Thursday, April 2, 2015

Yoga for Artists -- Lesson #1, releases for shoulders and upper back, UPDATED 5/24

Don't be afraid of "yoga" -- it's not a pretzel-posing cliche. Yoga describes an easy, gentle, friendly way to help your body unwind. Work and play are physical activities that impose stress on our joints and limbs. Repeated stress without release puts our bodies out of balance, and opens us to injury....

When you're ready, there are many paths to restoring balance. We had it when we were younger and our schedule revolved around the needs of our bodies...

As adults, we have to balance our independence with our responsibilities. We tend to ignore our own needs in that equation. When that happens, we need to remember the good advice we hear on airplanes: Secure the oxygen mask on yourself BEFORE you assist others. Catch your breath. Open your eyes to all the resources around you .. especially here on the internet.. to help bring restorative habits to your daily routine.

Check with your healthcare provider before starting any new exercise program. You can explore a wide range of "how-to" links on Facebook and You Tube. Find a fitness activity that is a good fit for you. The best exercise is the one that you enjoy and will do consistently. 

Just one example of the internet resources: this Facebook from Bandha Yoga -- where artists can learn anatomy along with yoga stretches to try ....
Here's a link to a great post from Bandha Yoga on the value of stretching to stay in shape..
Here at SNB, we're lucky to learn in-person from certified yoga instructor Simone. 
She teaches classes and workshops in the South Bay area, including the Torrance YCMA and Harmony Yoga studio. Here's link to a bio and schedule of classes Simone also posts lots of links on her Facebook page to easy yoga options for beginners to try...
She also instructs at informal yoga "workshops" we have at SNB for staff and colleagues.

Simone has kindly agreed to appear here on the blog in posts and video clips. This is her gift to artists.. to give you some ideas of ways to explore stretches and poses that will help release the tension from your work-related practice. If the ideas here inspire you .. please look into yoga or other exercise classes in your community. As with any exercise, consult with your doctor for questions about what programs are most suitable for your situation.

If these stretches are helpful to you, please consider "paying the gift forward" doing volunteer work or making a donation to non-profit.  Heifer International is a well-regarded charity that both Simone and I are big fans of. Donations support gifts of agriculture training and livestock to families who then share the gift with their community. Gifts of even $5 or $10 play well with others and do so much to help. Learn more here:
Over time, we will be adding additional stretches to try. These first ones here are especially corrective for the shoulders, upper back and wrists.

Feel free to email me with requests or questions: seahorse310(at)
If you want to know why I ended up doing so much yoga, etc... that's a long story...  you'll have to ask me in person :)

We all have to be mindful of the damage we're doing with all the sitting required by sketching and other desk-top duties. Here's a great graphic by Bonnie Berkowitz and Patterson Clark. Click on the image to enlarge and read the details.

The most important benefit of yoga is mindful BREATHING. Strive for slow deep breaths when you breathe both in and out while you are practicing your stretches. For most stretches you will exhale when you exert and inhale when you relax. Correct breathing will enrich your practice. Be mindful of times when you are holding your breath (relax and BREATHE) or when you are holding tension in your jaw or shoulders (relax and BREATHE).

The lessons here on the blog are designed to be done in a home or office environment. For the times the demonstrations include equipment, we will suggest "at-home" items you can substitute. The equipment used in the demos can be purchased at sporting goods stores. Target and TJ Maxx also sell yoga equipment. The photo below shows yoga straps and a yoga block (purchased at TJ Maxx) Check for the length of the strap -- 6' straps are common; 8' straps are useful for more advanced stretches (or taller folks).

Welcome to  LESSON #1 --- this is a sequence of 7 easy stretches to warm-up and open up chest, shoulder and arm areas that are compressed by long hours doing "desk work" at keyboards and drawing tablets...

An excellent upper body warm-up -- or release from a long session of keyboard or sketching work -- involves using a strap. A towel, dog leash, yardstick, or even a broomhandle can make a good substitute for the strap.

Using strap for arm warm-up ... extend the strap between your hands..
Using an arcing motion, move the strap behind your back, going as low as you can....  
then bring in back up again... over your head
extending the arc up over your head
continue the arc down in front, reverse. Go back and forth in smooth arcs several times to warm up the shoulders and upper body...

Once you are warmed-up, you can progress to "bowing" the strap behind you. Keeping the strap taut, rotate from the overhead position to having one hand up overhead and the other down behind the back and hips. 
You can hold the stretch there (breathing as you stretch) .. or rotate the "bow" to have one hand overhead and then the other...

 Here is a side view of positioning the shoulder... and the stretch in the "bow" arc...

Click on screen below for video demo of stretch with strap...THE VIDEO CLIPS ON THIS POST MAY NOT BE VIEWABLE ON MOBILE DEVICES (smart phones, iPads etc).



With the shoulders and upper body warmed up, an excellent way to "re-set" the shoulder girdle and upper body is this overhead stretch that starts with scooping the hands together... lifting up and over the head ... flipping the hands at the wrist while behind the head.. then pressing the arms up and out...

The real benefit from this stretch comes from that tricky bit in the middle of the sequence, when you turn your hands behind the back of your head, so the backs of the hands are touching.. then FLIP the hands over, rotating at the wrists so your fingers are touching towards the back of your head while you push your hands and arms up. As you PRACTICE this stretch, you will become more flexible and able to do this wrist flip. The tighter you are, the more challenging this motion will be -- a sure sign that you need this move in your practice to UNDO the tightness you are currently creating.

Click on video below for demo of hand-flip stretch.....


Here's the same stretch from the back so you can see the flip ...


This stretch is a simple circle rotation to open up the shoulders. Start with hands on shoulders and arms in front with elbows touching
 Circle up until elbows are straight up and hands are behind at back of neck...
 Continue circle out..
Then down and around ..
until circle is complete back at starting postion.
Start with a set of 3-5 circles.. first in one direction, and then in the other...
Arm circles ideo clip demo below...



Stand with your arms up, elbows bent, and clasp elbow from behind with opposite hand. Take deep INHALE. On EXHALE push elbows back. You should feel the stretch in your biceps/upper arm area. Relax forward a bit on the inhale.. push back again on the EXHALE. Do first set .. then change hands on top for second set.

The next sets of stretches help to improve posture and correct the concave compression of chest and shoulders from too much keyboard or sketching work..

6) UPPER CHEST STRETCH AND TONING  (to open front chest area between shoulders -- a space compressed by keyboard and drawing work)

To stretch: clasp hands with fingers interlaced (if possible, heels of hands touch and elbows are straight). Rotate shoulder heads back, and shoulder blades together.
To strengthen upper back: keep shoulder blades squeezing in towards each other, and release fingers, keep squeezing. Squeeze and hold while breathing, then release.

Good posture takes more than correcting the compressed chest and shoulders. It also takes a strong upper back to keep those stretched areas open ...

rest forehead on hands -- Keep forehead on hands and lift up together (but only go 5-6 inches high. Do not bend from neck. Lift forehead and hands as fluid unit) Keep tops of feet touching floor at all times.

Do NOT lift just your head, like this photo #1...
Lift your head and hands TOGETHER... going up only 5-6 inches.. keeping feet flat on the floor behind you. You should feel the "work" in your upper back. If you feel a strain in your lower back, do not lift as high, and try pressing down on the tops of your feet and thighs, engaging your legs as you lift..Photo #2 below shows the correct form with forehead still touching hands during lift..

Try to end every stretching session with RELAXATION -- either in a chair or on a mat. Relaxation is an important part of your practice. It allows you ... as Simone tells us in class .. "to integrate all the benefits of your practice at every level, to the deepest level." Thank yourself for taking the time to practice health and healing.... finding that balance we all need to keep

Help your body help you stay strong, flexible, and ready for the forces of the future...
UPDATED -- May 24
Here's link for tips on How Yoga can help with Too Much Desk Time...

1 comment:

khel Sahitya Kendra said...

Wow, this is probably one of the coolest tutorials I’ve seen. Need to get into this ASAP!

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