“It is the job of the spine to keep the brain alert. The moment the spine collapses, the brain collapses.” ~ B.K.S. Iyenger
A building without a strong foundation is bound to collapse. Similarly, a body without a healthy spine is headed for a downfall as it leads to illness, inflexibility and stress. The spine is responsible for the energy anatomy of the body, form and functions. Without the spinal cord it is impossible for us to function even for a second.
The head, the torso and the legs are all functioning in coordination with the brain, due to a healthy spine. The nerve endings in the vertebrae are connected to different body parts and any damage to the spine can affect the respective body part, resulting in paralysis or other problems.
In our previous article we spoke about the spiritual significance of spine, focusing on how we can with the help of meditation keep our spine supple, active and flexible. In order to speed up the process of spiritual awakening along with an active and healthy life, we can also incorporate specific yoga poses for a healthy spine.
These poses will stretch the spinal muscles like Iliopsoas muscles, Paraspinals, Piriformis, Gluteal group etc. along with strengthening the vertebrae & rectifying our posture.
Have a look at five yoga asanas for a healthy spine and hold it for five to seven breaths each.
Upward Salute and Side stretch or Urdhva Hastasana and Triyak Tadasana
How to: Stand straight with feet together, and joining both the heels and the knees. The body should be in a line with no abnormal arch in the lower back. Inhale and lift your hands up with palms facing each other and fingers interlocked in Namaste mudra.
The body is erect and the eyes are fixed in front or the face is lifted up with the gaze upwards. Stay here for a few breaths and gently bent to the right side without distorting the posture. Stay on the right side for a few breaths, come back to the center & go towards the left side. Again, hold for a few breaths, come back to the center and repeat the process five times.
Why to: A complete body stretch, the pose opens up the spine, alleviates back pain, increases the circulation of blood in the whole body and relieves mild anxiety. One can practice this pose anytime they feel a cramped back due to excessive sitting.
Salabhasana or Locust Pose
How to: Lie on your belly with your arms along the sides of your torso, palms facing up, forehead resting on the floor. Squeeze the buttocks and as you inhale, lift up the head, neck, chest, arms & legs together, while the abdomen is resting on the floor, stabilizing and bearing all the weight.
Raise your arms parallel to the floor with the fingers interlocked for an extra stretch in the shoulders. Keep the head in neutral position and lift the body as high as possible. Stay here for five to seven breaths and come back, rest and repeat two more times.
Why to: A preparatory pose for advance back bends, this pose is known to strengthen and stretch the spine. Elongating the latissimus dorsi, erector spinae muscles, this pose stretches the hip flexors, abdominals and chest muscles as well.
Bhujangasana or Cobra pose
How to: Lie on your stomach with your toes flat on the floor, place the elbows near the chest and palms facing down. Keep your legs close together, with your feet and heels lightly touching each other. As you inhale, slowly straighten your arms and lift your chest and abdomen from the floor.
Feel the stability in your pelvis, thighs and top of your feet. The tailbone is pulled downwards while the gaze is either in front or upwards. Deepen your stretch by keeping your shoulders relaxed and creating an arc in your back. Don’t overstrain yourself. Stay here for few breaths. As you exhale gently come down on the floor, and repeat two more times.
Why to: A great chest opener, this pose adds strength to the back and increases flexibility in your spine. It strengthens your buttocks, abdominal muscles and shoulders.
Ustrasana or Camel Pose
How to: Kneel down on the mat with the knees hip width apart. Place the hands on the lower back, lift up the spine and tuck the tailbone in with elbows bent and fingers pointing downwards. Inhale and lean the upper torso backwards and push the hips forward.
Press the shoulder blades down, lean slightly on the right side and place the right hand on the right heel and then place the left hand on the left heel. Ensure that the lower back is not compressed, the weight will be centered on the knees and the head is dropped back and gaze upwards. Stay here for a few breaths, slowly come back, rest and repeat two more times.
Why to: This is a therapeutic pose as it relieves backache. It opens up the chest, improves breathing, relieves stress and stimulates digestion. Camel Pose stretches the spine and strengthens it as well.
Downward dog & Dolphin pose or Adho Mukha Svanasana
How to: Come onto the floor on your hands and knees. Keep your hands shoulder-width apart, and feet are hip width apart and parallel to each other. Place your palms on the floor. Walk your feet backwards to form an inverted V. The heel will be pressed down at all times, and the tailbone is tucked in and pulled back and ensure that there is no extra arch in the back. The gaze is either downwards or on the navel centre.
Stay here for a few breaths and then gently place the entire forearm on the floor. The sitting bones are pointing towards the ceiling, while the heels are pressed on the floor, if possible, otherwise lifted in the air to allow correct posture formation. Stay here for a few breaths, come back and relax in child’s pose. Repeat two more times.
Why to: Downward dog is included in almost all yoga routines as it strengthens the arms, spine, back and legs. Both the poses are semi-inverted poses and increases the flow of blood in the torso and head. This improves balance, relieves stress, and stretches the entire body.
Few advanced poses that can be incorporated by advance level practitioners are – Natarajasana or Lord of the Dance pose, Tuladandasana or Warrior 3 pose, Prasarita Padottanasana C or Wide Legged Forward Bend Variation C, Chaturanga Dandasana or Four Limbed Staff Pose, and Urdhva Mukha Asana or Upward Facing Dog Pose.
Some of the common causes for spine inflexibility and ill health are poor posture, immobility in the muscles surrounding the spine, improper biomechanics, sedentary lifestyles, etc. So try to help & support your spine in whatever way possible, because you are as old as your spine.