If you have been sitting long hours at the deck or the computer, or if you have bad posture while standing and walking, such as hunching your shoulders or back, chances are you tend to suffer from tight shoulders and chest. It is important to keep a healthy spine not just in the lower back, but also in the mid back and the upper back, in order to cultivate better posture and prevent back and shoulder pains in the future.

Therefore, postures such as gentle backbending asanas  are great in stretching out not just the shoulders but also the intercostal muscles. When your intercostal muscles are more flexible, your ribcage is able to expand wider in every inhalation, and therefore allowing you to take in deeper breaths. Being able to ensure a better quality of inhalation and exhalation in your breath is a great way to rejuvenate the body and the mind, alleviating lethargy, and helps you with better focus.

Just spending 5 minutes doing very gentle backbends before you go to bed will go a long way in helping you open up the shoulders and upper back.

Here are five asanas that will help you create a healthier spine:

1. Extended Puppy Stretch (Uttana Shishosana)

Come into all fours into a table top position and keep your hips stacked over your knees. Slowly walk your palms forward, working on melting your chest towards the mat. If your shoulders are pretty tight, think about reaching your forehead towards the mat. You can also opt to place a block underneath your forehead for more support. Stay for about 2 to 3 minutes – relaxing your chest with every exhalation .

2. Seated Butterfly Pose (Baddha Konasana)

Sitting down on the mat, bring the soles of your feet together to touch. If you would like a deeper stretch, bring your heels closer towards you – or you can opt to take your heels further away, forming a diamond shape with your legs. As you exhale, pivot from your hips and fold forward. You can round your back by reaching your forehead towards your toes. Stay for about 15 to 20 long, deep breaths. You can opt to place a block underneath your forehead for more support.

3. Sphinx Pose (Salamba Bhujangasana)

Lie belly down on to the mat, and set your elbows directly below your shoulders in a nice 90 degree angle. Continue to think about bringing your shoulders as far away from your ears as possible by pressing your elbows firmly down on the mat. Send the shoulder blades towards the other, bringing the chest forward. Relax your glutes and turn your femur in towards each other as you exhale, deepening yourself into a gentle backbend. Stay for about 15 to 20 long, deep breaths.

4. Happy Baby (Ananda Balasana)

Lie down on the mat as you hug your knees in to your chest. Hold on to the outer edges of both your feet, with your elbows on the inside of your knees. Make sure that your shins are perpendicular to the mat, your knees in a 90 degree angle. Turn your tailbone down towards the mat as you level out your shoulders and your back on the mat. As you exhale, press the feet down further, bringing your knees closer to the mat. Stay for about 15 to 20 long, deep breaths.

5. Assisted Fish Pose (Matsyasana)

Using a block or a bolster, set it underneath you in between your shoulder blades, with the block ending at the nape of your neck. Take a gentle backbend as you drape your torso over the block/bolster, coming into an assisted backbend. You can set your legs mat width apart, or taking butterfly legs if you want to add in an additional hip opening. Relax your neck and look towards the back. If you are feeling a lot of tension in your neck, feel free to place another block or pillow at the back of your head for support.

Stay here for as long as you feel comfortable, between 3 to 5 minutes.

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