Your spine is perhaps one of the single most important parts of your body. The spinal cord carries messages from your brain throughout your body and, without it, you would not have any control over your movements. The spine forms the backbone of not just the body, but of daily life. From walking or running to simply sitting and sleeping, a healthy spine provides support, improves your range of movement, and increases overall health and wellbeing.
As you age, your spine naturally undergoes wear and tear which can lead to back pain, reduced mobility, and other health concerns. That’s why it is important to take proactive steps to keep it healthy.
Regularly practicing yoga has many benefits, from improved mental health to greater muscle strength. One of the key benefits of this ancient practice? Keeping your spine healthy. Here are five yoga poses that can help to promote spinal health at any age.
Child’s Pose (Balasana)
This resting pose stretches the lower back, relaxes the back muscles, opens the hips, and relieves tension in the pelvis. It can also lengthen and soothe the spine, helping to reduce back and neck pain.
How to do it: Begin on your hands and knees with your knees about hip width apart. Sit back, lowering your hips towards your heels, and stretch your arms forward on the ground (you can bring your arms back to rest by your sides if this is more comfortable.) Rest your forehead on your yoga mat. Breathe deeply and relax in this pose for as long as you like.
Cat-Cow Stretch (Marjariasana/Bitilasana)
These dynamic poses help to warm up the spine (for this reason, they are often performed towards the beginning of a yoga practice.) They also help to relieve tension in the upper back and neck and to improve spinal flexibility.
How to do it: Start in a tabletop position with your wrists positioned directly under your shoulders and your knees under your hips. Inhale and slowly arch your back, lifting your head and your tailbone towards the ceiling. This is Cow Pose. Now exhale and round your spine, tucking your chin to your chest and your tailbone downwards. This is Cat Pose. Flow between these poses for several breaths.
Downward Facing Dog (Adho Mukha Svanasana)
This inversion stretches the entire back side of your body, strengthening the muscles of the chest and arms while relieving pressure on the neck and back. It can also help with spinal alignment and reduce lower back pain.
How to do it: Start on your hands and knees in a tabletop position. Rotate your arms by bringing your triceps back, and tuck your toes under. Lift your hips up and back, bringing your body into an inverted V shape. Spread your fingers, draw your shoulder blades down, and lift through the pelvis. Rotate your thighs slightly inwards and gently press your heels towards the ground (but don’t worry if they don’t touch the floor!)
Bridge Pose (Setu Bandhasana)
This backbend primarily utilizes the back muscles, as well as the glutes and hamstrings. It stretches the chest, neck, and spine, relieves tension in the back, and can even help to improve your posture. If you are new to backbend postures, it is a great place to start.
How to do it: Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet hip-width apart. Position your feet as close to your sitting bones as is comfortable and gently hold your ankles with your hands. Inhale, press into your feet, and lift your hips and spine off the floor. If it is more comfortable, you can clasp your hands beneath you instead of holding your ankles. Breathe deeply and hold the position for 2-3 cycles of breath. Exhale as you slowly lower to the ground.
Sitting Half Spinal Twist (Ardha Matsyendrasana)
This seated twist strengthens and lengthens the spine as well as stimulating the digestive system, opening the chest, and encouraging greater mobility. If you suffer from lower back pain, you may find this pose helpful.
How to do it: Begin in a seated position with your back straight. Place your right knee flat to the floor and bend it, then cross your left leg over the right. Keep your left foot on the floor, and gently draw your knee towards your body. Stretch your right arm towards the ceiling on an inhale, then exhale and twist to the left, placing your right elbow outside your left knee. Place your left hand on the floor for support and turn your gaze over your left shoulder. Hold for a few breaths, then release and repeat on the other side.
Performing Yoga Safely
Practicing yoga regularly and incorporating these spine-friendly poses into your regular routine can play a pivotal role in maintaining spine health, reducing back pain, and improving overall wellbeing.
However, it is vital that you listen to your body. Everyone’s flexibility and strength levels are different, so approach each pose with mindfulness and patience. If anything is painful, stop. Yoga can be challenging but should not hurt. If you have pre-existing spinal conditions or back pain, always consult a healthcare professional before beginning any new exercise regimen.