Yoga to reduce the Neck Hump!

Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 3)

The Neck-Hump!

 

Do you catch yourself looking at your phone with your head flopped forwards?

This is Forward Head Posture! Or more colloquially called a ‘Neck-Hump’ or ‘Hump-Back’ posture or ‘Dowager’s Hump’.

To really feel what this is, go ahead and let your chin slide forwards. If you put your hand on the back of your neck you’ll feel that this really exaggerates the lump at the top of your spine.

 

Not just about good looks…

Now, this is not only just an aesthetic concern (ps. I think the desire to look good is TOTALLY valid too!)

But with years and years of forward head posture, you’ll actually change the position of your spine and this will become a permanent position, not just a lazy one!

So, what can we do???

 

Why is Forward Head Posture everywhere?

There are several reasons why most of us develop a forward head posture these days.

Basically, we are always looking at something small in front of us!

We look at our phones for 10,000 hours a day… we look at our monitors or laptops at work all day, at night we read books/kindles (don’t get me wrong, I love a book!)

But all this makes us slide our head forwards to get a little bit closer to the tiny words on the screens!

As hunter-gatherers we were really designed to look up into the middle or far distance more often.

So, NO judgement! I do it. You do it. We all do it.

But what can we DO about it?

 

Does exercise help Forward Head Posture?

Well, thankfully, there’s plenty of research out there showing that corrective back and neck exercises help!

Let’s start with a systematic review that selected seven of the highest quality studies (out of 47 potentials) (Sheikhosseini et al. 2018).

These researchers pooled the data on all 627 participants across the studies, and tested whether corrective exercise made a difference on forward head posture (or as they call it: craniovertebral angle).

They found that yes, indeed, there is strong evidence that corrective exercise is effective for improving forward head posture! Woohooo!

Systematic reviews are the most robust type of evidence there is, however it doesn’t give us those nitty gritty details of exactly WHAT the studies DID…

 

Let’s look at WHICH exercises!

So let’s look at one study on forward head posture a little more closely.

Harman et al. (2005) recruited 40 men and women between 20 and 50 years of age, who all had at least 5 cm of forward head posture (assessed with a photograph).

Twenty-three participants were assigned a 10-week exercise programme, with instructions to do the following on 4 days a week:

  1. Chin tucks lying front-down, and lifting the head
  2. Chin drop while sitting
  3. Shoulder retraction using an elastic band (think: shoulders back)
  4. Chest stretches (the pec muscles)

The remaining 17 participants were in a control group that did nothing different form their everyday lives.

 

So, what happened?

At the end of the intervention the researchers found several interesting results.

The neck range-of-motion of the exercise group participants had improved. The authors suggested that the chin drop and tuck exercises were most likely responsible.

The exercise group also stood a little more upright at the end of the intervention, compared with the controls. The researchers called this the ‘shoulder-to-pelvis’ angle. They credited the pec stretches and shoulder retraction exercises for this change.

 

The power of awareness

Now, a funny thing happened with the results of the forward head posture! Both the exercise group and and control group improved!!

The researchers were cautiously confident that the exercise programme had helped the intervention group improve their forward head posture. So, why did the control group improve as well??

They thought that the control group had become more aware of how they were standing simply by being part of a study that was measuring posture.

They concluded that this was a positive finding. It shows that not only is exercise beneficial for forward head posture, but an educational or awareness programme on how to hold ones head in daily life could potentially make worthwhile differences in neck posture as well!

 

Yoga for the Neck-Hump!

Corrective back and neck exercises can be done in many ways. One of these ways is…. yoga!

(Then you also get some lovely additional relaxation and mindful benefits!)

Personally, yoga plays a huge role in how I work on my posture. It’s my main form of ‘conscious exercise’.

From my years of practicing and teaching yoga, these are a few posture tips and poses I find most useful:

  • Double chin! When standing or sitting, give yourself a beautiful double chin by pressing the chin back just a little. This counter-acts forward head posture.
  • Locust pose: This is basically the 1 pose for posture! Lie down on your front, hands palms-up next to your hips, and lift your upper body and legs at the same time. Look down your nose (double-chin!) This is great for strengthening the upper back and neck.
  • Relaxed chest and shoulder stretch: Lie down with your shoulder blades on a yoga block, placing your hands, palms-up next to your head, elbows at 90 degrees. And relax! This is wonderful for counteracting day of forwards computer slumping.

There you are! Just a few tips for a very simple home-based yoga routine, that could improve or avoid a Neck-Hump.

If you’re thinking “That’s interesting, but I don’t know where to start!”

Then read on…

 

Want some help?

Do you want to see if you can improve your posture with yoga? Well, I have something exciting coming up!

In September I will be launching a 28-day challenge called the Posture Doctor Challenge!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class. That’s achievable – right?

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

Part 1 went into detail about shoulder flexibility and Part 2 talked about back strength for posture.

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


References

Harman, K., Hubley-Kozey, C. L., & Butler, H. (2005). Effectiveness of an exercise program to improve forward head posture in normal adults: a randomized, controlled 10-week trial. Journal of Manual & Manipulative Therapy, 13(3), 163-176.

Sheikhhoseini, R., Shahrbanian, S., Sayyadi, P., & O’Sullivan, K. (2018). Effectiveness of therapeutic exercise on forward head posture: a systematic review and meta-analysis. Journal of manipulative and physiological therapeutics, 41(6), 530-539.


Yoga for good Back Posture

Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 2)

How can we strengthen our back?

 

A strong back is a key component to tall and beautiful posture. 

Your back is a beautifully complex structure of nerves, bones, cartilage, tendons and muscles.

It’s easy to take it for granted! After all, we use it automatically in every single thing we do. So there’s no need to actively think about it.

However, in this mini blog I will present some thoughts and evidence to show that we can do a little more these days to really look after our back and keep it strong.

This will be relevant to you especially if you have a job where you sit down a lot!

 

What does the back do for posture?

Your back is supported by muscles. These help hold the body upright and allow the trunk of the body to move, twist and bend in many directions.

Some of these muscles, called the back extensor muscles, are attached to back of the spine and enable actions like standing and lifting objects. These muscles include the large paired muscles in the lower back, called Erector Spinae.

The Erector Spinae helps hold up the spine for beautiful upright posture!

 

Why does our back get weaker?

If we’d live like our hunter-gatherer ancestors, we’d always have a super strong and upright back. No questions asked!

Walking a lot, picking up heavy things, squatting, sitting on the floor without a back-rest are all movements that our bodies are designed to do and that keep the Erector Spinae muscles engaged.

We did these every day and most of the day, before office chairs and sofas were invented…

 

Is your office job weakening your back?

We all know that muscles get bigger and stronger when you use them. And, vice-versa, it is the same! They will start to weaken when there are long periods of disuse.

So just think about the position your back is in most of the day at work. Are you reclining onto a chair? And are you then you’re sitting in the car, reclining? And then when you come home, do you spend a few hours reclined on the sofa?

(No judgement from me, I’m sitting on an office chair while I’m writing this! And as I wrote this last sentence I found myself sitting up taller, away from the backrest!)

Yes, I know, we have to work. And for the vast majority of us we can’t avoid computer work!

But there are a few things we can do to counter-act this effect.

 

What does the research say?

I looked at what’s available on Google Scholar, and found many studies showing the benefits of exercise and yoga for improving low back pain (Anheyer et al., 2022; Owen et al., 2020).

That’s great! It partly shows us that these exercise modalities can help strengthen the back.

However, low back-pain is a much more complicated phenomenon than back strength alone, as it includes tightness in other muscles and psychological factors as well.

I was interested to find studies measuring actual back strength!

And I found one study of 193 office workers that did measure back strength, along with a host of other measurements (Genin et al., 2018).

When comparing those who regularly took part in the office exercise programme (2-3 times a week), to those who did not, the active group had statistically significantly higher back strength.

So the active office workers had managed to maintain a stronger back, despite their sedentary job, by regularly doing exercise 2-3 times a week.

 

Three yoga poses for a strong back!

Now, you know I am a big fan of yoga!

Personally, I have needed to keep my back super strong over the last two years to survive the physical demands of having a baby (now toddler)!

Picking up a young child from the floor and lowering them into a cot are very demanding for the back!

My strategy for surviving this time injury-free, was to really focus on back strength in my yoga practice. And I am happy to say, that it worked!

Some of my favourite poses for improving back strength are:

  • Locust Pose: Lying face down, lifting your upper back and legs from the ground just a little.
  • Side Plank: One hand (or elbow) on the ground, reaching high with the other arm. Side edges of the feed on the ground.
  • Upright big-toe hold: Standing up tall holding one foot up in front of you, maybe with the leg straight or knee bent, working on keeping the back straight.

You don’t even have to have a super long session to get the benefits of these poses.

A 10-15 minute routine that includes these poses would be beneficial for back strength, if done frequently.

If you’re thinking “That’s interesting, but I don’t know where to start!”

Then read on…

 

Want some help?

Do you want to see if you can strengthen your back with yoga? Well, I have something exciting coming up!

In September I will be launching a 28-day challenge to help improve posture!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class. That’s achievable – right?

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

Part 1 went into detail about shoulder flexibility and Part 3 talks about how to reduce or avoid the ‘Neck-Hump’!

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


References

Anheyer, D., Haller, H., Lauche, R., Dobos, G., & Cramer, H. (2022). Yoga for treating low back pain: A systematic review and meta-analysis. Pain, 163(4), e504-e517.

Genin, P. M., Dessenne, P., Finaud, J., Pereira, B., Dutheil, F., Thivel, D., & Duclos, M. (2018). Effect of work-related sedentary time on overall health profile in active vs. inactive office workers. Frontiers in public health, 6, 279.

Owen, P. J., Miller, C. T., Mundell, N. L., Verswijveren, S. J., Tagliaferri, S. D., Brisby, H., … & Belavy, D. L. (2020). Which specific modes of exercise training are most effective for treating low back pain? Network meta-analysis. British journal of sports medicine, 54(21), 1279-1287.


Yoga for Shoulder Posture

Let’s Talk About Posture! (part 1)

What can we do for the shoulders?

 

I’d like to take you back to a memory…

I remember very clearly a moment when I was sitting at a wedding, years ago. I saw these cute young flower girls walking down the aisle in front of the bride with their naturally super-upright posture.

Out of nowhere my mind started thinking about how my posture had deteriorated over the last few years.

When I was a young girl and teenager I had always done ballet and figure skating, and liked to believe these things kept my posture pretty upright.

However, sitting there, I suddenly became aware that for years I hadn’t done much else besides sit and work in front of a computer screen… And it hadn’t done my neck and shoulders any favours!

I’m recounting this story because I think it’s relevant to almost all adults.

We all have jobs and, for a lot of us, this requires A LOT of screen time!

So, do you ever lament the loss of the naturally tall posture you had as a child?

 

What I’ll be writing about…

I thought it was about time to explore the topic of posture and how it relates to the practice of yoga!

Finding yoga while I was neck-deep in PhD work at the University of Bath REALLY helped me bring some focus back to maintaining a healthy body.

So, in this three-part blog series I will cover some of the things I have learned about movement and posture:

Part 1. What we can do for the shoulders?

Part 2. What we can do for the back?

Part. 3. What we can do for the hips?

Sit back, and enjoy!

 

Why do our shoulders round forwards?

Everyone does have a slightly unique bone structure and tendency for how they hold their body.

So some people just naturally have a more rounded upper back and shoulders than others.

However… Our lifestyle and what we choose to do with our bodies does play a huge role in shoulder posture.

So what are the lifestyle reasons that shoulders might roll forwards?

From my understanding of anatomy and experiences in practicing and teaching exercise and yoga, these are some influences on rounded shoulders:

 

Desk work

You guessed it. I think this might be the number one culprit, in terms of number of people affected by it! When we type on a key board, we sit for long lengths of time with our Pectoralis muscles (especially the Pec Minor) in a shortened position. This will start to pull the shoulder forwards.

Staring at your laptop screen for hours also lets the muscles in the upper back get a little lazy, as they don’t get any exercise. These are meant to help keep the upper back upright and shoulders back as we walk around (which we used to do much more as hunter-gatherers).

 

Caring work

Anyone in a caring, person-centred job will also experience the same shoulder rounding effect, that others get from desk work. For example a GP, nurse or therapist will often hold a forward-rounded posture towards the patient to show that they are listening to their medical issues.

 

Sports

Tennis, cycling and swimming are sports that will strengthen (but shorten) the Pectoralis muscles. I’m not saying that these sports are bad! They are great for your health.

However, if a sport focuses a lot on one particular muscle group, then it is important to do the necessary complementary stretching and strengthening to keep the body in balance.

Can you think of some other sport examples?

 

Holding babies & children

This is a new area that I’ve learned A LOT about in the last year and a half. Before becoming a mum I didn’t fully grasp the physical effect that caring for a child around the clock can have on your body.

Now I know that breastfeeding, bottle feeding, rocking to sleep and pram pushing (as well as MANY other tasks) are ALL rounded shoulder activities. If mums and dads don’t consciously stretch the other way, then they will see some rounded shoulder effects appear over time.

 

What can we do about it?

That’s enough doom and gloom!

The good news is that we CAN do something about it! And this involves strengthening the postural muscles along the back and stretching the shoulder muscles, especially the Pecs!

I found an interesting research study that asked 40 women to do just that for 6 weeks (Hajihosseini et al., 2014).

These women, aged 20-25 years, all had rounded shoulders of more that 52 degrees. They were randomly divided into 4 groups:

  1. Control group (given no exercises)
  2. Strength exercises
  3. Stretching
  4. Strength exercises + stretching

After a 6 week programme of doing the assigned exercises 3 times a week, the researchers saw some interesting results.

Each group with some form of exercise improved shoulder rounding positions significantly compared with the control group. What’s more, the strength+stretching exercise group seemed the improve more than strength and stretching alone.

This difference wasn’t statistically significant, however it was a study with small numbers, which reduced the ability to detect statistically significant differences.

So, it was clear that either or both stretching and strengthening of the back and shoulders was beneficial for improving posture of the shoulders in these participants.

 

What can yoga do?

It’s not a far stretch of the imagination that yoga can tick the boxes of stretching and strengthening of the shoulders!

The stretching side of yoga has got a little more attention in the media generally, but I personally LOVE the ability of some yoga poses to increase core, back and shoulder strength.

Poses such as Sphinx pose and Locust pose are great in increasing upper back strength. These are poses I try to do daily to counter-act my desk work and child-carrying hours.

Reclining with your upper back on one or two yoga blocks, with the arms out to the side, is a wonderful stretch for the pecs. This is something I reeeeaally needed during my academic days at university.

Holding a half-Lotus twist (with one arm behind the back, grabbing the opposite thigh or foot) is also a brilliant shoulder opening stretch.

While these specific poses are great for opening the shoulders, attending ANY yoga will also help. Regardless of what the yoga class contains, reducing the level of stress and tension in the body will help to soften and open your shoulders as well.

So, don’t sweat about the small print! Just do some yoga. 😉

 

Heart opening

According to yogic philosophy, any chest stretching poses also have the benefit of opening the ‘heart chakra’.

I am not well versed in this area of philosophy, however I find it interesting.

If you find it difficult to ‘go for it’, to give fully to others, to express emotions or if you feel withdrawn emotionally, then you MAY benefit from some ‘heart-opening’ stretches.

I am one of these people!!

Before finding yoga, my shoulders and chest were always really in-flexible. This is where I have done the most work in my yoga practice. It may perhaps have helped me become more open emotionally to others as well…?

I invite you to keep an open mind!

 

Want some help?

In September I will be launching a specific 28-day yoga challenge to help improve posture!

This will involve a daily 15-minute class.

Watch this space for the up-coming challenge!

Up for the Challenge?

Would you like to be updated when this challenge is available?

Then please put enter your email address below.

* indicates required

Want to read more about posture?

This mini blog is the third in a 3-part blog series. Why not take a moment to read the other two?

In Part 2 go into detail about back strength for posture and in Part 3 I talk about how we can avoid or correct the ‘Neck-Hump’!

Enjoy your reading!

Love,

Jolanthe x


Reference

Hajihosseini, E., Norasteh, A., Shamsi, A., & Daneshmandi, H. (2014). The effects of strengthening, stretching and comprehensive exercises on forward shoulder posture correction. Physical Treatments-Specific Physical Therapy Journal4(3), 123-132.

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