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Monday, February 1, 2016

Tip of the Week: Don't Become a Hunchback!

The following by Kevin Perry at ExperienceYoga offers up some compelling information on why bending backwards is so important for avoiding kyphosis or "hunchback". The supported chest opener he suggests at the end is a good idea for getting the feel of how you should be using your shoulder blades in backbending postures in your Bikram practice (or sitting at your office desk or standing in line at the grocery store!)

Never say "never."

I once told my yoga students no one ever bends backward in ordinary daily life. For instance, you don't do "the limbo" to pick your socks up off the floor. Of course, you don't.


But we bend forward all the pick things up, to look at the computer screen, even to put our pants on in the morning.

I think, because we constantly bend forward and never bend backward, I see a lot of people with "rounded backs," or kyphosis. When the upper back is bent dramatically forward, it's called hyperkyphosis.

obvious examples of kyphosis

"Kyphosis is a curving of the spine that causes a bowing of the back, such that the apex of the angle points backwards leading to a hunchback or slouching posture." That's what the medical dictionary says. This is what it looks like:

Our spines were constructed to bend backwards. But you've got to do it. If you don't use it, you lose it.

I started this message by reminding us all to "never say never." I learned this lesson (once again) in church about a year ago. Up until then, I frequently made the pronouncement that no one ever bends backward in everyday life.

Then I saw it. The woman just ahead of me was holding her baby on her hip. Rather than turning around, she continued to face the front of the church, bent backwards and reached down to pick her baby's pacifier up off the pew.

People really do bend backwards in real life! When you look up at a bird flying overhead, you bend back. Sometimes when you reach for something on a high shelf, you bend backward.

Probably the most common backbend I see in real life is the posture of an expectant mom. As the baby gets bigger, moms bend backward to counter-balance the ever increasing weight of the baby. Here's an illustration that exaggerates the point:

 You might be surprised to learn, however, that you can bend backward and still slouch. Yes! You can lean back and still have your upper spine slouched forward into that kyphotic shape that crowds the internal organs, makes breathing difficult, and dooms you to a future of neck pain.

Look at these pics. When people lean back, they still collapse their chests!

You can lean back and still round your upper back. See the shoulders rounded forward?

 See how he's leaning back, but rounding his upper spine and neck forward?

To get all the benefits of backbending you've got to learn to lengthen your spine (lift the breast bone away from the navel) and dig the bottom tips of your shoulder blades into the back of your ribcage. That action--using the shoulderblades--transforms posture and opens the chest.

When you do it, you relieve compression on your organs and breathing comes easier.

I think the best way to get the feel of using your shoulder blades for backbending, or in regular upright posture, is practicing the supported chest opener. Sometimes I just call it lying over a rolled up blanket, as shown here.

It may take some getting used to, but you'll eventually love this practice. Enjoy it. Feel yourself breathe easier when you come out of it.

Don't just read about it. Get up. Experience it. Experience yoga!

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