A healthy spine is often associated with a healthy body, which is why this quote really resonates with me:
“Yoga is the fountain of youth. You are only as young as your spine is flexible” – Bob Harper
The spine is important for transmitting information between the brain and the rest of the body. It is also attached to our ribs, legs, hips and shoulders by muscles and provides a stable foundation for those muscles to move our body.
The way we live our modern lives, a number of the muscles that support the spine become ineffective due to over or under-use. For instance, if we spend a lot of time hunched over a computer or phone, the gluteal (the buttock muscles supporting the lower spine) and upper back muscles (supporting the upper spine) tend to get weak due to underuse. Sitting down all the time also causes the hip flexors (muscles at the front of the hip) to lose their elasticity as they aren’t being stretched effectively which can cause the pelvis to tilt forward.
This, in turn, causes the spine to lose its natural curves and mobility. In some cases, this leads to back pain or issues with the joints connected (directly or indirectly) to the spine eg the hips, shoulders and knees.
The good news is that this is reversible! A carefully designed yoga sequence can help us restore our spine in a number of ways by working on muscles surrounding the spine and also by working directly on the spine.
It allows us to release tension in surrounding muscles that become tight due to inactivity/or overuse, it allows us to strengthen muscles that become weak due to underuse. This provides more support for our spine and posture.
There are yoga postures which work directly on the spine that involve rotation (twists), flexion (forward folds), extension (back bends), lateral flexion (side bends) and lengthening and can provide immediate relief for back pain.
Seated Yoga Poses for a Healthy Spine
Here are four very simple seated yoga postures I love practising which work directly on the spine:
From a seated position, interlace your fingers and extend the palms upwards towards the ceiling. Bring your awareness to the ribs lifting up while squeezing the buttock muscles to keep the lower back grounded. Take 5 to 10 very deep breaths here.
From the same starting position as above inhale to lengthen the palms up to the ceiling and exhale to bend sideways (either to the right or left). Inhale to return to centre and exhale to bend sideways in the opposite direction. Repeat 5 to 10 times on each side.
Spine Flexion and Extension
From the same starting position as above, inhale to reach the interlaced palms up and reach as far back as you can comfortably (imagine the back arching as you do this), as you exhale reach the interlaced palms as far forward as you can (imagine the back rounding as you do this). Repeat 5 to 10 times.
From a seated position, reach the arms up as you breathe in. As you breathe out, bring your right palm to your left knee and your left hand to your lower back. Keeping the hands in those positions, focus on the lift of the ribs as you inhale and twist towards the left as you exhale. Take 5 to 10 breaths and repeat on the other side.
These are just a few examples of how yoga can help us find more space in our spine and more ease in how we move, breathe and how we live.
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