Now that there is just over a month before the bar exam, you’ve likely increased the amount of time you spend studying. Hopefully since practicing the poses from part II of this series, you have seen your ability to concentrate and memorize information increase exponentially. But all that extra time spent sitting at a desk or on the couch hunched over your books and practice questions takes a toll on your body.
In the short term, you want to avoid the discomfort, poor sleep, and shorter breaths that result from chronic muscle tension. In the long term, you want to know you’re being proactive about your health after all those scary articles dubbing sitting as the new smoking. (What exactly are you supposed to do about that when it’s tough to write a brief or review a contract while standing or doing jumping jacks???) It’s important to stay healthy during this all-important summer, and now is a good time to start setting some routines in place to combat the effects of all the sitting you’ll be doing once you pass the exam and start your brilliant career.
Chest and Shoulder Openers
The muscles in your chest, upper back, and shoulders suffer when you’re leaning over a book all day or unconsciously tensing your upper body due to stress. Tight shoulder and chest muscles lead to shorter breaths, which leads to increased anxiety, which will make you tense your muscles even more. To stop that vicious cycle, try a few of these chest and shoulder opening poses.
Stand in a comfortable position, feet about hips’ width apart with your arms at your sides. Take a deep breath. As you exhale, reach behind your back and bend your elbows. Press your palms together as if in prayer and reach your hands as high up your spine as is comfortable. If you cannot get your hands into prayer, try just holding opposite elbows- this will still give you a good stretch! Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Thread the Needle
Come down to all fours. Reach your right arm underneath your left underarm and rest your right shoulder and the right side of your head on the ground. Walk your left hand forward. Stay here for 5 deep breaths, then come back to all fours and repeat on the left side.
From all fours, come down to the ground and lie on your stomach. Place your hands slightly in front of you and pull your elbows in towards your chest. Push your hands into the ground, lifting up your head, neck, and chest into a slight backbend and draw your shoulders down your back. Gaze slightly upwards. Stay here for 5 deep breaths.
Poses for Tight Hips
Sitting all day tightens your hip flexors and can strain your lower back, so it’s important to do some poses that can help open your hips and prevent lower back pain.
Come into Downward Facing Dog and step your right foot between your palms. Lower your left knee to the floor. Heel-toe your right foot towards the edge of your mat, so that your foot is slightly wider than your shoulders and let your hips naturally lower towards your mat as you lower your forearms to the floor. Reach your chest forward to elongate your spine and avoid rounding your back. Draw your right knee in towards your body and gaze out in front of you. Stay here for 5 slow breaths, then come to your hands and step your right foot back into Downward Facing Dog. Repeat on the other side.
Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you. Bend your right knee and lower the knee, shin, and foot to the floor. Make sure your shin is parallel to your hips. You may need to stay here, leaving your left leg straight. If you feel comfortable, bend your left knee and place your left leg on top of your right, stacking your knees, shins, and ankles. To go deeper into this pose, walk your hands out in front of you and fold your chest forward. Stay here for 5 slow breaths, then slowly rise up and straighten your legs out in front of you before repeating on the other side.
That pain in your back after hours of studying? Your abdominal and back muscles become short and tight when you are constantly in sitting positions. Yoga twists can help stretch and tone these muscles, not to mention feel wonderful after a day of poor posture.
Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Come to a seated position. Extend your right leg straight. Cross your left leg over your right leg, bending the left knee and placing the left foot on the floor close to the right knee. Wrap your right arm around the left knee and pull your knee towards your chest. Inhale and lift your left hand up. As you exhale, gently twist towards your left and place your left hand on the floor with your fingers facing behind you. If it is comfortable for you and you want a deeper twist, place your right elbow on the inside of your left knee. Stay here for 5 deep breaths. As you inhale, press down through your hips and pull up through your crown, lengthening your spine a little more with every inhale. As you exhale, twist little bit deeper. To release the pose, inhale and raise your left hand up and then as you exhale untwist your torso to face forwards. Repeat on the other side.
While many people think of headstands and handstands when they think of yoga inversions, any pose where the head is below the heart is an inversion and carries the benefits of improving circulation and increasing blood flow to the brain. Here is a simple inversion accessible to most people.
Legs Up the Wall
Sit next to a wall, feet out in front of you and your right side touching the wall. Gently turn your body to the right, pivoting so that you can lie down and bring your legs up onto the wall, the backs of your heels resting on the wall. If needed, scoot closer to the wall, so that your bottom is touching the wall and your body is making a 90 degree angle against the wall. Rest your hands at your sides, palms up, close your eyes, and breath deeply. Stay here for 5 minutes. To release the pose, gently turn onto your side, bringing your legs back down to the ground. Remain on your side for a few breaths before sitting up.
Do these poses as a mid-day break, when you’ve finished the day’s work, or better yet, both! Enjoy the feeling of releasing some of your tension and stretching the areas that suffer when you’re studying all day! Just in case you missed them, here is Part One and Part Two of the series.
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