The spine is one of the most important parts of the body. It provides structure and support and without it, you wouldn’t be able to stand up, let alone keep yourself upright.
Yoga is a practice that decompresses the spine when done consciously, providing a feeling of space. In some cases, yoga can even help to alleviate pain from different spine conditions like herniated discs, scoliosis and also general low back pain.
Here are six movements of the spine to think about:
The neutral position is that where we maintain the natural curves of the spine with the lordosis and the kyphosis in their proper measure in the segments they touch. It is the position that we should try to maintain most of the time. It’s the one that activates the “core” muscles.
In flexion, we seek to approach a fetal position. The abdomen is activated and the lumbar muscles stop working. It’s a rounded back and in yoga, we use it in different positions such as plank because it’s so useful in activating the abdomen.
The opposite of flexion, here we seek heart opening and we move away from the fetal position. The abdomen is deactivated and the muscles of the back are activated. The lumbar spine is the area most prone to extension but in order to have a healthy extension, we should look for it in the thoracic part so that the opening movement is distributed through the spine.
You’ll often hear in a yoga class, “Lengthen the spine. Straight spine!” These are both referring to an axial extension – as if someone were pulling your hands towards the sky. We seek to lose the natural curve of the spine to look for a more straight, more artificial form because it increases the space between the vertebrae and decreases the pressure between the discs.
The spine rotates on itself which allows us to turn sideways. The natural tendency will be for the neck to take on most of the rotation, but we want to keep the neck controlled and allow the majority of the rotation to happen around the spine.
Here we bend the body to the left or right, opening up the side body, strengthening the obliques. We look for space between the ribs and we activate the intercostal muscles. The vertebrae meet on one side of the body while on the other side they separate.
Understanding the different movements of the spine as it applies to yoga practice is important in ensuring you have a safe and effective practice. Hopefully, this quick guide helps you navigate spinal movement in your yoga practice and your daily life. Remember to give your spine a little love each time you sit at a desk, before going to bed, and after and before you practice any of the sports we love to do outside. And you’ll be able to enjoy them later in life if you do the preventative work now.