“Sitting is the new smoking,” doctors are saying these days because the sedentariness of being in front of our computers and devices all day can lead to all sorts of chronic pain and disease. I’m the quintessential example of a desk jockey who has suffered from neck and low back pain for many years now. Join me on today’s episode as I share a fast and easy way to take care of all three parts of your spine plus your shoulders on a daily basis. These brief movements came from a yoga class I took yesterday with Chris Fox at Radiantly Alive studio in Bali, where I am currently on vacation. I challenge all LeaderShifters to take care of your spines – you’ll feel better and be more productive!


32: Shifting the Health of Your Spine (with Shani from Bali!)

Shani: Leadershifters today, I am asking you to step away from your desk, step away from those computer screens, because they are literally killing us. You may have all heard the new saying that, “Sitting is the new smoking”. Well, it really is. It causes a variety of problems ranging from chronic pain to encouraging heart disease, diabetes, cancer, et cetera. Today’s episode of the leadershift show is going to focus on helping our fellow desk jockeys take better care of our spines. I’m sure that many of you know what I’m talking about, right? The pain that we get from doing this on our smartphones, the pain we get in our neck and shoulders from hunching over our computers. It has to stop, because trust me, it only gets worse.

Okay, as you may be able to tell from the beautiful surroundings, I am doing this episode from the tropical paradise of Ubud on the island of Bali, in Indonesia, where I’m vacationing this week after doing some work in India last week, I’m having the most amazing time here relaxing. Something that I did yesterday that I’m so excited about was, I attended this amazing yoga class at a studio called Radiantly Alive. A fantastic instructor named Chris Fox, his class was really unlike anything I’d ever taken before, which always excites me, because it’s nice to go into a class and know all the poses and get into down dog and up dog and warrior one and warrior two and whatever, it’s also nice to learn some new things.

A bunch of the things that he taught us yesterday, I think are going to be transformational for me, I want to pass them along to you, because they’re things that we can all do every day by stepping away from our desks for just a few minutes. Motion is lotion, especially when it comes to our joints and especially our spines, which is where so much of our life force comes from, it moves up and through our bodies through our spines. Many of you can probably relate to my current state, which is I have massive chronic neck pain, despite having had neck surgery a few years ago, I’ve got horrible sciatica and low back pain. While some of that I would attribute to [chuckles] some of the activities that I’ve been doing over the years that have caused injury to my body, whether it’s gymnastics or cheerleading, or rock climbing or mountain biking or skiing or whatever, a lot of it is attributable to sitting at a freaking desk all day, okay.

Today I’m going to pass along some of the wisdom that Chris taught us yesterday in class regarding taking care of our spine. All right, you have to bear with me, I am tethered to a microphone, otherwise the audio won’t get picked up. I’m going to back up just a little bit so you can see me. The exercises I’m going to teach you, you can do standing up or you can do kneeling as I am, it doesn’t really matter. We’re going to focus on all three levels of the spine, and just start off with, we’re going to do the lumbar spine. All right back up just a little more, okay. Lumbar spine, which is the low back, all right.

To do this, I’m going to do my best to describe this, so those of you who are listening to audio only can also follow along, obviously for those of you who are also watching, you can mimic what I do. Firstly, take your hands with your thumbs to your low back and your fingers to the front of your hips. I would say your first couple of fingers should be in line with your hip bones, I guess these are your hip bones. I know I’m a registered yoga teacher, I should know. Literally, we’re just going to tilt the pelvis back, forward and back, forward and back. You can use your thumb and your fingers to help you through the motion, all right. Literally, moving the pelvis back and forth like this, keep the tummy engaged, right, the core is super important.

Back and forth like this for maybe 30 seconds or a minute, all right. Then we’re going to move on to our thoracic spine, which is the part of the spine that’s between right and thoracic because that’s where our lungs sit in front of our thoracic spine. For this one, we just want to open up our chests. Let me pause right now and say, “This is not sexual.” Okay? If you started to laugh like a 12 year old boy when I was tipping this spine forward and backward, or when I talk about opening up our chest, quit it, right, grow the fuck up. [chuckles] Because this is about taking care of our spines, this is not sexual in any way. Okay, now that I’ve gotten that out in the open, when we open up of our chest, in opening up that heart area, we’re going to extend our arms out to the side, we’re going to inhale as we open up like this, spreading our arms backwards, then exhale as we bring the arms forward, curve the shoulders forward into that heart and chest area, okay, and we’ll do this for about 30 seconds.

Inhale, exhale, open up the arms behind you, opening up that area where the chest, the heart and lungs are, then closing it as you move the arms forward and in front of you. That’s where the thoracic spine which is super hard to get, so this is awesome. Lastly, for the cervical spine, which has been the bane of my existence for years now, this one we’re also going to use our arms. Arms down by the side, we’re going to lift the arms up, move the head backwards on the inhale, then drop the arms in front of you into your side as you roll your neck down towards your chest. Let me just pause for one second, I should have said this before, the inhales and exhales are important, not because I’m trying to be a good yoga teacher, but really you get more benefit if you inhale as you’re opening anything, right.

As we’re opening the heart, or opening the cervical spine, then we’re going to always exhale on the contraction as we move in. For the cervical spine, we’re going to inhale as we move the arms, tilt the neck back. You can even support your neck, if your neck is bad like mine, right, but you’re opening up, can we see this? Yes, you’re opening up here, then we’re going to close, roll the cervical vertebrae down, basically, your chin towards your chest, this feel so good. Okay, do this a few times, how good does that feel? All right, if you do each one for 30 seconds or a minute and a half to three minutes, if you do that twice a day or so, three to six minutes, I think you can spare that, right. Now related to the health of our spine, especially for us desk jockeys is the shoulders.

Now I’m going to share with you one other really cool thing that Chris showed us yesterday, which I loved. If you’ve ever seen people do this thing where they rotate their arm and their shoulder, holding a teacup, always keep the teacup upwards, so it’s never spilling, that’s what we’re going to do. Yesterday we did it with a yoga block, probably can’t do that in the office. Here’s what I want you to do in your office. Take that goddamn phone, let’s put it to some better use, okay. Put it in your right palm to start off with, extend it out to the front. Arm extended to the front, palm up, phone in palm, we’re going to move it out to the right side, then bend your arm almost like Egyptian style, then curve it around over your head. See here, phone, teacup still facing up, then we’re going to rotate out this way, phone is still up, then curl it around, through and back out.

Let’s try that one more time. Arm is extended, palm up, out to the side, into an Egyptian up and over the head, out in front where we’re rotating the other direction, around and through, and back to the front. Guess what, reverse it, if you don’t get this right, it’s no big deal, as long as you’re moving your shoulders in a variety of different ways that’s what’s important. Reversing it’s going to look like this, arm out in front, pull your elbow into your chest, and then extend it to the side to get that curl and then arm out front, and then up above the head, back to the Egyptian arm, out to the side and forward. One more time, elbow back to your center, and then out to rotate through and out and then up over the head, Egyptian arm out to the side, back to the front. Now let’s switch arms do it with the left arm and shoulder. Phone in the right, sorry in the left hand and you can see I’m even shaking a little bit here because my left shoulder is so weak because I have all these neck problems cervical spine problem on my left side.

This left side is going to be much harder for me. Arm out front, to the side, kind of Egyptian arms, up over the head, around and I got to hold on to the phone or it’s going to spill. Out in front, and then around and through. Out to the side, Egyptian arm, up above the head, rotate to the front and around and through and to reverse it around and throughout to the front, over the head, Egypt arm, arm out straight, back to the front.

Now if that just seems too ridiculous for you, no problem I’ve got another way to do this, and this is something I’ve been doing for my shoulders for years with a plain old face towel or a dishtowel. Literally I’ll do this while I’m standing in the kitchen in the morning, waiting for my Nespresso to brew. You literally, just hold the longest to one side each of the towel, and then grip it and start upfront and tip it to the side, and then go back and around. We’re just going front, back and around. Now we can reverse front, back and around, front, back and around, front back and around. If your shoulders are really open don’t try this if your shoulders aren’t open because you could hurt yourself. If your shoulders are super open, you can even put the towel above your head and bring it backwards to stretch up the front of the shoulders like that.

Okay, now it’s your turn. Hopefully, you were following along with me as I did that, but if you didn’t, why not try that? Like as soon as this podcast is over, do these exercises. Let me review really quickly. You’re going to do the lumbar spine pelvic tilt, you are going to do the heart open and close, you’re going to do the cervical spine neck back, neck forward as you roll it down to the chest, and then the shoulder rotations, either with your phone trying to not drop it like a teacup, or with a towel, or even this, just rotate the shoulders, front and backwards. All right now I know what you’re thinking, Shani you’re crazy, I’m not going to do this at the office, I’m going to look like a lunatic. Well here is the thing, I challenge you to do it and then have people ask you what you’re doing, and then you say I’m taking care of my spine because sitting is the new smoking and sitting causes cancer or however you want to say it.

You are doing yourself a great service by taking three to six minutes a day, to take care of your spine and your shoulders and I bet you, other people will be enrolled in it. What would it be like, I am now having this grand vision of people all over the world taking breaks two, maybe three times a day all together in the office and let’s say an alarm goes off like maybe at ten, noon and two or something to break it up during the workday and everybody gets up and does three, four, five minutes of motion is lotion to keep that spine healthy and I will bet you that you will feel better, you will be more productive because by the way we should be taking periodic breaks throughout the day anyway, and productivity and energy management is another podcast topic but trust me, you have to and this would be a great way to do it and actually get some energy flowing through your body because you’re moving it.

Okay, so take this breaks throughout the day and so you’ll feel better, you will be more productive, which means that the company, the organization will benefit and healthcare cost could go down. Don’t be like me, I wish someone had taught me this years ago about the importance of taking care of my spine in particular because currently for the past like 15 years, if I actually had to add up the amount of money I spent on orthopedists and acupuncturist, and massage therapists and physical therapists and energy healers and you name it, I have tried everything to heal my pain, well the body does have what it needs to heal itself, but you’ve got to be an active participant in that. After learning, I mean I knew these things, I just never thought to put them together into a daily routine.

After Chris taught these things to the class yesterday, I’m committed to doing them at least twice a day, no matter where I am, I could be at an airport waiting for a flight or at a grocery store, I don’t care. It’s more important for me to take care of my spine and get rid of this chronic pain than anything. Let’s see, was there anything else that I wanted to tell you before I sign off today? I have a little bit of Bali brain [laughs] so, yeah, I mean really the main message today is take care of the spine, motion is lotion, get up and do it, take care of the lumbar spine, the thoracic spine, the cervical spine and the shoulders and rotator cuff, you will thank me and then you will thank yourself as you commit to this new routine. Because if you don’t do it now, trust me you will experience weeks, months, years of pain and trying to remediate that pain going forward.

Thank you for joining me and I will see you next time.

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