Keeping the spinal column and its accompanying musculature healthy is key to good posture and optimal movement during all kinds of activities, from specialized sports to carrying groceries from the car to the kitchen. When the back muscles exist in a constant state of tension, the entire body can suffer and the results can be obvious; a tendency to slouch, rounded shoulders and generalized stiffness. Stretching the back can be done with a few key exercises performed in a standing position. Doing these stretches a few times a day will help keep your spine limber and blood flowing to your muscles.
Standing Forward Bend
The standing forward bend is a classic yoga and Pilates pose that not only releases tension in the back muscles but can also calm the mind and facilitate a sense of tranquility. Stand with your feet hip-width apart. You can place your hands on your hips or let your arms dangle at your sides as you bend. Make sure to bend primarily from the hips versus the waist, to move deeper into the stretch. Inhale deeply and start the bend on the exhale. Touch your fingertips or palms to the floor if you can, but don't push it. Inhale and exhale, moving more deeply into the bend with each exhale. Visualize your upper body lengthening and relaxing.
Standing Side Bend
Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width and your arms at your sides with your palms placed lightly on the outside of each leg. Inhale, and on the exhale reach over your head with your right hand as you flex your spine to the left. Hold for a few seconds and return to the start position. Repeat on the other side. Allowing the spine to flex in a lateral plane is very rejuvenating. If you feel pain in your lower back or anywhere along your spinal column, stop immediately.
Standing Side Twist
This stretch can be done with an exercise ball if you have one. If not, you can use a few folded towels instead. Stand with your feet slightly wider than hip width. Hug the ball or towels to your chest and upper abdominal region, drop your shoulders and keep your jawline parallel to the floor. Slowly, while holding the ball or towels, inhale, and on the exhale twist your upper body to the left, keeping your hips square (in other words, move only your torso and pretend your hips are encased in concrete). Repeat on the other side. The breath is key here, as deep breathing will allow you to increase the range of the twist and keep oxygen flowing to your muscles.
Especially where the back is concerned, consult your doctor before you embark on any fitness program, even one as gentle as stretching. Stop any stretch that causes a sudden, piercing, unusual pain or strain and refrain from stretching again until you have been evaluated by your healthcare practitioner.
- MayoClinic.com: Yoga for Stress Management
- The Anatomy of Pilates; Paul Massey
- Pilates Workbook on the Ball; Ellie Herman
- Thinkstock Images/Comstock/Getty Images