Yoga for the Spine
By Shabna Cader
They say that a healthy and well-maintained spine is the key to the overall health of the whole body. Well, there’s certainly a lot of truth in that. A healthy spine means an upright and adjusted posture. Good posture means undisrupted circulation throughout the body. A healthy flow of circulation means positive overall well-being.
Here’s a couple of yoga poses that will aid you in strengthening your spine and have you living your best life:
Cat/cow spinal flexes
If you’re looking to give your spine a gentle massage along with stimulating your internal organs, give this one a go. I wouldn’t delve into the Sanskrit term for it as both cat pose and cow pose have very different names and combined created a lengthy tongue twister. To get into the pose, simply roll out a mat, blanket, or even rug where your knees and hands would feel comfortable. You’re going to be on all four, so place your knees hip-width apart, and place your hands shoulder length apart. Knees should be directly underneath the hip points and hands should be directly beneath the shoulder points. Spread the fingers wide. Make sure you feel grounded, and not a lot of pressure on the wrist. To release strain on the wrist, press into the knuckles of your hands and fingertips. With your first inhale simply drop the belly (like a cow) towards the earth and lift your head slightly upward. Lengthen the tailbone. As you exhale round through (like a cat), sucking in the belly and dropping the head towards the ground. You can keep doing this for a total of 10 breaths or more if you like, slow and steady, or even picking up the speed just a tad.
Backbends can be a bit tricky and should be attempted with the greatest and utmost attention, care, and pace. That being said, camel pose can feel amazing, strengthening the back muscles, fighting fatigue, boosting energy, and can even improve the counteracts of sitting and computer work. Begin on all fours, the same as in cat/cow and simply bring yourself upright by keeping the thighs perpendicular to the ground. You can stay here for a few breaths just getting used to the feeling of grounding through the knees and the tops of your feet that should be touching the floor. Inhale and bring the hands to the waist. As you exhale, slowly begin to tilt the waist and above back, arching the spine forward. You could keep your hands where they are, or slowly begin to reach towards your heels. If they do not reach, perhaps you could attempt to flex the backbend a little more. Should you feel any tension or exertion, stop. In time and with more practice, this should happen naturally. Stick with it with an even natural flow of inhalations and exhalations. To come out of the pose simply bring both the hands back to the waist, and sit back on the heels. As a counterpose, you could move into a child’s pose - balasana.
The chair pose can be a bit challenging at first, but with repetitive practice, you’ll feel the benefits in your ankles, thighs, calves and of course the spine. As a bonus, it also stimulates the abdominal muscles and diaphragm, and heart. To get into the pose, begin at the top of your mat or rug with the feet either hip-width apart or flush together. If you’re a beginner, I’d recommend feet hip-width apart for stability. Hands can be by your sides or at prayer position directly at the centre of your chest. Inhale, and as you exhale slowly tilt forward as you bring the hips back. Bend the knees for this one. At this point, your upper body should be over your knees but balanced out with the hips backward. It’s like you’re about to sit in a chair, but hovering. Use the breath to keep yourself steady and balanced. If you feel like you’re shaking, inhale and rise back up to standing. Take breaks. Aim to complete at least three to five breaths in this pose to feel the benefits.
The cobra pose does not imply that you must bring your upper body as perpendicular to the ground as an actual cobra does, but the point is to simply lift it so that it opens the heart and the lungs. Ease into this pose by lying face down on the ground, forehead to the touch. Your hands should be directly beneath the shoulder points. Feet can be slightly apart or zipped together, tops of the feet pressing down towards the ground. Inhale, and as you exhale slowly raise the head and lift the chest. You can keep it relatively low as you allow your body to adjust to this sensation. With time, slowly allow yourself to lift a little higher and away from the ground. Support yourself by breathing deeply. To come out of the pose, simply bring the forehead and chest back to the ground on an exhale. This pose strengthens and stretches the spine, abdominal muscles, lungs, and shoulders. Also firms the buttocks, helps relieve stress and fatigue and soothes sciatica.
An extended child’s pose is a relaxed and comfortable way of stretching the spine and shoulders. Begin on all fours as usual and then bring the knees either wide as your yoga mat or rug, or zipped up together. Inhale, and as you exhale slowly begin the move your hips towards the heels and rest the forehead on or at least towards the ground. Your hands can stay where they are, or you can extend them further towards the front edge corners of the mat. Breathe mindfully. This restorative posture can also bring about a sense of calm, and ease fatigue.