Yoga Practices for Spinal Health and Flexibility
September 20, 2023
Do you know that feeling of getting up first thing in the morning only to ‘feel your back?’ Perhaps it’s just a little stiffness, or maybe you are in spinal pain from lack of yoga. One thing is for sure – without a healthy, flexible spine, every movement feels like a big effort.
For many of us, that effort is enough to stop us from enjoying some of our favorite activities. Don’t let that person be you! Practicing yoga regularly can improve your spine’s strength and flexibility, reduce back pain, and improve your posture. And as if that wasn’t enough to get you back on your mat right now, consider this: yoga can also help with spinal alignment. Here is a closer look.
How Does Yoga Help With Spinal Problems?
Your spine plays a key role in maintaining a healthy body. Not only does it support several different muscle groups from your core to your back. The spine also protects your central nervous system. Practicing yoga regularly helps with both.
Supporting Your Nervous System
Picture your nervous system as an information highway that runs through the segments of the spine, sending signals, storing information, and controlling many of the body’s key functions. When your spine becomes misaligned, some of those messages can get scrambled. Practicing yoga can help you prevent this by supporting different muscle groups.
Supporting Key Spinal Muscle Groups
For your spine to be both strong and flexible, different muscle groups need to work together. The multifidus muscles stabilize individual vertebrae. The transverse abdominis muscles support your abdomen, and their connection to the spine may not be immediately obvious. But they are essential in stabilizing your back. The paraspinal muscles, on the other hand, help you bend your spine.
All these muscles work together to give us the range of motion we take for granted until something hurts. Yoga helps by stretching and strengthening the muscles around your spine as you move into a pose.
Which Asanas Are Good For the Spine?
By now, we hope you agree that yoga is great for your spine, but which asanas should you choose? Here are five yoga poses that our instructors love to help you mobilize and strengthen your spine.
Asana #1: Cat and Cow Pose
If you’ve taken even one yoga class in your life, chances are you have practiced the combination of cat and cow pose. For many dedicated practitioners, these foundational postures are essential to help warm up their spine and bring awareness to their whole body. Flexing and arching your spine is a great way of bringing gentle movement to this part of the body.
Asana #2: Tree Pose
At first sight, this standing pose may not seem like much of a spine-strengthening pose, but it has great benefits. As you’re balancing on one leg, try to maintain the correct posture and identify the areas of your spine where you’re losing balance. This is where your muscles need additional support.
Asana #3: Camel Pose
This is one of the more challenging poses to support spinal flexibility, so don’t be disappointed if it takes a few attempts to find stability and reach your heels. Why is it beneficial? Each area of your spine has small stabilizing muscles, and camel pose is one of the best to draw your focus to these individual areas.
Asana #4: Chair Pose
Are you ready for a challenge? Chair pose is one of the more challenging poses for your spine, which needs to work harder to stay upright because of where your center of gravity is. If you are unsure about your level of strength, ask one of our instructors to observe you closely. Our team will not only help you avoid injury but also advise whether you may need to work on other poses first to build strength.
Asana #5: Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
This list wouldn’t be complete without at least one spinal twist on it. Actually, spinal twisting poses are so important for health and flexibility that we’ll spend a bit more time on them in the section below.
This pose is also known as the seated twist pose. It’s a great pose to build on the movement you’ve created by practicing the cat and cow pose. The key to performing this twist safely is to be gentle and move slowly. Imagine your spine like a spiral staircase that allows you to twist one segment at a time. Many practitioners will find that their back stays slightly rounded in this position. You may also find that it’s easier to twist to one side compared to the other. Avoid forcing your ‘bad’ side too hard and take your time moving into the twist.
What Are the Benefits of Spinal Twists?
Spinal twists are among the most beneficial poses you can practice for overall health and well-being. Their advantages stretch far beyond keeping your spine supple and mobile, but spinal flexibility is a great place to start.
To many people, spinal health revolves around keeping discs and joints healthy and strong. To achieve that, though, we need to lengthen and build the resilience of the soft tissues surrounding your spine and your spinal muscles. Spinal twists excel at doing exactly that, and they help you feel great, too.
Think about one of the simplest spinal twist yoga poses, the supine spinal twist. You start by lying on your back with your arms extended into a T position. Bend both knees and drop them to one side while turning your head to the other side. You can use your hand to encourage your knees toward the floor. Stay here for a few breaths and feel the difference in your spine. Repeat on the other side. You can also perform this pose by bending one knee and stretching it over the other leg.
This spinal twist is a great pose to practice as part of your warm-up. If you repeat it at the end of your practice, you should notice increased flexibility in your back.
Can I Realign My Spine Without a Chiropractor?
Could yoga save you from having to visit the chiropractor? Yes and no. Practicing yoga regularly lengthens, strengthens, and stretches your spine. Those three elements combine to improve your spine’s overall alignment. Improved alignment makes for a healthier, stronger, and more flexible back.
Having said that, don’t cancel your chiropractic appointments just yet. One thing that yoga can’t do is actively correct spinal misalignment. To do that, chiropractors study X-rays or high-resolution digital images of your spine before commencing treatment.
Plus, there is no reason to choose either over the other. Practicing yoga regularly can certainly help prevent back pain and other problems with your spine. And your practice can support and complement the work of your chiropractor. If you need ideas to help you combine the two, feel free to talk to our knowledgeable Uptown Yoga instructors. We’re always happy to support you in your journey.
Practicing yoga regularly is an excellent way of keeping your back healthy and mobile. Just a few minutes on the mat can relieve a stiff back early in the morning or after a day behind your desk. Spinal twists are especially effective in this respect. If you would like to add more spinal twists to your practice or need more advice, join our classes at Uptown Yoga and don’t be afraid to ask one of our instructors.