The best thing you can do for your spine is just hang


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Photo: Getty Images/Gang Zhou

In yoga, teachers will tell you that having an open heart starts with having an open spine, which means moving through elaborate yoga backbends and spinal stretch twists. But if you feel more at home at the gym than at the studio, Will Torres, founder of Willspace, says that all you need to have an open back (and, by extension, an open heart) is to hang.

By hang, he means finding the nearest tree branch or pull up bar and holding your entire body up with just the grip of your hands. “Hanging has many benefits,” says Torres. “It stretches the spine, improves the other is grip and forearm strength, and helps with shoulder health.” You’re not just stretching, in other words. Your full body gets involved in a strengthening and lengthening combo.

“Everyone knows and feels that they have tension in the shoulders, in the elbows, in the back. And what hanging does is use your body weight to start creating more space between the joints,” Torres explains. “So you create more space and strength in the elbows, in the shoulders, and between the ribs of the rib cage. Also, gravity pulls you away from the anchor point on the bar, so you’re creating space between the vertebrae of the spine.”

When you come down from the bar, you have more room between each of the lego-like pieces that make up your spine. Over time, Torres say you’ll feel yourself sitting up straighter at your desk, in the car, and all the other place where hunching is the norm. First though, you’ll have to hone your hanging.

When you give it a go, the trainer says you may find that grip strength and skin sensitivity keeps you from staying up there for too long. And that’s no problem! Even a 5 to 10 second hold can work wonders for a crunched up spine. If you practice every day (and Torres really, really recommends it), you’ll soon reach a point where you can just hang out there for as long as want.

Heart-opening yoga flow? Coming right up:

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