Monday, February 28, 2011

Yoga for People Who Don't Do Yoga #2: Nurses Edition

This installment of yoga for non-yogis goes out to my good friend, Nurse C.

Nurses are on their feet all day and really work their shoulders.

Here is a shoulder opening sequence (with a little low back, hips, and legs tossed in) designed especially for health care professionals and/or anyone else who is on their feet and using their arms all day.

This sequence is done standing, so you can feel free to do it on your break at work.

Once again, I've coerced my husband, the software developer with zero interest in yoga, into modeling the poses.

Important Note: When doing yoga poses, PAIN IS NEVER OKAY. Listen to your body and move into the poses slowly. A mild discomfort that comes from stretching a stiff muscle is okay - but any shooting, stabbing, throbbing, tweaking, twinging pains are not okay and are signs to back off.

1. Mountain Pose with breath


  • stand with feet hip-width apart
  • stand up tall, slightly tuck your tailbone, pull your lower ribs in if your ribcage is jutting out
  • as you slowly inhale, raise both arms out to the side and straight up
  • as you slowly exhale, bring your palms to touch over head and keeping palms together, bend your elbows and lower your arms to your chest ("prayer position")
  • repeat 2 more times
What's the point of this breathing? Conscious deep breathing taps into your parasympathetic nervous system - the "rest and digest" system. It calms down your sympathetic nervous system - the "fight or flight" system. Breathe slowly, deeply, and consciously in all of the poses.

2. Neck/Shoulder stretch


  • clasp your hand behind your back and bring them over to your right hip
  • tilt your right ear toward your right shoulder
  • you should feel a nice stretch down the left side of your neck and shoulder
  • you can play around with changing the position of your head - gently looking toward your right shoulder or up to the sky
  • bring your head to center and switch your arms to repeat on the other side

3. Modified Warrior I with Chest Expansion

  • with your hands clasped behind your back, reach your hands down, feeling your chest broaden and shoulders melt down your back
  • step your right leg back several feet, keeping it straight and coming up on the ball of your foot, your left leg bending as is comfortable, knee over ankle (not knee over toes)
  • you should feel a nice stretch in the front of your right hip flexor (place where thigh meets hip)
  • keep your tailbone tucked to avoid any lower back "crunching"
  • if you like, take this into a slight backbend, lowering your hands down the back of your right leg and lifting your heart to the sky
  • when finished, step your left foot back up to meet your right foot in mountain pose
  • repeat on other side

4. Modified Standing Forward Bend

  • with your hands at your sides and feet hip-width apart, drop your chin to your chest and slowly "roll" down until you are in a forward bend
  • cross your arms and hang heavy
  • be comfortable here - keep your knees bent, sway from side to side if you like (nice release of lower back), you may also feel your hamstrings releasing
  • release your arms and slowly roll back up, one vertebrae at a time, head the last thing to come up into mountain pose
  • roll your shoulders up by your ears and then melt them down your back
5. Mountain Pose with Side Bend

  • inhale your arms out to the side and up
  • exhale your right arm down and jut your hips to the left
  • inhale your right arm back up
  • exhale your left arm down and jut your hips to the right
  • inhale your left arm back up
  • repeat 2 more times on each side
6. Cow Face Pose arms

  • with your arms above your head, bend your right arm so that your right palm faces your back and your right triceps is opening
  • take your left arm out to the side, thumb pointing down, then behind your back reaching up
  • you may be able to grab hands in this pose, if not, use a towel to bridge the gap
  • breathe! this one can be intense for some people
  • repeat on other side
7. Figure 4 stretch

  • you may like to be near a wall for support
  • bend your knees, cross your left ankle over your right thigh just above the knee
  • flex your left toes toward your left knee (this action protects your ligaments and tendons)
  • squat down a little further, you should feel a nice opening in your left outer hip
  • you can either have your hands on the wall for support, hands in "prayer" position with arms pressing into your left leg, or hands reaching to the floor
  • uncross your leg and repeat on the other side
8. Modified Downward Dog Pose

  • stand facing a wall, with your arms straight out, palms pressing into the wall
  • walk your feet back until your torso and arms come into a straight line, you want to be hinging from the waist, not rounding your lower back
  • slightly externally rotate your biceps (the action you would use if you were putting your arms under something to lift it)
  • feel a nice opening in your shoulders (and maybe armpits) and chest as you gently press your heart toward the floor
  • you can play around with having your arms higher up the wall as well
  • walk toward the wall to release
9. Standing Knot Pose



  • standing facing the wall, cross your arms as high up on each other as possible
  • come toward the wall until your arms are pressing against it
  • you'll feel a release in your upper back as well as outsides of your shoulders
  • switch arms
10. Knot Pose Variation

  • stand with your torso against a wall, left arm extended in a "T" position, fully pressed against the wall
  • turn your feet and body toward the right, keeping left arm pressed against the wall
  • you should feel a nice stretch in the front of your left shoulder
  • repeat on other side

11. Standing Corpse Pose

  • stand facing away from a wall, feet hip-width apart and about one foot away from the wall
  • lean your upper body into the wall, most likely your tailbone and upper back will touch the wall and your lower back will have its natural curve and not touch
  • melt your shoulders down your back and let the back of your head touch the wall
  • arms can be at your heart with palms together or can be lightly pressed to the wall at 45 degree angles
  • deeply breathe 5 to 10 breaths

Enjoy!