You’ve probably heard of progressive relaxation. It’s a guided exercise that has you tour your body from the tips of the toes to the top of your head, progressively letting go of tension.
After sitting at a desk or in front of the TV for a few hours, you might want to try the opposite. Try progressively reengaging with your body.
Here’s one way to reengage. Find a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed.
- Take off your shoes (better yet, go outside and do this barefoot on dirt, grass, or sand).
- Stand up (you should be doing this more anyway) with your feet about hip-width apart.
- Feel how your feet connect with the floor. Shift your weight from side to side, front to back. Keeping your legs as straight as possible, make big circles with your hips. reversing direction after every few circles, all the while feeling how the edges of your feet, then the bottom, the toes, and the heel connect with the floor.
- Now shift your focus to your ankles. Keeping your feet flat on the floor and your knees, hips, back, and neck in a straight line, lean forward slightly, bending only at the ankle. Then shift your weight back to your heels. Shift forward and back a few more times. Then find the point where your weight is centered just in front of your heel and settle in there.
- Now bend your knees a bit and gently bounce up and down, focusing on the bending and straightening of your knee joint.
- Now get your hips moving. Shift your weight all the way onto one foot and then swing the opposite leg forward and back and then trace circles just above the floor with that leg, first clockwise circles, then counterclockwise. Shift your weight to the other leg and repeat.
- Next, imagine that your pelvis is a bowl. Gently tilt the bowl forward and backward a bit. Then make circles with your hips, keeping the bowl level with the floor. Then make circles in the opposite direction.
- Picture your sacrum, the arrowhead-shaped bone pointing downward at the base of your spine, plugging into a V-shaped notch at the back of your pelvis, between the ilium bones. This crucial junction, the sacro-iliac joint, connects the upper and lower parts of your body.
- Roll and tilt your pelvis, focusing on how your spine follows along with your pelvis. The sacro-iliac (SI) joint actually moves a little bit, but for the purposes of this exercise, picture the relationship between your spine and your pelvis as pretty much fixed.
- Now, arch your back by sticking your butt out and lifting up your chest up so that your sternum faces straight ahead (this will feel familiar if you have ever learned good deadlift form from a personal trainer). Holding this position, bend a little forward and a little backword at the hip, feeling your upper body rotate around your hip joint. This may feel odd at first since many/most of us bend forward and backward by curving the spine.
- Next, feel the contrast between moving with a reinforced back, as in the previous step, versus moving by curving the spine. First, move your shoulders and head forward and back with your back arched and bending only at the hips. Then, let your spine bend as you go forward and back.
- One way to think about this difference is to think about how a crane works versus how a fishing pole works. When a crane lifts a load, the cables along the top of its boom are pulled taut, keeping the boom from bending. Similarly, the muscles that run alongside your spine are pulled taut as you arch your back, keeping your back from bending. Contrast this with a fishing pole, which bends toward any stress placed on it. While it can move like a fishing pole, your spine is much better poised for heavy work (or even for just holding your torso, shoulders, and head up) when it’s engaged like a crane.
- With your new “crane back” engaged, move your focus to your rib cage. Tuck your belly button toward your spine and feel your rib cage lift up away from your hips as your abdominal muscles contract. Imagine that your spine can telescope a bit, allowing your rib cage to rise straight up. Take a few deep breaths, letting your rib cage rise and fall with each breath.
- Now picture your shoulders draped over the top of your rib cage. Desk posture pulls your shoulder girdle toward the front, the shoulders slumping and the back arching. To undo this pattern, roll each shoulder up and back a few times, one at a time, leaving the shoulder blades as far back as possible. After you’ve done this with each shoulder, you’ll feel a little slack between your shoulder blades. Pull your shoulder blades together to take up the slack. This will square up your shoulders and put them more on top of your rib cage than in front of it.
- Finish putting your shoulder girdle on top of your rib cage by placing the palm of your dominant hand on your sternum (breast bone) with your thumb under one collar bone and your index finger under the other. Push your collar bones up and back, continuing to pull your shoulder blades together. You’ll feel your shoulder girdle settle over the top of your rib cage.
- Finally, lift up the back of your head, lengthening the back of your neck and letting your chin drop a bit. Feel your head rise up and back. This puts your ears back over your shoulders, where they belong. Another way to feel this sensation is to stand with your back to a wall with your shoulder blades flat against the wall and then push your head back and inch it up along the wall until the back of your neck has lengthened as much as possible.
Try this a few times and let me know how it feels to reengage with your body.