There are many benefits of yoga that are not necessarily common knowledge, one being that yoga can help maintain a healthy spine. By incorporating specific yoga stretches and movements into a daily exercise regimen, yogis can improve the health of the spine and prevent potential spinal injuries as well.
Physical and Spiritual Benefits
For persons with existing injuries, yoga stretches and strengthens the muscles in the lower back and legs, which helps to ease back pain. Yoga movements also increase blood circulation which prompts healing nutrients to be delivered to injured tissues. While there are specific poses that are best for those with spinal issues, many of the yoga postures will gently strengthen back and abdominal muscles and help reduce or even eliminate back pain all together.
Aside from the physical benefits to your body, including your spine, there are also incredible spiritual benefits to practicing yoga. Yogic tradition tells us that each person has seven energy centers that serve as portals between matter and mind. These energy centers are known as chakras and each corresponds to a different area of the body. The first chakra, called “the root chakra,” is located at the base of the spine. This chakra grounds us and connects us to the earth.
A healthy spine creates feelings of stability, contentment and clarity. While physically a strong back is essential for our general wellbeing, a healthy spine is the back bone of spiritual health.
Breathe, Stretch, Move
In order to maintain a healthy back and spine, your yoga practice needs to include certain movements that stretch, rotate, lengthen and strengthen the spine and its surrounding muscles and connective tissue. Try some of these simple moves to start off.
- Roll down and back up: Stand with feet shoulder-width apart, slightly bend your knees and tuck the pelvis under while contracting the abdominal muscles. Relax the neck, drop chin to chest and roll down through the spine. Your arms should remain completely relaxed. Do this slowly and then gradually roll back up once your hands have reached about the level of your knees. This will stretch your spine and hamstrings while improving posture and relaxing the mind.
- Downward-Facing Dog: Begin on your hands and knees with your hands slightly farther forward than your shoulders. Press your hands into the ground and raise your knees away from the floor, lifting your tailbone up toward the ceiling. To make the move a little more advanced, gently push on your heels to give your hamstrings and extra stretch. This targets the muscles in your lower back that support your spine when you stand and lift objects.
- Child’s Pose: Start on all fours. Stretch your arms out in front of you and then sit back on your glutes so that they come to rest just before touching your heels. (see below) This stretch may seem easy, but it is a very active stretch for strengthening the spine.
- Crescent Moon: Kneel with a straight back and step forward with one foot until it is a little in front of your other knee and your upper leg is parallel with the floor. Leave your back leg resting on the floor with your toes on the mat. Raise both arms and hook your thumbs together. As you stretch your arms upward, pull your thumbs slightly apart. As you exhale, bend sideways to each side while maintaining the lift in your spine. Hold to each side for several breaths. This stretch is great for your back as well as legs and shoulders.