So, why am I trying to convince everyone that a backbend a day keeps the doctor away? During my experience as a home health occupational therapist it would not be overstating to say that 90% of my patients had chronic upper back, neck and/or shoulder pain. These patients were all ages 60-100, mind you. But most of their pain was not due to some wild accident, it was due to time, posture and lack of mobility and flexibility. This stiffness (in muscles and joints) also puts pressure on nerves (causing pain) and further lends to “fix” the body into a hunched/flexed posture. I know you all know what I’m talking about. We act like this is just some inevitable part of aging, we all just become hunch-backed. What if I told you it doesn’t have to be inevitable?
What if I told you that by incorporating a daily backbend, you can strengthen your back muscles, help to counteract all that time you spend forwardly-flexed, improve posture and ultimately prevent that hunch back along with the pain and stiffness that comes with it?
Now, when I say backbend, I’m not talking those crazy yoga poses where you’re upside down and bent in half backwards (hey, yogis if this is you though, keep at it). But I mean just a simple 10 second stretch seated or standing. You can do this at work at your desk, it’s that easy! Just extend your arms up and back (or just back), open up your chest by pushing it forward to create a curve in your spine and tilt your head back. Like this…
Ok, why are backbends the solution though?
1. Our Daily Posture
There is absolutely no denying that we spend 90, if not 100% of our days in a forward flexed posture. We use the muscles of our “front bodies” to interact with the environment, people and objects. We hunch over our desks, our computers, our books, our PHONES. Constantly bending the neck down, constantly reaching the arms forward and rounding the shoulders down and in. Most of us even SLEEP in flexed positions like fetal pose or side-lying (for clarity, I do not encourage you to sleep in a backbend). Have you tried sitting up straight and squeezing your shoulder blades together in the back? It’s hard work, isn’t it? It’s hard because we aren’t used to activating our backs like this. This leads me to my next point…
2. Weakening Back Muscles
All of this hunching we do on a daily basis with every task strengthens all of those muscles in our “front body”, because they’re constantly in use. But what about our “back body”? The muscles in the back of your neck and in your back? When are those muscles EVER intentionally used? Unless you specifically train your back muscles at the gym or your mother tells you to sit up straight, my guess is hardly ever. Even if you do train at the gym, you’re working on strengthening those back muscles but you aren’t working on the flexibility of those joints or muscles. While the muscles on the front sides of our bodies get stronger, the back muscles get weaker and weaker over time further encouraging our body to stay in this horrible constantly flexed position. Just like they say for every other muscle group, if you don’t use it you lose it.
3. Compromised Breathing
All of this time forward-flexing leads us to sort of “crunch” our chest and the organs in it. We compress our own lungs making it harder to breathe! Adding in that daily backbend practice will help open up your chest and shoulders and un-crunch your diaphragm, stretching it and helping you breathe deeper and better. This point alone would’ve motivated a lot of my 80 year old clients who suffered from shallow breath.
I hope we can all agree that it’s worth the 10-30 seconds a day to get that stretch in. Before it’s too late. Plus, it FEELS good. It reminds me of that morning stretch we all do, just a bit deeper. With practice this will feel just like that, I promise. Maybe not right away, especially if you feel you have become quite inflexible over the years. It actually can be quite uncomfortable in the beginning (but it should not be painful!). The more you use those back muscles and the more you open up your chest, the better and more flexible you will start to feel. AND it’ll prevent those crushed nerves and hunched posture as you age. I hope you all join me on my resolution for 2019 #ABackbendADayKeepsTheDoctorAway!