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Let Your Backbone Slide.

The spine has always been a mysterious yet fascinating part of the body to me. It makes me think of dinosaur bones and our connection to all of the creatures and beings that have become before us, as well the ones that surround us now. I see my connection to history—both my familial history, but the larger, global family. And, one of my most favorite cues I use when I teach (and love to hear when I practice) is to bones of the spine, one vertebrae a time.

What a responsibility and what attention and care—not to mention breath—one must bring to the bones of the spine, whether your bringing them down to touch ground, or standing and stacking as you unroll the body to standing.

I spent a morning recently in a workshop with Stacey Hauserman and Heather Cracower about the spine; together, they brought this magnificent structure to life. It was a wonderful refresher on the spine, it’s construction and it’s function—and how it connects to the rest of the body. What was even more amazing to me, as a teacher, and well, as a human, really, was witnessing the new awareness that my fellow classmate began to tap into, in their spines.

Understanding movement in the spine, it’s challenges and what they could do, as practitioners of yoga, to protect their spines from harm. Here are a few things that Heather and Stacey shared with me, to share with you:

1. The instructions given in a led class are not be appropriate for every body and a good understanding of your habitual postural pattern will empower you to modify poses when necessary, to ensure safe alignment and prevent injury.

2. We speak a lot about the concept of a neutral spine and there are many reasons for that: this position allows your muscles to be in their resting position (less strain), there is decreased pressure on your discs, increased joint congruency (improved joint health and motion) and it ensures that weight bearing is through the vertebral bodies and facet joints as intended. Again and again, we need to find a neutral spine alignment.

3. Learning to effectively use our core muscles will help to decrease abnormal motion at the joints, decrease overuse of back and hip muscles which can lead to strain and pain and help to support and stabilize your lower back and sacroiliac joints.

4. The combination of muscular imbalance and repetitive movements (like chaturanga performed during each vinyasa without the shoulder joints being effectively stabilized) can lead to injury.

5. Remember that the spine has natural curves (i.e. kyphosis in the thoracic spine and lordosis in the cervical and lumbar spines) and this is our home base. Work/sport related stresses can create an increase or decrease in these curves, and our goal is to re-establish an alignment that more closely resembles this home base, not eliminating these curves, but making our way back towards ‘home,’ towards neutral.

*Your practice should never cause pain in your body, and if you find you are experiencing any pain or discomfort in the spine, or any part of your body, please talk to one of our teachers or therapists at the studio. We are always happy to help you revise your practice and offer variations that work for you. We want you to practice yoga for life!

~ Written by Bryonie Wise

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