Workout with Kourtney Kardashian's Yoga Therapist

18 Mar 2013

Leila Johnson demos five back moves you can do at home, at the gym or the beach

You blasted your bingo wings and toughened your core, but have you paid attention to your back? This often overlooked body part is the key to a good workout. Ignore it, and those plans for hitting the gym can grind to a halt faster than you can imagine. LA yoga therapist Leila Johnson has devised a 60-minute masterclass called Yoga Therapy For The Back that helps keeps this vital body part in check.

“Most of the clients I work with, whether they’re 19 or 65, have back issues,” says Leila. “Our modern lifestyles, such as hunching over a computer or sinking onto your hip when you are on your mobile phone, only help add to the problem.”

Leila is fully aware of how you need to keep this body part moving, as she experienced back difficulties at a young age. At the age of 17 she was told that she would have to wear a back brace day in, day out for 10 years. However, during the first year of her theatre studies she had to take a yoga class, and within 12 months, she ditched the brace and never looked back. 

Leila flew to the UAE to demonstrate her masterclass at Zen Yoga. If you missed it, don’t panic. She has put together a 30-minute version of the programme just for SHAPE Middle East.

1 Safe Twist
WHY IT WORKS A twist is extremely important for a healthy spine as it helps to ring out tension. It is most important, however, never to feel a twist in the lower back. This twist is a full spinal twist and super safe as your pelvic floor is supported by the ground.
DO IT Start by leaning on one side, stacking the legs and feet on-top of each other. Bring your knees towards your centre line. Take a deep long inhale. As you exhale twist towards your feet. Bowing your head into your heart will also gently twist the cervical spine. Hold for five long breaths and then change sides.

2 Child’s Pose
WHY IT WORKS It helps to release the lower back, get the breath deeper into the body and, a create a more relaxed central nervous system. Plus the gentle twist will iron out any unwanted curvature of the spine.
DO IT Resting on your knees, take your knees wide apart and have the big toes touching. Fold forward in between the knees, giving plenty of space for the rib cage. Feel free to put a pillow under the forehead, and/or in between the pelvis and feet. Take 5 long breaths. Walk gently the hands to the right, stay low to the ground. Take 5 long breaths. Walk gently over to the left side, while staying low to the ground. Do this posture once a day.

3 Down-Dog
WHY IT WORKS This posture works every muscle in the back. However, it can be a bit of a challenge when you have tightness. So here’s how to modify your down-dog when that stiffness is present.
DO IT Start in child’s pose. Place your hands shoulder-width apart, 15cm from the top of the mat, middle finger pointing forward, and notice an equal distance from the edge of your mat in relationship with your hands. Lift yourself on all fours, draw the tail bone back and up. Take your feet wide, as wide as the mat. (By taking your feet this wide you are helping to lengthen the spine.) Turn your toes in slightly, heels slightly out to help open up the lower back. Bend the knees to tilt the pelvis. Take 5 breaths, then rest in child’s pose. You can repeat this simple sequence as much as you like.

4 Modified Superman Pose
WHY IT WORKS This is a great posture to help strengthen the muscles around the back and cultivate a better posture.
DO IT Lay face-down on the mat. Make a little pillow with your hands,  and place the forehead on-top of your hands. have feet hip-distance apart. Keep your forehead and hands “glued” together and as you inhale lift yourself up; as you exhale lower yourself. If it’s comfortable for you, lift the feet up as well. Repeat the movement several times, with breath; creating an elongated and stronger back.

5 Resting Pose
WHY IT WORKS It is important to let the back muscles relax. When you have a tight back, you have a tight breath. Shallow or tight breathing can affect your moods and energy level. 
DO IT Lie on your back with your feet on the sofa. This will naturally tilt the pelvis and release the lower back and diaphragm. Do this posture everyday for 20 minutes.