Yoga Poses for the Spine: Strength and Flexibility
What is the Spine?
The importance of the spine in a human body cannot be underestimated. The spine is a series of vertebrae extending from the skull to the small of the back, enclosing the spinal cord and providing support for the thorax and abdomen; the backbone.
The spinal column is constructed of 33 vertebrae, stacked one on top of the other in a gentle S-shaped curve. The frontal part of each vertebra is round and flat on the top and bottom. These flat portions fit on top of each other, separated by a spongy pad or disc. This acts as a shock absorber between each vertebra, while keeping them slightly separated. The rear portion of the spinal column is hollow, and contains all the nerves conducted from the brain to the various organs in the body. These nerves then branch out to their respective organs through the spaces between each vertebra. The whole structure is maintained in place by a complex arrangement of muscles, tendons and ligaments.
The spine is like the trunk of a tree, supporting the entire body structure. Each vertebra progressively bears the weight of the column. Thus each lower vertebra is slightly larger than the one above, in order to bear the increasing load. The spine has an intricate structure and is capable of performing a wide variety of movements. It can bend forwards, backwards, sideways, and twist. This gives the body a great deal of freedom of movement in performing its various tasks.
Inadequate exercise of the musculature of the spine, obesity and poor posture caused by continual forward bending during working activities or due to sitting in chairs, are responsible for the majority of the spinal disorders. Yoga poses or asanas can prevent spinal disorders if practiced regularly. Yoga poses can also help overcome many of the back problems and help to cure them.
Preparation for Yoga Poses for the Spine
All the yoga poses and asanas help the flexibility and strengthening of the spine in some way. However, there are some specific poses for the spine which can be helpful to include into your yoga practice:
- Yoga Poses are best performed on an empty stomach, that includes not drinking too much water before your practice.
- Warm Up: Always start with a warm up session.
- Use a mat on which to do the yoga poses.
- As a general rule, inhale when your body expands (lifts up) and exhale when your body contracts (moves down, bends or twists).
- Relax into each pose. Come out of the pose and rest for a minute.
- Don't stretch or bend to the point of pain. If your muscles shake it means you are overworking them. Do less.
- Rest between poses with the Corpse Pose or Savasana.
- Be gentle with yourself.
Cat Pose and Cow Pose
Sun Salutation - Step by Step Guide
Cobra Pose - Bhujangasana
Bridge Pose or Spinal Lift - Setu Bandhasana
Child's Pose - For Spine and Relaxation
Easy Yoga Poses for the Spine
It is a good idea to consult a doctor before beginning practicing yoga for the spine. It would be good to find a yoga teacher if you have any back problems. Someone who has experience in dealing with back or spinal problems would be the best option. Some the easy poses that one can do at home are:
This seated pose is good to begin the session for the spine. It creates balance and helps to correct the posture. This pose strengthens the back and stretches the knees and ankles.
Cat Pose – Marjaryasana and Cow Pose - Bitilasana
These two kneeling yoga poses provide a gentle massage to the spine and belly organs and can be done at any time during the day. They are also good warm up poses. They increase the suppleness of the spine making it flexible and strong. Combining them together by alternating between the two poses helps to stretch the muscles along the back, neck and arms.
One of the best routines for the spine is the Sun Salutation or Suryanamaskara which is a continuous series of 8 related poses. It is best used as a preventive measure since it mobilizes the inter-vertebral joints, develops the musculature of the spine, strengthens the ligaments and massages the nerves and blood vessels. This is especially beneficial in the middle and later life when the muscles tend to become weaker and the spine stiffer.
Cobra Pose – Bhujangasana
This prone yoga pose tones the back, kidneys, and buttocks as it expands the rib cage, chest, and abdomen and firms the neck and throat. It also replenishes the lower back and pelvis with a fresh supply of blood and increases circulation.
Bridge Pose - Setu Bandhasana
This supine yoga pose increases flexibility in the back as it stretches and relieves tension in the neck and shoulders. It also strengthens the leg and gluteal muscles (buttocks) and opens the chest.
This kneeling pose completely relaxes the back and neck and stretches the spine. It massages the abdominal organs and promotes a sense of security and nurturing. It is a good counterpose to backbends.
All the Yoga Poses for the Hips are also beneficial for the spine such as:
- Dancer's Pose or Natarajasana
- Sphinx Pose
- Downward Dog Pose – Adho Mukhasana
- Bound Angle Pose – Baddha Konasana
- Locust Pose (Full and Half) – Salabhasana
For the above and other more advanced poses for the spine and creating your own sequence check out the Yoga Journal – Spine webpage. You can create your own schedule according to what you would like to achieve.
Many of the spinal problems and back muscles problems occur due to strain and stress. The best remedy for relaxation is the Corpse Pose or Savasana. Incorporating it as part of your yoga practice and also whenever you need to relax can help a great deal.
Resources for a Flexible Spine
- How to Perform the Yoga Mountain Pose
Have you noticed that you use one side of the body more than the other? The Mountain Pose in Yoga will help in correcting the alignment and help relieve many ailments when performed with other standing poses.
- Yoga Standing Poses
Standing yoga poses can help improve posture, concentration and balance. They stretch, tone and strengthen the muscles all over the body through forward bends, side bends, back bends, and lunges.
- Yoga Poses for Legs
Our legs are the most important parts of the body. They support our body weight, help us walk, run, swim, stand and be active in our lives. Yoga is a great way to maintain muscle tone of the legs.
- Yoga Poses for Hips
The hips and buttocks bear the weight or the human body and determine its balance. It is important to strengthen and ensure good muscle tone for easy movement and flexibility in daily life. Learn about some of the yoga poses that can benefit the hip
- How to Comfortably Sit Cross Legged in Yoga
Many of us take sitting cross legged on the floor for granted. However, are we in perfect balance and alignment when we sit on the floor. Find out how to sit correctly and for long periods to practice yoga, pranayama or meditation.
- How to Improve Flexibility of Tight Hamstrings with ...
Did you know that tight hamstrings can cause many injuries, poor posture, inhibit movement, and back pain? Learn how to loosen your hamstrings with yoga and improve performance in sports and daily life.