Spring has finally arrived and we’re out of the gates running to get the yard in order, the windows cleaned, the deck scraped and painted. You name it, there’s a honey-do list as long as your arm can stretch into Trikonasana. It feels fabulous to be outside with your hands in the dirt and the smell of green in the air. What doesn’t feel fabulous is the knots in your back that greet you every morning, a reminder of an inactive winter. Getting rid of that morning stiffness is possible. Here are some of our favorite tricks.
Find a quiet spot, clear away the clutter and give yourself about half an hour for this routine.
You will need:
1 blanket
1 yoga block or foam roller
an 8-foot yoga strap
2 racquet or tennis balls.
Start on your hands and knees in neutral table, spread your fingers wide and press down through each knuckle.  Inhale look up, allow your shoulder blades to draw down your back and your heart sinks forward. Exhale, drop your head round your back and draw your naval inwards. Repeat 10 times, sending breath and movement into the areas that are stiff.
Child’s Pose
(rounded back variation with back body breath to release tension in your back extensors)
From neutral table, round your back like a cat, draw the belly in and push back with your hands to bring your buttocks to your heels.  Continue to keep the back rounded as you gently maintain the pressure of hands pushing back.  Once you’ve settled into the pose, focus on sending your breath into the back body.  Inhale and expand the back from the tailbone, up the spine to the base of the skull.  Exhale and relax the muscles from the top down to the tailbone. Use your breath to massage the back of the body and start the first stage of release. Hold this position for 5-10 breaths.
Child’s Pose with Arms to Sides
(to release tension in the intercostals, lats and quadratus lumborum)

Release the tension in the ribs and sides of the back by walking the hands over to the right side of your mat.  Place your left hand on top of the left and gently press back with the hands to push your left buttock towards your left heal. Press out through the left side of the ribs and send your breath into the left side body. This time expand from the hip crest to the armpit on the inhale and exhale from the armpit to the hip crest. Hold for 5 breaths and repeat on the other side.
Thoracic Extension over a bolster copyThoracic Extension over a Roll
(release tension in the thoracic spine and origin of the back extensors)
Roll up a blanket, beach towel or a yoga mat. The roll should be 4-6 inches in diameter. Lie on your back with the roll positioned at the bottom end of the shoulder blades. Lie back over the roll with your knees bent and your arms stretched out to the sides above the roll.  Feel free to support your head on a folded blanket if tilting your head back is too much.  Breathe into the front of the chest in the inhale and exhale to allow your shoulders to sink back towards the floor.  Hold for 10 -20 breaths.
Thoracic extension over a foam roller copyIf you would like a deeper stretch perform this over a foam roller and support your head with your hands as demonstrated in the picture. Slowly roll up and down from the bottom of the shoulder blades to the top as you massage the muscles on either side of the spine.  You may hear a few pops and cracks as your joints release tension.  Ahh those feel good. 
Now that you have released the superficial tension in the upper back, let’s go deeper and release the muscles from the top of the shoulders to the low back.  Skip this one if you don’t like a massage or pressure on the low back. 
Ball Release Paraspinals copyBack Extensor Release with Balls
(release of the superficial and deep muscles on either side of the spine)
For this, you will need two racquetballs. Tennis balls will work, but they are much harder and may provide too much pressure for many of you to tolerate. Take your shirt off or wear a tight fitting top for this one.  Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor. Place one ball on either side of the spine in the muscles of your upper back.  I usually start at the top of the shoulder blades.  Push with your feet to slowly roll the balls down your back.  Pause when you find a tender point or trigger point (a point that radiates). This should feel good. If it doesn’t feel good, move to another spot that does. Stay on any trigger points and breathe until the radiation stops. Slowly move down the spine until you reach the base of the low back.  Stay off the bones.
Note: this whole process may take 10-20 minutes depending upon how many knots you have in your back.  The first time you do this may be the longest.  If you feel better afterwards, try this every morning for a week.  You should find that it takes shorter and shorter amounts of time to get through your whole back.
evolution_yoga_downdog_strapDownward Dog with Strap
(traction for your back combined with a release of your psoas)
Caution – do not perform if you have high blood pressure, vertigo or recent eye surgery.
You will need a folding chair and an 8 foot yoga strap. Find the sturdiest door in your house and loop the ends around the door handles as in the photo.   Stand with your back to the door with a yoga mat on the floor a foot under the door with the top of the mat facing away from the door. Place the chair at the top of the mat with the seat evolution_yoga_downdog_strap_2facing you. Do up the buckle on the strap and put the buckle to one side. Tighten the strap 1/3 of the way and walk forward until the belt is taut. Place the strap at the crease in your hips and bend forward to test that the door can take your weight. Place your hands on the chair and walk your feet back so they straddle the door.  Push back with your hands to move into downward dog.  Tighten the strap so that the door and the strap are supporting your weight and taking the pressure off your hands.  If the chair is too high you can move it out of the way and place your hands on the floor.  The evolution_yoga_downdog_strap_3strap should be able to take all of your weight so that you can lift your arms off the floor, but leave them on the floor for support.  Hang out here for 3-5 minutes and feel your back lengthen as you relax.
Remember, if anything doesn’t feel good reread the instructions and look at the photo to make sure you are using the correct technique. If it still doesn’t feel good leave that one out.
If you have more than stiffness in your back, you may benefit from a custom yoga therapy program to meet your individual needs. When yoga is incorporated into a physical therapy program to treat low back pain, it is covered by insurance.
~ Janet Carscadden

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