“You are only as young as your spine is flexible.” – Yogi Bhajan
In the Kundalini yoga tradition, tremendous emphasis is placed upon the spine. The practice involves the conscious awareness and control of kundalini energy (sometimes referred to as prana, chi or life force energy), which tends to become stagnant and coiled around the base of the spine. The goal of the kundalini practice (and, in fact, all forms of yoga) is to uncoil/activate this life force energy, open up the spinal column and move this powerful energy up the spine, through each of the chakras (energy centers) and, ultimately, throughout the body. In doing so, complete physical, mental and spiritual balance can be achieved.
For that reason, it’s not surprising that so many yoga postures work on building the strength and flexibility of the spine.
The biomechanics of the spine are pretty fascinating (I’m going to turn into a bit of a science nerd here; please forgive me ;). The spine has two functions: (1) to house and protect the nervous system and (2) to allow for mobility. It’s divided into four regions of vertebrae:
~the cervical spine (neck)
~the thoracic spine (chest)
~the lumbar spine (lower back)
~the coccyx (tailbone)
Weaknesses in these areas often result from common problems such as tight hamstrings, tight shoulders, tension in the buttocks muscles, weak anterior neck muscles and weak abdominal muscles. Yoga addresses many of these issues by elongating the overly tight muscles and toning the weak ones.
This benefits the spine by
~rehydrating the disks,
~helping to pump and circulate the cerebrospinal fluid,
~releasing tension in the muscles surrounding the spine,
~building strength and flexibility, allowing for greater mobility
According to Yogi Bhajan, this translates into a body that is balanced and full of vitality, a mind that is clear and calm, and a spirit that is youthful and joyful. I say, “Sign me up!”
Here is an easy series of movements to do each day (preferably first thing in the morning when the body is especially tight). It can be done for as little as 1-2 minutes and will not only stretch and limber up the muscles around the spine, but also enable the spinal fluid to flow more freely, energizing the body and the brain. Practice it regularly and you’ll be amazed at the improvement in your spinal strength and flexibility.
Exercise 1: Cat Pose
Start on hands and knees with the shoulders directly over the hands and the hips directly over the knees. The spine is long and straight and the eyes should be gazing between the hands. As you inhale, open up the chest, reach the chin and tailbone up and sink the spine toward the mat.
Exercise 2: Cow Pose
As you exhale, flatten the tops of your feet on the mat, drop the chin and tailbone, gaze at the navel and draw the spine up toward the sky.
Repeat these two movements for 1-2 minutes.
Exercise 3: Extended Child’s Pose
End by bringing your seat to your heels and stretching your arms out in front of you. Take several long, deep breaths. This is a restorative posture that releases tension in the lower back and stretches the entire spine.
Try incorporating some spinal stretching into your day and see how you feel!