We can’t always simply suppress or power through the stresses of daily life. Eventually it takes a toll…and it’s often on our backs. Here are my tension tamers for lower, middle and upper back. Your back will feel better…and YOU will feel better!
Get Ready: Stand with your feet together and cross your arms loosely with hands on biceps.
Go: Bend forward slowly at the waist and let your body melt down, releasing all tension. If this is too difficult, leave your arms on your legs for support (like brackets) and go to where you feel a comfortable stretch. Hold for 10 seconds. Release your arms and let your head and arms relax down (okay to rest hands on floor if they can relax there) at an angle, while alternately bending one knee. (Keep your feet flat on the mat throughout.) Continue until you feel all tension release, about 30 seconds. You can also bend one knee and hold for five deep inhales. Then switch sides. If one side is tighter, hold for a few deep inhales longer.
Get ready: Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the mat. Interlace hands behind your head to support your neck, with elbows out to the sides.
Go: Keeping your upper body in place, gently lower legs down to one side. Feel the stretch in your back as you relax and take five deep breaths, then repeat on the other side. Go deeper: Snake your legs around each other and use the weight of the lower leg to increase the stretch.
Get ready: Stand with your feet together. Lift your right foot off the ground and bend your elbows, keeping them in at your sides, with your hands in fists in front of your shoulders.
Go: Gently lean forward and extend your right leg back, while pulling your abs in to prevent your back from arching. Go as fast as you can, ultimately aiming to get your upper body parallel to the floor, so there is a straight line from your back pointed toe to the top of your head. From here, extend your arms up from your shoulders so they are in line with your torso and over your head, then bring them back. Do 25 presses on your left foot, then switch sides and repeat.
On the next set, lift your right foot and alternate arms so that as one arm extends, the other comes in. Continue in this manner 25 times on each side. Then switch back to your right leg lifted. Extend both arms and pulse your hands one inch up and down, repeating 25 times. Switch legs and repeat arm pulses 25 times.
Get ready: Stand with your feet shoulder width apart and toes angled slightly out. Interlace your hands and bring them up to chest level, about six inches in front of your chest, with palms facing away from your body and elbows out to the sides.
Go! While keeping your lower body stationary, twist your upper body from side to side as fast as it feels comfortable, leading with your elbows and keeping your head in line with your torso, and look in the direction you are twisting. If you feel dizzy keep your gaze forward. Do 10 times.
Wag Your Tail
Get ready: Come onto hands and knees, hands below shoulders, knees below hips, back flat, and elbows slightly bent.
Go! Twist your shoulders toward your hip on one side, then on the other, switching back and forth 10 times. Look at the ground two inches beyond your fingers the whole time. If you want to loosen up more, move your head with your shoulders. Pretend you are wagging your tail.
One Arm Half-Butterfly Stretch
Get ready: Sit with straight legs extended out in front of you. Bend your left knee, bringing the sole of your left foot to your upper inner right thigh, in half butterfly.
Go! Place your right hand behind you and press your palm into the mat to propel yourself forward, reaching your left hand toward your pulled-back right toes. If this is easy for you, bring your right hand to the top of your left hand and pull your right toes back with both hands. Drop your head and relax your neck. Focus on gently pressing your lower left back toward your right quad. Hold for five breaths, then repeat on the other side.
Seated Pretzel Stretch
Get ready: Sit with your legs extended straight out in front of you. Bend your left knee and cross your left leg over your right, placing your left foot down on the outside of your right knee. For back support, put your left hand behind your left butt cheek. Flex your right foot so your toes point straight up.
Go! Reach your left hand up like a stop sign and twist your torso to the right, bringing your left triceps outside of your right thigh. To go deeper, twist more to apply pressure against your right thigh. Act like a string is pulling the top of your head up to elongate the spine. Take five deep breaths, expanding your rib cage on each inhale.
Make it harder: Sit with your legs crossed in lotus position and reach your hands out and down on the mat in front of you. Switch sides and repeat.
Get ready: Stand with your feet together. Wrap your arms around your chest, crossing your right arm below your left. Reach your hands behind you toward the opposite shoulder.
Go! Walk your hands farther toward your shoulder blades. Relax your elbows in front of your chest and take five deep breaths into your upper back, breathing into your back muscles and expanding them as much as possible. To increase the stretch, reach your hands toward each other, seeing if you can place your palms fully flat on the shoulder blades. Release, shake your arms out, do arm rolls and switch, putting your left arm below your right. Relax your shoulders away from your ears and melt into the position without forcing it.
Click here to buy Joel Harper’s book, Mind Your Body: 4 Weeks to a Leaner, Healthier Life.