Whether you’re standing or seated, try this quick test: hunch your shoulders forward, then hunch your back forward at the same time. Take a deep breath. Now, straighten your back and then roll your shoulders back away from your ears, opening your collar bones. Take a deep breath.
No doubt your lungs inflated much easier, with a deeper and fuller breath when the spine was straighter and the heart was open through the expanded collar bones and shoulders, versus when your body was crumpled forward.
Got a hunch?
Most of us spend our time crumpled forward: sitting at the computer, hunched over our desks, using our smart phones, reading a book, holding the steering wheel…the list goes on.
If you think about all of the important organs in that area, you can understand how a hunching posture can affect the body as well as the mind.
While yoga stretches our muscles it also teaches us to breathe well, stand well and sit well, which all help to optimize our body’s functions.
The problem is that we don’t always remember what optimal alignment is when we leave our yoga mat.
The breath reflects the mind.
Think of the types of breath felt during different emotions: loud exhalations from frustration, hyperventilation when over excited, smooth breath when you’re calm, or shallow short breath when you’re sad or depressed.
Our mind affects the breath, and the breath affects our nervous system. This is why proper deep breathing during yoga practice, or any time, calms the mind and body.
Posture affects the mind and body.
Now visualize the position your body when hunched forward. The chest is closed. And so is the heart. Physically and energetically. Closing the chest area shortens the breath and, in turn, actually affects the mind with feelings of boredom, depression, anger, stress or frustration because it’s not bringing in the fullest capacity of oxygen and energy to the body and not allowing it to relax.
Therefore, longer exhales stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system, allowing the body and mind to come to a more relaxed state.
A little too hard to swallow?
Is it any wonder why heartburn remedies are often out of stock at the drugstore?
With our everyday habits of hunching, not only are we compromising our breath, but also our digestion.
Keeping the alignment of the head and neck, in addition to opening the chest and proper breathing can alleviate GERD (gastroesophageal reflux disease), and help with some of the symptoms that are linked to this digestive issue, including stress.
Open your heart for better health.
The best way to alleviate hunching shoulders is to work on heart opening poses that open the shoulders and straighten the spine.
Below are five poses to open your heart. While holding each pose, also concentrate on filling the lungs with a slow deep breath.
2. Tadasana with hands clasped behind the back, or grabbing opposite elbows.
3. Gomukhasana arms. Use a belt or strap if your arms are too tight.
4. Matsyasana (Fish pose). Try a restorative version using a supportive rolled-up blanket under the shoulder blades.
5. Ustrasana (Camel pose). For an easier option, simply take your hands to your lower back with your fingers pointing upward and shoulders open, and arch your back.
As you begin to open your heart with a few yoga poses and deep breathing, also be mindful throughout your day as you sit – notice when your shoulders are hunched, and notice what you’re thinking. You might be surprised how easily you can change your mood with a more open heart.