS ANYMORE THAN THEY ALREADY ARE. Then press the hands into the floor and push the shoulders blades wide (protraction). Keep the pelvis untucked. This is a VERY difficult motion to learn, so it may take some time to master. WATCH THIS VIDEOof my friend Susan demonstrating the rhomboid push up.
Minute 2: Floor Angels
First bolster you head and shoulders with some pillows or folded blankets. To stretch the chest and shoulders, move the arms slowly overhead like you are making a snow angel. Rotate the arms so that your palms face up towards the ceiling and your thumbs are closer to the floor than the pinkies. The hand will start out touching the floor, but will lift away from the floor as you move the arm overhead.
Keep the ribs relaxed down. Try not to let them pop up towards the ceiling like this:
Minutes 3-5: Tennis Ball “Reverse” Rhomboid Push Up
I got this AWESOME move from Jill Miller of Yoga Tune Up. Take two tennis balls or balls of similar size & density (I’m using yoga tune up balls here) and put them in a sock. Tie a knot in the sock to keep the balls in place. Lay on your back with the balls underneath your upper back, one on either side of the spine. Start at the top of your scapula.
Reach your arms up to the ceiling feeling the scapula spread wide, them relax and let them fall towards the floor. It’s the same motion as the rhomboid push up, just upside down. Do this for 1 minute, moving slowly. Then roll the balls down an inch or two, and repeat this motion for 1 minute. Repeat this process one more time. (We are doing 3 different positions here, but you can always do more.)
If you want more pressure, you can experiment with pressing your feet into the floor to lift your pelvis up into a small bridge.
Minutes 6-8: Tennis Ball Floor Angels
Move the balls back up to the first spot they were in (on either side of the spine near the top of the scapula). Repeat the same “snow angel” motion with your arms that you did in the Floor Angels for 1 minute. Roll the balls down an inch or two and repeat 1 minute. Roll the balls down again and repeat.
If you love this stuff as much as I do, you will want to check out Jill Miller’s new book The Roll Model. My husband gave it to me for Christmas this year, and I’m slowly working my way through it. She shows you how to roll away tension from head to toe. SO GOOD!
1.) Constantly pulling your shoulders back (shoulder blades together) will make it worse. I know that this position is taught as “good posture”, but it is not good alignment. (Read about the difference between posture and alignment.)The rhomboids are muscles on your upper back that connect the spine and the scapula (shoulder blades). When you have the habit of retracting your scapula (retracting=pulling the shoulders back like you are squeezing something between the shoulder blades) these muscles get tight and weak. When you retract your scapula it LOOKS GOOD, but it is only masking your shoulder tension, NOT FIXING IT. Trying to keep this “good posture” all the time is causing these muscles to become tighter and weaker, sabotaging your long term shoulder and spinal health.
2.) The tension in your hands is directly related to the tension in your shoulders. Before I started studying Restorative Exercise™, it never occurred to me to stretch my hands. I didn’t even realize there was tension in my hands. If you can relate to this, try these tests.
Test #1: Start on your hands and knees. (If you can’t get on your hands and knees, try bending over and placing your hands on a coffee table.) Place your hands on the floor so that the middle finger points straight ahead and the thumb and pointer finger make an “L” (a 90° angle). Then roll the elbows in towards eachother so that the elbow points back towards your thighs and the elbow “pit” faces the same direction as your middle finger. Keep a slight bend in the elbow to keep from hyper extending. In the photos below, there is a red dot on my elbow pit to help you see it.
Did your hands cup up away from the floor? Is it impossible to get the hand position and arm position at the same time? This shows you how the the shoulder, arm and hand tension is all related. We SHOULD be able to keep both the hands and the shoulders aligned at the same time, not one or the other.
Test #2: Reach your arm behind your back without letting your scapula “wing” (boney edges stick out). Keep the flat and wide across your back. If you can, reach your arm up towards your neck without winging the scapula.
Then flip your palm over so that the palm touches your back. You should be able to do this without the scapula winging. If you can’t, this shows you (again) how your shoulder and hand tension are related.
3.) Just because you don’t FEEL a stretch, doesn’t mean you don’t have tension. It’s pretty common to have one or more hyper mobile joints. When a joint is hyper mobile the ligaments are too lax, making it easy to move a joint without the muscular tension getting in the way. In this case, you may be able to move through a normal (or often excessive) range of motion without ever feeling a stretch. When you try to stretch, you don’t feel anything, so you assume your muscles aren’t tight. The tension is still there creating pain, tendonitis, numbness, tingling, etc only you don’t realize it because you can’t feel it. It is MUCH harder for someone with hyper lax ligaments in a certain area to access the muscular tension. It’s very complex to learn to stabilize your hyper mobile parts. If you suspect this is an issue for you, see suggestions 3 & 4 below.
What You Can Do About It:
1.) Stop pulling your shoulders back/together all the time. Let them relax wide.
2.) Practice Test #2. It’s a test, but it will also help mobilize the shoulder.
3.) Join me at Blooma Nashville for Upper Boday class. Come stretch and strengthen the muscles of the shoulders, arms, chest, neck & upper back to create shoulders that are both strong AND mobile. This class will restore upper body alignment, relieve tension & pain, improve flow of blood, lymph & milk, and teach how to deal with hyper-mobility.
Every Thursday at 6:45pm
4.) Try Katy’s online Super Supple Shoulders webinar for an in depth shoulder workout and education. This class will help you learn to deal with hyper mobility and relieve tension.
5.) Try these Alignment Snacks (shorter 20 minute classes): Everybody Needs a Little Shoulder Bolster, Rhomboid Madness, Can’t Get Enough of Shoulders & A Real Pain in the Neck. Get Alignment Snacks HERE.
It’s that time of year when everyone is getting colds, flus, chest infections…. You know all the regular recommendations: wash your hands, take Vitamin C, get plenty of rest, take On Guard (I think I’m a little behind the trend on this one– I JUST discovered how amazing this essential oil blend is. Seriously, it changed my life.) or immune boosting herbs.
I’m going to give you a new one today: Move Your Lymph
If you are thinking, “move my what?”, keep reading. How do we move our lymph? Before we get to that, we need to talk about what lymph is and what it does…but before we get to that, let’s start with the blood. Everyone knows that the heart pumps the blood, circulating it around the body. What many people don’t realize, is that the muscles are designed to help move the blood along as they contract and relax. While the heart is the main pump, muscle activity helps draw the blood to the smaller capillaries that feed the cells and pickup the cellular waste. The large veins and arteries are like the main lines in an irrigation system that would water a large garden, and the capillaries are much smaller lines watering specific areas on the outskirts. When muscles are tight, they are not very active, and the blood flow to that part of the body is relatively low. When this happens, the blood flow may be lower than optimal (or not reaching ALL the cells adequately), but at least it’s still flowing because the heart it pumping.
Now we are ready to talk about lymph. (Keep in mind this is a simplified explanation of a very complex physiological process.) The lymphatic system is your body’s garbage clean up system, and it circulates a fluid called lymph. All the cellular waste, toxins, and other “garbage” gets picked up in the lymph, which travels through vessels (similar to blood vessels), passing through lymph nodes to get filtered. Lymph doesn’t have a pump, so it relies on outside forces to move it…muscles, gravity, massage, etc.
When muscles are tight and bodies are inactive, lymph gets stagnant. The lymphatic system is directly related to the immune system, and when it’s not functioning as it should, immune function is compromised. We often forget that there are mechanical components to disease & illness, and this is one of them.
Here’s a picture of the lymphatic vessels, lymph nodes, and organs associated with the system. The areas with more green clusters are the areas with higher concentration of lymph nodes (pelvis, groin, armpit, & neck).
Back to the original question: How do we move our lymph?
1) Stretch tight muscles in regions of high lymph node concentration– chest/shoulders, groin/hips & neck. If you’re like me, these areas with a lot of lymph nodes also happen to have a lot of tension. When muscles are tight, they are relatively inactive and don’t circulate lymph (or blood) very well. Here are a couple of my favorite stretches for theses regions.
2) Move more, starting with a daily walk. Regular, full body movement is necessary for moving blood & lymph (and for health in general). Walking is the preferred full body movement for many reasons, but that is another post for another day. (I do NOT recommend walking on a treadmill. It’s not the same.) The rhythmic movement of arms and legs helps pump both blood and lymph around the body, feeding cells & removing waste.
You also may have noticed that the areas of high lymph node concentration happen to be near major joints. These are joints that would get a lot of movement IF we were moving naturally instead of sitting all day. When I say “moving naturally” I am referring to the way humans moved before we had modern conveniences like cars, grocery stores, high heels, chairs, strollers, toilets….not bad things, but things that require us to move WAY less than before. Walking, hunting/gathering food, kneeling, climbing, carrying kids, squatting….can you see how just “doing life” would facilitate the movement of lymph (and blood) throughout the day? If this concept resonates with you, I’d recommend Katy Bowman’s new book Move Your DNA.
(SIDE NOTE: High intensity exercise is not necessary to move lymph, and it can actually weaken your immune system.)
3) When you walk, swing your arms. You have a built in reflex for arm swing. Without thinking about it, your opposite arm and leg will move together. It’s called reciprocal arm swing. When you are carrying a baby or a purse, that arm tends to not swing, so try alternating sides (or finding an alternative that allows arm swing, like a sling or messenger bag). For optimal muscle use and lymph movement, keep your elbow pointing back behind you and the elbow “pit” pointing straight ahead as your arms swing. Then keep the arms straight (not bent like a race walker), and push them back behind you. More on this here. Yes, you’ll get more toned arms (say good-bye to that flap on the back of your arm), but more importantly, it is essential for breast health!
Now, take a computer break, and go move that lymph!
PS- If you want more, here a few 20-30 minute classes that target these areas. Click HERE, then choose one of the following titles:
A Real Pain in the Neck, Rhomboid Madness, Adductor Madness, Take a Load off Your Chest & Hips, Frankie Says: Relax the Psoas