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When you’re going through a time of stress, you feel like you want to curl up and hide — and you might unconsciously be doing just that, closing up your arms, hunching your shoulders and dipping your head down. This postural alteration constricts both your breathing and your blood flow and creates tightness in your front body.
Simultaneously increase oxygen uptake and spark happiness by moving your body in the opposite direction, opening your chest and shoulders, and releasing the intercostal muscles between your ribs to expand your heart space and alleviate tightness and stress.
Take 10 to 15 minutes to perform this self-care routine one time through first thing in the morning or in the afternoon for an energy boost or stress relief. Do the moves in order and transition from one to the other smoothly, relaxing and focusing on your breathing. Perform another round of the supine spinal twist on both sides at the very end and you’ll be ready to face the world — stress free.
Unblock Your Heart
To improve thoracic (upper back/spine) mobility
Set up two yoga blocks about 6 inches apart and parallel to one another. Turn one to a medium height and the other to the tallest height. Sit in front of the medium block, then recline back slowly on top of both blocks, adjusting them so the medium-height one sits directly under your shoulder blades and the taller one is right underneath your skull supporting your head. Hold here and take 15 slow breaths.
Tip: As your thoracic mobility improves, turn both blocks to the tallest position.
The Chest Expander
To stretch the anterior deltoids and pectoralis minor
Lie on your right side with your knees bent and legs stacked, extend your right arm along the floor and rest your head on top of it. Extend your left arm over your shoulder, bend your elbow and place the back of your hand against your lower back, fingers pointing toward your head. Slowly slide your hand upward along your spine as far as you comfortably can and then roll onto your back, keeping your left arm in place, and hold for five to eight breaths. Do on both sides.
Tip: If mobility allows, bend your right elbow and reach your right hand behind and underneath your head to touch or hook your fingers together.
To dynamically stretch your entire spine and thoracic body
Get onto all fours with your hands underneath your shoulders and your knees underneath your hips. Inhale, drop your belly and gaze at the ceiling as you push your glutes down and back to touch your heels, keeping your arms straight. Immediately exhale as you round your back and drop your head, then push forward back into tabletop. Repeat five to eight times.
Tip: This movement should be smooth and fluid; don’t rush any part of it and link your reps together.
Kneeling Cactus Arms and Backbend
To open your deltoids and pectorals
Kneel with your knees hip-width apart, tuck your pelvis and extend your arms straight up overhead. Inhale and then exhale as you bend your elbows and pull your arms down to the sides as you lift your sternum without arching your lower back. Inhale as you return to the start and repeat five to 10 times.
Tip: Maintain spinal integrity by actively “reaching” your tailbone downward and keeping your chin tucked.
Supine Spinal Twist
To create space in the thoracic spine and upper body
Lie faceup and raise your knees over your hips, legs bent 90 degrees. Use your left hand to gently guide your legs down to the left side, keeping them stacked, and extend your right arm to the side along the floor. Look toward your right hand and hold for five to 10 breaths. Return to the center and then repeat on the other side.
Tip: Place a block between your thighs and ankles if you need more support.
To mobilize your neck, shoulder complex, intercostals, hips and quads
Get into plank with your hands underneath your shoulders and your head, hips and heels aligned. Lift your left leg, bend your knee, then twist and reach over and behind your right leg as you open your body to the left. Lift your left hand and reach it overhead as you extend your left leg and touch your toes lightly on the floor. Take five slow breaths and then return to the start. Repeat on the other side.
Tip: Lift your chest toward the sky as you slide your shoulder blades down toward your lower back, pulling them in opposite directions.