Upper back strength

I’ve become very aware recently of my posture. As a yoga teacher, and practitioner, I judge myself when I catch my shoulders hunching, or my lower spine rounding in a seated position. It led me to investigate which asana help to build, and maintain, good posture in the practice of yoga.

The average person, sitting for hours at their computers, are rarely in a beautifully upright position – with the pelvis perfectly perpendicular to the seat, and their shoulders stacked over their hips. Even as we move through our day, our shoulders are often leading the way, with our upper back curved forward, in a hurry to get to our next appointment. Backbends stretch the front body, open the shoulders, stimulate the nervous system and lift your spirits. All backbends stretch the front body, but backbends that use the weight of the body against gravity, to strengthen the upper back, help to maintain this chest opening beyond your time on the mat.

Salabhasana/Locust is not an asana you’ll see much on Instagram, and some yogis find the breath quite challenging when the diaphragm is being pressed, but there is lots happening in this unassuming asana. The whole back body is strongly working to lift the weight of the body against gravity; the weight of the body is pressing and massaging the organs of the abdomen – aiding digestion and detoxification, boosting the immune system, easing constipation, and easing mental fatigue.

Ardha Uttanasana/Half Forward Bend also uses the upper back against gravity when done with awareness. Place the palms of your hands on your upper shins, use your arms to help reach your sternum forward and up, and feel the upper back working. If you have tight hamstrings this will be a great way to warm them up before any deeper Forward Bends. Like with Salabhasana/Locust, I have found huge benefits from spending more time in these two asana in my daily practice recently.

In your next practice try coming all the way down to the ground and taking Salabhasana/Locust instead of Bhujangasana/Cobra or Urdha Mukha Svanasana/Upward Facing Dog. Print out the above sequence to get a sense for what upper back strengthening feels like in your spine.

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Ruth Delahunty Yogaru