Forward head posture, the topic of many recent posts, has a tendency to round the shoulders forward and the upper spine backwards. Working to open the chest can bring a great deal of relief and space to the head and neck.
The pose in the video is one of my favorites, Cactus On The Back. It works passively to open the chest and can be very effective if done daily for ten minutes at a time.
Everyone has different things they are working in in terms of tight muscles. Ideally when you lay on your back and bring your arms to this cactus position the whole upper body other than the lower back and the neck will be flat to the floor.
That includes the base of the ribcage as well as the backs of the wrists and all ten fingers. For many people this is easier said than done. The latissimus dorsi, a big broad muscle of the back, is often the culprit if the base of the ribcage or the wrists can’t reach floor as you try to open the chest.
The pectoralis minor, a muscle profoundly affected by forward head posture, is allowed to broaden and hopefully stretch a little under the weight of gravity as the arms release to the floor as the chest opens.
Forward head posture throws a number of upper back, chest and neck muscles into disarray and cactus on the back is a great place to begin the work to open the chest passively and begin to create the space for the head to move back in line towards the spine.
Cactus on the Back to Open the Chest
This falls somewhere between a release and a stretch and is not nearly as benign some might think. In fact, this can be very intense, though you won’t be doing much.
- Lie flat on your back. If it is not comfortable to lie with the legs straight, roll up a blanket and place it under the knees. This will release the hamstrings and reduce the strain on the lower back.
- Bring your arms out to the side and bend your elbows to form a right angle with the arms.
- Lengthen the back of the neck and allow the spine to soften toward the floor. The lower back and neck should each have a gentle arch, but ideally the rest of the spine should have contact with the floor. Move very slowly.
- Once you get your spine into a good place, bring your awareness to the forearms, wrists and hands. Try to open the hands, extending the wrists and the fingers. Move very slowly.
- Once you get the arm to a good place return to the spine. Go back and forth between the two and allow the back of the body to lengthen, soften, and release.