4 poses to increase thoracic spine mobility
Take your spine through its five different motions—spinal flexion, spinal extension, lateral flexion and extension, and spinal rotation—with these poses.
For spinal flexion, try ... SASANGASANA Rabbit Pose This simple pose places you into a static somersault position, helping you experience spinal flexion (rolling forward), particularly in the thoracic spine.
HOW TO Come to Balasana (Child’s Pose), then grasp your heels with your hands. Activate your abdominals and round your spine, setting the top of your head on the ground while lifting your butt away from your heels. Mindfully breathe into the back of your body, and isometrically expand the distances from your crown to your sacrum and between your shoulder blades. Stay here for 8–12 breaths. For spinal extension, try ... STANDING BACKBEND This pose resembles the beginning of a drop-back into Urdhva Dhanurasana (Wheel Pose) without actually dropping back. It helps to stabilize the thoracolumbar junction (where T12 and L1 meet), which can be hypermobile if your thoracic spine lacks mobility.
HOW TO Stand in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and interlace your hands behind your head. Activate your abdominals and gluteals to posteriorly tilt (tuck) your pelvis. Inhale, and feel your ribs expand; exhale, and feel your lungs deflate. You may feel like you’re falling backward, but with support. Lengthen your spine up and away from your pelvis, and continue to lean back: Resist the urge to backbend at the thoracolumbar junction by contracting your abs and transferring the burden of the backbend to your thoracic vertebrae. There is no rush to progress more deeply into the pose. Instead, witness the effect each breath has on the relationship between your rib cage and thoracic spine. Stay here for 8–10 breaths. For lateral flexion and extension, try ... PARIGHASANA Gate Pose This traditional asana honors your body’s ability to laterally flex and extend. In other words, it helps you side-bend.
HOW TO Place your right knee on the ground and plant your left foot 2–3 feet to the side. Place your left hand on your left leg for support as you bend toward your left side with your arm overhead, laterally flexing your spine to the left. Keep your abdominals braced, and pull 8–12 full breaths into your ribs. Then, switch sides. Variation: Instead of placing your left hand on your left leg, place your left palm on your left rib cage and nudge your ribs skyward. This will increase lateral extension on the right side and facilitate a major stretch in the intercostal muscles on your right side, mobilizing your lateral-flexion capacity.
For spinal rotation, try ...
VRSCHIKASANA Scorpion Pose, variation This pose improves rotation in the thoracic spine and can help reverse a slumped upper back.
HOW TO Lie on your stomach with your arms outstretched on either side of you (in a T position). Activate your abdominals to limit backbending at the thoracolumbar junction. Turn your neck to look toward your left hand and roll onto your right hip. Keep your glutes active, posteriorly tilting your pelvis and drifting your left hip and foot behind you while your left shoulder stays fixed on the ground. You should feel this rotation only in your upper back. If your flexibility permits, touch your left foot to the floor. Take 8–12 breaths, breathing deeply into your thoracic region, then slowly switch sides.