The Top Five Tips for a Healthy Back in Our Yoga Practice
By Dr. Robin Armstrong • July 16th, 2012 • 12357 Views
We don’t think twice about a healthy back – when it’s healthy. In fact unless you’ve suffered from back pain at some point in your life, or someone you love has suffered, you’re probably not reading this right now. It isn’t until we wake up one morning unable to tie our shoe laces that we realize the importance of a healthy spine. As Joni Mitchell once said “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone”. Well good news Yogis, yoga can be an amazing tool to keep our back healthy when we are mindful of how we move.
The Spine: A Tour
The spine is made up of 33 vertebrae (spinal bones) that stack one on top of the next making a connection with the bone above and the bone below. These connections are actually little joints and enable us to move by gliding in various motions. Each section of the spine has different characteristics and movement abilities based on the shape of the vertebrae in that section. The neck or cervical spine has the most mobility with full freedom of movement in flexion, extension, twisting, and side bending. The mid back or thoracic spine is limited in side bending because the rib cage attaches here, and due to the position of the joints it is also limited in forward and back bending but has lots of freedom in rotation. Similarly, the low back or lumbar spine is limited in rotation because of the position of the joints, but has freedom in flexion, extension, and side bending. The sacrum and coccyx that are commonly referred to as the tail bone, are formed by fused vertebrae and move as one unit in flexion and extension.
The curves of the spine also contribute to how we move. The neck and lower back have lordosis, a curve frontward, and the mid back and tailbone have kyphosis, a curve backward. With the exception of the first and second vertebrae of the neck, between each vertebra is a spinal disc. This disc acts as a shock absorber and a pivot point for movement. As we bend forward, the disc moves backwards, as we back bend the disc moves forward. Overnight the discs inflate with water, becoming stiffer. As the day progresses the water gets squeezed out and we actually become shorter over the course of the day.