In today's screen-centric culture, nearly everything we do—from working for hours at the computer to looking up movie times on smartphones—invites our upper bodies to round forward. And daily life rarely offers opportunities to stretch up and arch back.
As a result, many people develop a near-constant hunched posture, which can contribute to back and neck pain as well as headaches. Often the slump is made worse by "forward head": The head protrudes in front of the shoulders, and its weight pulls the chest into a deeper slump. And with the chin jutting forward, the neck is stressed even more. This posture can contribute to the risk of developing repetitive stress injuries such as carpal tunnel syndrome, because it shortens the muscles in the front of the chest and puts pressure on the nerves and blood vessels in the arms. Sitting crunched forward can also compress internal organs, contributing to respiratory, circulatory, and digestive problems.
Yoga can help you break the hunching habit by teaching you to pay attention to your alignment, not just when you're on the mat but all through the day. In addition, poses to counteract slouching can cultivate strength and suppleness in the muscles that support good postural alignment. Try this sequence—daily, if you can—to stretch and strengthen your back and chest and enhance the mobility of your shoulders.
Carol Krucoff is a yoga therapist at Duke Integrative Medicine and the author of Healing Yoga for Neck and Shoulder Pain.
Salabhasana | (Locust Pose)
Why—Strengthens the back and core muscles.
How—Root down through your pubic bone as you lift your head and chest.
Gomukhasana | (Cow Face Pose)
Why—Opens the shoulders and upper chest.
How—Clasp your hands or fingertips, or use a strap to bring your hands together.
Adho Mukha Svanasana | (Downward-Facing Dog)
Why—Stretches your back, arms, and shoulders.
How—Press evenly into the base of your fingers as you reach back with your hips.
Supported Supine Backbend
Why—Gently opens your upper back and chest.
How—Get comfortable with extra blankets if necessary, and stay for 5 to 10 minutes.