Dump the Slump and Unfurl to Joy

“OMG, I’m doing it right now!” I thought.

I had just taken a yoga class, and went to grab some lunch and write for a bit. After I finished my lunch and opened up my computer, I noticed it.

I had one elbow on the high-top table in front of me with my hand under my chin. To rest my chin on my hand, I had to hunch over. I was starting to write about upper back pain, and here I was slouching and feeling it.

The backless bar stool I was using gave me no support, and my feet were so far from the floor that I had nothing to root into so that I could lift my spine. So being the yogini that I am, I moved the chair back so I could bring my sit bones to the front edge of the chair, pressed my feet into the chair bar, lifted from my low belly through my sternum, and drew my shoulder blades down my back. Ahhh, much better.

You see, problems in the upper back and neck can happen so easily. You might droop over a computer all day. When you’re not on the computer you’re probably hunched over your phone. Then, you’re so tired you come home and slump on to the couch. Sometimes you might even get on your phone or computer while slouching on the couch (gasp!).

Photo by Bethany Leggon Unsplash

Photo by Bethany Leggon Unsplash

Even when you have the best of intentions, it’s easy to unconsciously slip into positions that can make your upper back and neck sore.

Sometimes life and emotional factors play a bigger role than we realize. Maybe you’re dealing with a loss, and you just feel the need to hunch your shoulders to close and protect your heart. I get that (check out my post How Restorative Yoga Prepares You For The Hard Stuff). You might feel the weight of the world on your shoulders as you work to provide for your family. You could be worried about your child’s safety at school. Maybe your relationship feels rocky. You might want to hang your head just from watching the news.

Photo by canva.com

Photo by canva.com

Stay slumped long enough, your upper body gets used to being hunched, your heart takes refuge in its cage, and you take on that rounded shape.

And here’s the kicker. When your upper body and neck round and compress, it can affect your arms, elbows, wrists, hands, shoulders, head, sinuses, breathing, heart, nervous system, mental health, and more.

Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash

Photo by madison lavern on Unsplash

It takes conscious, consistent practice, on and off the mat, to keep your neck and upper body happy, healthy, open, and strong.

So what can you do about it? The ancient texts tell us that you have the power to reduce future suffering, and yoga gives us lots of tools. Here are a few quick tricks to dump the slump and unfurl to joy:

  • Take regular breaks away from your computer. Clasp your hands, then stretch your palms away and up over your head, or bring your hands behind you and towards your head as you bend forward.

  • Sit consciously. Plant both feet. Lift the low belly and chest, and draw the shoulder blades down the back. Relax the neck and throat. Soften the tongue and the jaw.

  • Open the heart. Lay down with a bolster under the shoulder blades and arms overhead. Or use a block or blanket roll at the back of the heart. If needed, support your head with a blanket so that you can swallow easily.

  • Write it out. Let out those emotions that you’re storing in the back of the heart, that are weighing you down, and that are making your heart close. Or simply write a gratitude list.

  • Meditate. Meditate. Meditate. Release those thoughts, fears, concerns, and worries that cause your heart to close. Be in the present, and learn to trust.

Graphic and photos by www.wellnesswithtami.

Graphic and photos by www.wellnesswithtami.

I know, I know, easier said than done. Remember any amount of practice, physical or other, helps. Take baby steps if you need to. You're worth it.

Speak Your Truth

What kind of upper back and neck problems have you had? What have you tried that helps your neck and upper body feel better and stay strong, healthy, and open? What other therapeutic offerings would you like to see? What other parts of the body would you like help with? Let me know in the comments or a quick e-mail!

In wellness, joy, and inspiration,
Tami

P.S. If you're in Charlotte please join me in my upcoming workshop, Unfurling to Joy: Rope Wall Care for Your Neck and Upper Back, on Saturday, August 10, 12:30-3:30 p.m. at The Yoga Center at 8th Street Studio/Iyengar Yoga Charlotte. Register soon as space is limited!

The Ripples of a Great Teacher: A Tribute

The Ripples of a Great Teacher:  A Tribute

A fresh coastal breeze danced through the open door. The floor-to-ceiling windows revealed the California sun, which warmed my tired, overworked body, fresh in from Washington, DC. A soft voice guided me to bow my head and look into my heart.

I was more in my body than I had been in a long time. That voice had guided me home, to a physical location where I longed to be, to a deeper posture practice than I had ever known, and, most importantly, to myself.

I was in my first yoga certification, getting in-depth training on the Great Yoga Wall, an amazing prop that inspired me to start teaching. In less than a year, I began commuting from Washington, DC to Ventura, CA to start my 200-hour yoga teacher training with that same voice, which resonated so deeply with my own inner voice.

A year after that first trip, I packed up my place in DC, left my hectic yet stable career with the federal government, and moved to study with that voice more deeply. It became an adventure that took me places I never imagined possible, from India to the depths of my soul.

That voice belonged to my dear yoga teacher, Bryan Legere, who unexpectedly, yet peacefully, left his body on Wednesday, July 10, at 12:15 a.m. in Eastern Oregon.

Seven Tricks to Rein in Stress in Just Minutes

Seven Tricks to Rein in Stress in Just Minutes

It might sound cliché, but mother nature shows us that spring is a time for waking up, refreshing, clearing out, and starting new. In the spirit of making a fresh start, my husband and I bought a townhouse, and we’re in the final stretch of finishing up a few updates before we move in the next few weeks.

This is the first time I’ve ever done these kinds of renovations, and it’s like having a second job. For the last couple months I’ve been researching wood flooring, appliances, kitchen countertops, lighting, faucets, painters, movers, and other projects that I have the delusion of being able to DIY until I look it up on You Tube and then decide, “Uh, no.”

So I’ve been meeting and coordinating with lots of folks, and the other day I was juggling three groups—the kitchen countertop installers, the painters, and our handyman—along with running a few other errands.

By late morning, the countertop guys had to stop early because of an unexpected problem. My smoothie and tea had run their courses, and my eyeballs were floating. With the water in the townhouse off, I made a mad dash back to our apartment, which thankfully is close, to relieve myself.

How Restorative Yoga Prepares You for the Hard Stuff

How Restorative Yoga Prepares You for the Hard Stuff

We’re back from our trip overseas for my father-in-law’s memorial, and March has flown by us, between jet-lag, “spring forward” into daylight savings, a couple of drop-everything-else projects, renovating our new townhouse, and guests. It’s hard to believe that we’re in the last days of March!

I’m still processing all of the ceremonies, beauty, and emotions that I experienced as our family sent my father-in-law on his way and will share more thoughts about it at some point. For now, here’s a little taste of what I learned.

As we arrived at my mother-in-law’s house, the air was hushed with sadness even as dozens of relatives and friends filled the space. Cousins and sisters ushered me in one direction to see my mother-in-law right away. Though we don’t often speak the same language of words, we understood each other clearly with our tears and hugs as the shared language of grief. I realized something important that night that will help me so much in the future.

10 Signs You’re Letting Self-Discipline Trample Over Your Self-Care

10 Signs You’re Letting Self-Discipline Trample Over Your Self-Care

I used to work in an office on the fourth floor of a large, seven-floor building. The cafeteria was on the first floor, and a few of my bosses were on the fifth floor. I had to meet with people on all floors and in opposite corners on a regular basis, including in the basement of the building. Unless I was going from the ground floor to seven, I always took the stairs…in heels and a skirt suit.

People would say they heard me coming, because I always walked fast and had a particularly noticeable step (that my friends of course made fun of). All those years of marching band made my heels come down first, which creates a certain clickety-clack when you’re hurrying to a meeting to tell something important to someone even more important.

I got up every weekday morning and went to the gym or for a run at 5:30 a.m. Unless, of course, I had to be at work by then for a special meeting. I worked crazy hours, and sometimes even stayed late on Friday nights when I didn’t have to so I could pack in a few hours of uninterrupted work. You might think I had no social life, but I somehow managed to squeeze in happy hours, dinners with friends, hikes, and even dating. I was rarely asleep before 12 a.m.

After a few years, I noticed that when I met a big deadline, which often came up suddenly and carried with it a lot of pressure to get things right, I was fried the next day. We’re talking like a donut fried, with nothing but fluff on the inside. I would sit and stare at my inbox, not sure where or how to start. More coffee didn’t help. More protein and sugar only slightly did until I crashed again. I should have seen it starting then.

My Journey From Pancakes to Smoothies and Back

My Journey From Pancakes to Smoothies and Back

Throughout my childhood, I LOVED pancakes. Spoiler alert—I still do.

My step mom dubbed me Pancake when I was about four because that’s all I wanted for breakfast. I made Mickie Mouse pancakes with my grandmothers every chance I got. We didn’t have any fancy pancake molds back then. We just made a big circle and added two small circles for the ears. They were magical in my wide, five-year-old eyes.

I also remember (and now regret) feeding pancakes to the chipmunks at Yosemite National Park. I thought they would love my fluffy, syrup-laden clouds of heaven just like I did—poor little Chip N Dale. I can’t imagine their gluten-loaded tummies weren’t bloated and achy after that.

Then along came my second-grade teacher, Mrs. Jenkins. She was the kind of healthy person who always wore running shoes and had a perpetual tan from running outside (I’m pretty sure there were no tanning beds in my tiny little town back then). I’m forever grateful to her because she sparked my interest in nutrition. We learned about the food groups and how to write out a recipe. We even cooked in class and had healthy eating challenges.

Between Mrs. Jenkins and my mom’s interest in nutrition and mindful eating, my love for exploring healthy foods and lifestyles, much like my curiosity of yoga, started at an early age.

My body is my laboratory, and I’ve experimented with a lot of different eating plans. Here’s what I’ve learned.

Bringing The Sun's Warmth To You

Bringing The Sun's Warmth To You

I was just getting ready to step up on the scale at the doctor’s office, when the fire alarm sounded.

You know how sometimes when a sound totally unrelated to you happens just at the same time that you move and can make you feel like you caused the sound? Is it just me? Well, I had just taken my arm out of my jacket, sweeping it past the alarm, which was above the scale. I jumped, thinking maybe I set it off!

Once I recovered from thinking I had caused a major fiasco, the nurse and I looked at each other and mused about whether it was a drill or not. Pretty soon others in the office started ushering us out. It was the real deal.

We all gathered on a grassy island away from the building, and after the initial confusion, many of us looked towards the building for signs of smoke, flames, or the signal we could return. Eventually, the firetrucks arrived.

My Favorite Fatigue-Fighting Pose and How To Maximize it for You

My Favorite Fatigue-Fighting Pose and How To Maximize it for You

The other day I was sitting at Starbucks and staring at my screen through squinty eyes that wanted to shut into a comfy slumber. I was shivering (why is Starbucks always cold to me?) and felt like I was sitting on a rock. I woke up super early that day, after a night of tossing and turning, so I could get my husband to the train and myself to the doctor to get some routine bloodwork done. I missed my morning breathing session, and really was longing for that battery recharge that my breathing practice offers. I was committed to dedicating a good chunk of time to writing that day, though, and knew that my time at Starbucks was it, given that I had meetings and yoga practice in the afternoon.

So, I did what any yoga girl would do.

Order coffee? Nope. Drink a matcha latte? Nah. Put my head on the table and take a nap? Nyet.

I went home, and instead of crawling into bed or curling up on the couch, I got out my bolster for my favorite fatigue-fighting pose.

What My Turquoise Pen Taught Me About Yoga

What My Turquoise Pen Taught Me About Yoga

I held a turquoise pen in my hand and took a deep breath as I looked down at the blank page. At the top, I wrote, “I’m proud of…” and took another deep breath. A few obvious items came to mind immediately.

  • Moving across country with my husband.

  • Helping my husband through a tough work transition.

  • Packing up half of our belongings and staging our condo right before taking a trip overseas.

  • Birthing a yoga teaching practice in a new city.

I wrote about half a dozen items on the page before a long pause. The directions for the exercise, which I found through money and manifesting expert Denise Duffield Thomas, were to have a partner ask “what else?” every time you got stuck until you had 30 to 50 items on your list. I wondered how I was going to list 10 accomplishments let alone 30 to 50.

6 Simple Wellness Tips for the Holidays

6 Simple Wellness Tips for the Holidays

I will never forget that January 2nd, when I woke up with chest pains, dizziness, lightheadedness, nausea, and pain in my jaw.

The holidays had been full of comfort and joy, yet I could barely see out of my right eye due to a cyst on my inner eyelid. I’d attended two funerals. The priest at one passed on his blessings as well as his cold. I was teaching more classes and seeing more private yoga and coaching clients than ever. Now, chest pains. My body was trying to tell me, “Enough!”

It wasn’t the first time I was sick at the holidays. My annual holiday illnesses were dependable. I had come to expect that I would be sick around that time of year. Usually, I got “normal” upper respiratory infections. One year it was whooping cough. (Yes, you can still get this illness. I thought it only happened during the times of Little House on the Prairie and prior…until I got it.)

Though my heart ended up being fine that early January morning, I knew I needed to make some changes. I had to face the fact that as joyous as the holidays are and as much as I love them, I neglected my self-care in favor of doing it all.

Doing Laundry and Slaying Demons

Doing Laundry and Slaying Demons

I’m fresh off of almost three weeks of travel, and boy, am I glad for a break from living out of a suitcase. We had such a wonderful time in Chicago! In addition to teaching three workshops, holding private sessions with students, and meeting with coaching clients, my husband and I cheered on the runners at the Chicago marathon and filled our hearts with laughter with friends and lots of hugs and kisses from my little niece and nephew. I am so grateful that I got to see many of my Chicago students and meet some new faces as well. We dove deeper into breathing techniques, tuned up our bodies and lives with the chakras, and found nourishment by doing less.

First Downs: A Simple Formula for Boosting Your Confidence

First Downs:  A Simple Formula for Boosting Your Confidence

We missed it.  Completely.  Not one kick off.  Not one Hail Mary pass.  Not one plowed run through hundreds (maybe even thousands?) of pounds of muscle might.  Not one Belicheck tantrum.  Not one funny commercial.  Not one second of half-time show fireworks and music.  The Super Bowl came and went this year, as we were awakened by the call to prayer on our first full day in Bangladesh for the wedding of my husband’s nephew.

Though I had no emotional attachment to either team this year, I enjoy watching the game, the halftime show, and, of course, the commercials.  As I lamented missing this annual touchstone of American culture, I remembered how my yoga teacher once likened life to a football game.  I started to observe the “first downs” in my life and discovered something powerful. 

It's a simple formula for boosting your confidence, and it starts with doing something new.  You see, as you step into new experiences, your courage and appreciation have the opportunity to expand.

Resolution Redo

Resolution Redo

“Do 100 squats every day for the entire year.”

“Read a book a week.”

“Get up at 5:30 a.m. every day”

“Lose 20 pounds.”

“Give up processed sugar for good.”

 

Sounds good, right?  Except for when, on day 10, you fall ill and can’t get out of bed to do your squats.  Or, when one month passes and you’re only a few chapters into the first book.  Or, when you went to bed at 3:00 a.m. after your friend’s birthday bash and can’t seem to drag yourself out of bed at 5:30 a.m. Or, when things get so crazy at work that you can’t make it to the gym or the grocery store for healthy food to keep your weight loss going, and instead eat greasy take-out at your desk every night until the project is over.  Or, when you realize that you really are addicted to chocolate and the sugar that’s in it, and where the heck is your secret, emergency stash?  Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?

 

That last one is all me. ;-)