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Saturday, December 6, 2008

Stretch of the Month: Restorative Chest Opener

December's Restorative Chest Opener is a helpful pose to counter the stress and anxiety of the holiday season. Many of us immediately take stress into the neck, shoulders, and upper back. This pose will open your thoracic spine (the area that is so often rounded from activities like working at your computer or sitting on the train), release tightness in your trapezius muscles (muscles of the upper back & neck), and relax the entire body. Try it at the very end of your workout or to calm the mind & body before bed.
In order to do this you will need either two yoga blocks or two blankets/large towels. If you are using blankets or towels, you will need to roll them so that one is about 6" thick and the other is about 10" thick.

-Sit down on your yoga mat or any comfortable, warm place on the floor. Position two blocks or rolled up blankets behind you. The first should be placed at a medium height about 6 inches behind you. The second should be placed at a taller height about 6 inches beyond the first block.
-Lean back and use your hands to position the first block across your shoulder blades.
-Continue to lean back and use your hands to position the second block underneath your head. Your head should be slightly higher than your shoulders.
-Both blocks should be in a stable and comfortable position, so that you can release your body weight and not feel like you are straining anywhere to be in this pose.
-Externally rotate your arms so that they are resting on the floor by your sides with the palms facing up to the ceiling.
-Lengthen your legs straight on the mat. Make sure the inner thighs are rotating down toward the floor so that your legs are not externally rotating.
-Let your eyes close, focus on your breathe, and let your body relax. Rest in this position for about 2 minutes.
-To come out of the pose make sure to bring your chin in towards your chest, and use your hands to protect the back of the neck. Take your time and be gentle with yourself as you release the pose.

Modifications: "What if..."

"I don't feel like I can release my body weight into the blocks"...Make sure the blocks are not tipping on their edges. They need to be flat on the floor and also on the flat surface of your shoulder blades and head.

"My low back feels arched and my neck is cramped"...Your first block is not in the right position on your back, check to make sure it is under the shoulder blades.

"This feels like too much for me"...Lower the level of your blocks or roll your blankets less thick.

After this pose you should feel more calm, less anxious, and open through the shoulders, chest, mid & upper back. It's a great restorative position after you've spent the day holiday shopping or been with your relatives. In the Restorative Chest Opener you can also take time, as your heart is opening up to the sky, to think of the things you are thankful for and welcome new things into your life for the new year.