Updated: Oct 11, 2022
The fact that Yoga is great for our body in general is a well-covered fact. In our Focused Yoga Series for healthy spine, we drill down deep to find exact body movements to correspond to specific body components. In this article, we will examine how you can use Yoga for a healthy spine. We will examine each area of the spine (Cervical, Thoracic, Lumbar and Pelvic) and find asanas that work best with them.
We have provided illustrations throughout our site, so that you can understand better and visualize the on going process in your body. As you go through our Focused Yoga routine, we will name which region of the spine they would benefit the most. Most of the yoga poses benefits more than one part of the body.
The spinal column
A healthy spine has evolved to a certain form throughout the ages, a certain curvature. Keeping this form supple and freely moving is necessary to use the body's whole range of movement painlessly. We will look at the construction of the spinal column and what certain movements we can perform that would be beneficial.
As you can see, the Spinal column can be broken down into the Cervical, the Thoracic, the Lumbar and the Pelvic regions. These regions are classified by the different curves a healthy spine should have. Deformations in these curves lead to a variety of disorders. Let's go region by region and see which asanas you should be doing and why.
Warning : Always consult a medical professional regarding chronic pain first. Yoga asanas will gently work out the muscles attached to the spine and may correct deformations. However, we do not intend to replace medical advice.
Yoga and the Cervical spine
The Cervical region is more mobile than the rest of the spine. It has specialized components that allow movements like nodding of the head and rolling the neck. It is one of the most common areas for stiffness and holding tension. The most commonly recommended exercises are neck rolls.
However, the act of breathing in a stretched position helps you to deliver more blood ,oxygen and nutrients to your muscles, which aids in recovery. Therefore, we recommend you hold the neck in a stretched position while deep breathing, rather than just rolling your neck.
The head moves along three axes:
Look up/down (chin to chest on the way down, or maximum possible stretch)
Look left/right (try to look over your shoulder without moving your back)
Tilt left/right (moving the ear towards the shoulder)
You want to stretch in each possible position. You would want to look Up, and in that position look left/right and tilt left/right. Hold for one breath at each turn of the neck to allow those specific muscles to get some fresh blood.
Then look Down and in that position, look left/right and tilt left/right. Then look Left and in that position look up/down tilt left/right, and so on. You might experience tightness in certain positions. Feel free to stay in them and breathe for some time.
Do the same with every position of the neck. It may feel complicated at first, but you will get the reasoning behind this on first try. The stretch you feel in your muscles doesn't compare to neck rolls.
The Cow face Pose (Gomukhasana): This pose will loosen up the large Trapezius muscle that goes across the back of your neck and shoulder blades, which may be causing stiffness.
Thunderbolt pose: In this pose move your elbows from wide apart to touching. Breathe throughout the whole movement. You can hold the pose at each end for a breath or two.
Thunderbolt Open Arm Pose
Thunderbolt Close Arm Pose
Backwards Prayer pose: This pose will push your elbows down and out ensuring maximum stretch to the muscles of the shoulder blade.
Yoga and the Thoracic spine
The Thoracic spine has a very limited range of movement. Any stiffness or immobility in the Thoracic junctions usually leads to the body overcompensating with the Lumbar and Cervical regions to achieve the movement. Over time, constant overcompensation will lead to damage. An easy way to avoid this is to practice movement in the Thoracic region.
A lot of these asanas will also affect the Lumbar and Cervical regions because those are the initiating points. However, keep your focus on your chest and ensure full movement of the muscles.
Puppy Pose: This pose will tone the muscles along the Thoracic region with a non load bearing back-bend. Try and push your chest to the ground.
Seated Twist Pose: This pose helps you to stretch out the muscles along the spin. Also, it takes the spine through its rotational axis.
Triangle pose: This pose will allow you to practice the sideways flex of the spine and strengthen abdominal muscles to better support the spine.
Yoga and the Lumbar Spine / Pelvic Spine
The Lumbar region is the most load bearing part of the spine. It is more mobile than the Thoracic and more vulnerable to injury. In fact, lower back pain is among the most common types of pain. The Pelvic region is mainly a fusion of the pelvis and sacral bones. Very little movement is generated in that area. It serves as a base for the spine however, and can be strengthened.
Cat - Cow Stretch: This pose is great for the Lumbar region. Achieve the full bend from the hips and move your head to activate the whole spine. The alternate compression and extension of the lower back muscles are a huge help in relieving pain.
Child Pose: This is a great pain reliever for the lower back. If your lower back is very tight, you may want to start off with this asana first for a gentle stretch that allows to you to just breathe into it.
Warrior 3: This pose will open up your hip flexors and help in attaining proper Pelvic alignment.
Pain is not always easily localized in the body. A part that's hurting may not be the part you need to work on to fix the problem. Weak abdominal muscles and tight hamstrings often contribute to back pain. A gentle stretch can help you soothe the pain temporarily. But, the weak muscles which cause the pain also need to be addressed.
On conclusion, we are recommending certain set of asanas for you that will work out some connected parts to help you soothe the pain.
Downward dog: This pose will stretch all the muscles along the back of your legs that may be tight and causing unnecessary strain on the back.
Boat Pose: The Boat pose will strengthen your core muscles and the alternate leg extension helps align the pelvis properly. Engage your core and raise your both legs up. Keep your spine straight up right and try to balance weight on your Pelvic bones to strengthen them.
Practice each set of asanas on a daily basis to overcome pain and develop basic strength in your entire spine and torso in a relaxing manner. Our Focused Yoga Series will give you detailed info about major body components, and how your Yoga practice can affect them. We felt that a healthy spine with proper posture, is the first thing anyone should work on. It makes everything else easier and the body healthier. A lot of health issues can be reduced just with proper posture.
We will continue the series with regular posts about different body parts. If you follow the full series, you will gain some very detailed and practical knowledge about the process and benefits of Yoga.