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For many of us, the cold winter weather is something to dread. Winter means more layers, trying to stay warm when outside, and often stiffness in the upper body.
The cold weather makes us more prone to hunching forward, which can lead to poor posture and tightness in the shoulders and back.
That’s why it’s so important to stay on top of our stretching and yoga routines during the winter season and acknowledge when our bodies need attention.
Spending time in lower temperatures, research has shown, is associated with an increase in evolving neck and back pain. The hunched position we often resort to in the cold isn’t comfortable for our shoulders and back, being mindful of that fact when the cold weather arrives can help you address it before the aches set in.
If you’re already starting to feel stiffness in the neck, back and shoulders, it may be time to take action with a simple yet comprehensive yoga routine. Yoga has been shown to improve back and neck pain when performed with care and an attention to detail. Plus, yoga may help calm your nerves during the sometimes stressful holiday season, making it the perfect winter workout.
This five-move yoga routine targets the muscles that often suffer the most from hunching and cold-induced stiffness in the upper back, neck and shoulders. Practice this routine once a day, going through each move slowly and carefully, to reduce tightness in these regions. Remember to breathe slowly and with intention throughout to help with any stress or anxiety you may be feeling as the holidays quickly approach.
Think of this routine as a multifaceted solution to your winter anxieties. Yoga is a way to take a break from your day, focus on your body and relieve built-up tension.
1. Reverse prayer
Stand up with your knees slightly bent. Let your shoulders relax and move your hands behind your back. Reach your fingertips toward each other in the middle back, and bring your shoulders back. If that feels easy, you can make a fist with your hands and press them together.
Finally, the full variation of the pose is pressing the palms together in a prayer position.
Take five deep breaths in through the nose and out through the nose.
2. Side-angle pose
Stand up straight and move your legs apart until they are around 4 feet apart. Extend your arms out to your sides so that they are parallel to the floor. Turn your left foot so that it aligns with your left arm.
Keep your right foot pressed into the floor as you bend your left knee to a 90-degree angle. Lean toward your left knee, bringing your left forearm to your left thigh. Raise your right arm into the air and bring it toward your ear so that your right foot forms a straight line with your right fingertips.
Hold for five breaths, and then switch sides.
3. Side stretch
Stand up with your feet hip-width apart and both hands on your hips. Slowly lean to the right and press down with your left foot. You should feel a stretch along the left side of your body.
Breathe in to expand the left side of the body, and breathe out as you come up to the center.
Inhale to lean over to the left to stretch the right side of your body, and exhale as you come up to center.
Repeat five times to each side.
4. Cat and cow
On all fours, place your palms directly underneath your shoulders and your hips directly over your knees.
Then, arch your back, bringing your stomach toward the floor, as you look forward and bring your shoulders back to stretch the chest.
Exhale as move your spine upward, pulling the navel in toward the spine and rounding the spine up toward the ceiling.
Repeat this five times.
5. Shoulder shrugs
Standing or sitting, roll your shoulders in a circular motion. Begin by first moving them up.
Then move them back, down and to starting position. Repeat this circular motion for around 30 seconds to help relieve tightness in the back, neck and shoulders.
Combat upper body aches and pains this winter by performing this stretch routine. Your neck and shoulders will thank you!
Stephanie Mansour, host of “Step It Up With Steph” on PBS, is a health and wellness journalist and a consultant and weight loss coach for women.