WHY YOU SHOULD RETHINK TOSSING THE HEAD BACK TO LOOK AT THE SKY, IN UPWARD FACING DOG…

Do you find you have tension in your shoulders? Or maybe your working on backbends and your feel stuck in your upper back or tight in your chest and shoulders? Sitting all day at a desk, computer, or in their car, our shoulders and upper back may round and the head creeps forward. Generally speaking, your ear should line up with the tip of the shoulder your shoulder (acromion). According to Kapandji (2008), for every inch your head comes forward, it increases the weight of your head by about 10lbs! This puts increasing amounts of stress on the vertebra in the lower neck. It also results in tightening of over worked muscles in the upper back and at the base of the skull. These muscles work overtime to keep the head up while the stabilizing muscles in the front the neck (deep neck flexors) become lengthened and weak. This posture often leads to more rounding through the shoulders and upper back as the chest muscles shorten and tighten, and the muscles that pull your shoulder blades back lengthen and weaken.

Yoga should help though, right? Well, that depends…. Let’s use a classic example, sticking the chin out (cervical protrusion) then tossing the head back in urdhva mukha svanasana (upward facing dog). In this position, the base of the skull is basically hanging back there without any stabilization, jamming (very technical term) vertebrae in the neck. If you’ve practiced this way you may also notice that you are still rounding through the shoulders and find it hard to extend the upper back and open up the chest.

Next time you come into urdhva mukha svanasana, try lifting the sternum and slightly retracting (drawing back) and depressing (drawing down) the shoulders. If you actively press into the hands, this will help lift the chest. Keep the chin in a little and parallel with the floor. If you want to, you can then look up, extending the neck. Be careful not to lead the movement with your chin protruded (stuck out). In the Yoga Mala (1999), it is even written “…push the chest forward with the strength of the hands, lift the head up….” when describing urdhva mukha svanasana. Try it and feel the difference of tossing the head back immediately versus lifting with the sternum/chest. What feels better???…