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Locust pose for text neck

Strengthening the back of the neck to counterbalance bad posture from excessive phone and computer use

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Locust pose looking more forwards or up so that the neck is bent backwards. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Locust pose is a pose you can do daily to improve posture and counter the effects of text neck and tech neck (the result of too much phone or computer use). It trains and strengthens your spinal erectors, the muscles that work on the back of your spine, ribcage and pelvis.

The benefits of Regular Exercise

After a few months of off teaching and working out due to covid restrictions, one of the things that I noticed is that my posture has really suffered. I spend a lot of time in front of the computer anyway and when I wasn't working out with weights or doing yoga I noticed that I actually got sore from sitting. And more recently, with a lack of work on my spinal erectors, I actually started to have difficulty maintaining good posture while sitting.

And so I've realized, that no matter what you do to fix your posture, or try to counter the effects of working at a desk, or on your phone, a key point is that you have to keep exercising.

Overcoming the challenge of exercising regularly when working regularly

Again because of covid restrictions, one of the biggest changes I've made is that I started teaching English. I basically started doing a 9 to 5 job. What I realized then was how difficult it can be to squeeze a workout in, especially being a single father.

So what I started to do was a ten to twenty minute yoga practice in the morning. I picked a few "essential" poses and just focused on those. These poses have changed as time has passed by and now one of those essential poses is locust pose.

What is Locust pose and what are the benefits of doing it?

For locust pose, basically, you lie on your belly, and then lift your head and chest.

It's an exercise for the spinal erectors.

What are the spinal erectors?

The spinal erectors are the muscles that lie along either side of the back of the spine.

There are smaller muscles of the spine that span one, two or three (and even more) vertebral levels, and these are generally termed the paraspinalis muscles. They include the multifidus, rotators, and even smaller muscles called the transversospinalis and spinalis muscles which connect and work between adjacent spinous and transverse processes.

Subgroups of the Spinal Erectors

Getting back to the spinal erectors, this group of muscles can also be divided into sub groups.

The spinalis muscles extend upwards from the sacrum and other starting points along the spine and attach to vertebrae higher up.

Meanwhile, the longissimus muscles attach from the sacrum and or the back of the hip bones. They in turn attach to spinal vertebrae and also to the backs of the ribs.

Then there are the iliocostalis muscles. These attach from the back of the hip bones and from there attach to the backs of the ribs.

Trying to bend the spine backwards

When I first began practicing locust pose I focused mainly on the vertebrae of the spine. I focused on bending them backward. Later on I began to focus on lengthening the spine and then bending it backward. Something I also tended to do, particularly when teaching this pose, is to focus on not using the arms, i.e. keeping them relaxed so that the focus was on strengthening the spinal erectors.

Learning to feel the backs of the ribs

Later on, when I still had access to a gym, I used to practice holding an Olympic bar with various amounts of weight to work on grip strength. Basically, I was holding the top part of a deadlift. I began to focus on creating a downward pull on the backs of my ribs. This is when I began reading more on the spinal erectors and focusing on the different groups within this group. What I was learning to feel and strengthen were my iliocostalis and longissimus muscles.

That isn't to say that I ignored the spinalis. I also paid attention to the activation of these muscles. I noticed for instance that the spinalis tended to be dead, non-active on my left side, and so I began trying to adjust my posture to get my non-active side to reactivate.

In a similiar fashion I also focused on my longissimus and iliocostalis, first getting them to activate and then working on balancing the activation between sides.

As an aside, when the gym did open up and I started teaching again, (mainly to get the gym membership for free since I was also still teaching English), I still did my early morning yoga practice. Then, after walking my daughter to school (Actually, my son, he prefers the male pronoun) I would go to the gym. My first exercise would be those deadlifts, generally followed by squats.

I later quit the gym and that's when I started adding locus to my morning yoga routine. I needed an exercise to work on my spinal erectors and without weights, locust offered the best bang for my buck.

I also occasionally do spinal backbends while doing a standing forward bend, again focusing on the sensation that my spinal erectors generate while active, but locust is my go-to.

Working towards locust pose with cobra

When I first got back into it, and bear in mind that Taiwan is cold right now and my apartment doesn't have heating, I did a variation of locust pose called cobra pose (or it may have been sphinx).

Cobra pose, lifting the chest off the floor with elbows bent and spine actively bent backwards. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

My hands were on the floor but my elbows were bent as if trying to do a half-assed pushup. I focuses on activating my spinal erectors with my spine bent backward. I was using them to support my upper body and as a result, my hands became "lighter" on the floor.

I could have actually lifted them or reached my arms back (though I can't bend my spine back as far when doing this).

Cobra pose with hands lifted.  Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Later, I started doing locust, starting from a laying down position and then from there lifting my torso by bending my spine back.

Choosing to look down or up in locust pose

When I used to teach locust pose, I generally had lifting my students lifting their chest while looking down and keeping their neck feeling long. And that's still a valid option.

Locust pose, lying belly down and then lifting the head and ribcage while keeping the neck reasonably straight.  Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

I did some neck work with one of my clients recently, and perhaps inspired by that, what I now do when doing locust is also bend my neck back so that I'm looking up. And I optionally, I allow my legs to lift and I reach them backwards.

Locust pose looking more forwards or up so that the neck is bent backwards. Neil Keleher, Sensational Yoga Poses.

Now I used to spend a lot of time at one time teaching my students to feel individual vertebrae. We'd do locust, gradually lifting the head while focusing on the vertebrae of the neck, and then scanning down the spine one vertebrae at a time, trying to increase the backbend at each vertebral joint one at a time, repeating the process and then resting.

While I still stand by that technique, an alternative approach to get sensation across all vertebral joints is to make your spine feel long.

Strengthening the back of the neck while doing locust pose

As mentioned, I used to teach locust a lot with a focus on looking down and lengthening the back of the neck. I think nowadays, a good option, particularly to help with countering the effects of tech neck and text neck is to look up.

Something you can do prior to looking up or while looking up is to make your neck feel long. In addition, work at feeling the contraction of muscles at the back of your neck.

For a stronger activation at the back of your neck you can try activating the front of your neck. And actually, you may find that if you focus on activating the front of your neck while your neck is bent backwards, the activation of muscles at the back of your neck automatically intensifies.

Another suggestion is to touch your teeth together and keep them together while bending your neck backwards.

Note, you can do the same thing while sitting or standing. You can bend your neck back, going slowly, and activate the back of your neck or the front of your neck or both while at the same time keeping your teeth lightly together (i.e. not grinding or clenching them.)

Because you aren't working against the weight of your head, you may find it requires a little more focus to activate the muscles at the front and back of your neck while upright.

One other point for strengthening the back of your neck while upright is that you can choose to let your spine bend backwards. If doing so, focus on lifting your sternum first. From there, then bend your neck backwards. And then from there, activate the front or back of your neck or both, remembering to touch your teeth together and make your cervical spine feel long.

Holding locust and then resting

For my morning routine, I do about three repetitions of locust pose. I don't count breaths. I simply hold it for about 10 to 20 seconds, and then rest.

How practicing locust pose affects my working posture

I'll suggest here that I'm not so much exercising my spinal erectors, as simply practicing their activation. As a result, I find that when I'm back in front of the computer, as I am now, it's a lot easier to maintain reasonably good spinal posture. I can feel my iliocostalis generating a slight downwards pull on the backs of my ribs.

I do still tend to lean my head forwards, but now, it's slightly easier to pull it back and keep it pulled back so that the weight of my head is balanced over a reasonably erect cervical spine.

As a side note, something that I may add back to my routine is straight leg sit ups. This is to balance the spinal erector work.

Published: 2022 04 29
Clearly defined poses, exercises and stretches for improving stability, body awareness and flexibility.
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