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Yoga and the Spine

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The Sanskrit word for the spine in yoga is “Brahma Danda”, which can be literally translated into “the walking stick of the lord”. This implies that it is as essential for the body as a walking stick can be. A fit, strong and well aligned spine is crucial in leading a healthy and pain free life, therefore there are a number of yoga asanas that are specifically targeted to improve and maintain the health and wellbeing of the back and spine of the yogi. These asanas assist in strengthening as well as increasing flexibility of the entire spinal column in order to eliminate any back related health issues that already exist or might arise.

The spinal column is divided in three major portions which consist of the Cervical, Thoracic and Lumbar areas. All three bear the stress induced by the body but in different ways. The cervical part consists of the seven vertebrae of the neck and is often times impacted severely during times of anxiety and stress. So the asanas practiced for relieving anxiety, depression and stress should be performed for improving it. The thoracic part consisting of the twelve vertebrae support the ribcage and it is essential to maintain a good posture in order to keep them properly aligned and in shape. The Lumbar area is the most affected area when speaking in terms of back problems. Comprising of the five vertebrae of the lower back, it bears the burden of the abdomen as well as the upper back. Issues with the lumbar area can lead to serious back pain as well as sciatica and leg pain.

As the spine acts like a control tower for the entire body, it is important to exercise it within its own boundaries. Back exercises that work in accordance with the five natural movements of the spine are most beneficial. The five movements include:

Flexion is the movement of the spine that bends it forward and curls the body in a fetal like position, so poses that endorse this natural movement like the cat pose, child pose and downward facing dog all assist the spine in attaining this natural posture.

Extension is the natural movement of the spine that allows it to stretch out and allows the lengthening of the spine. Asanas such as the upward facing dog, Cobra pose and camel pose all imitate this innate movement helping it gain strength.

Axial Rotation is the way the spine twists around to accommodate various day to day functions of life. Yoga implements this rotation with the various twisting asanas such as half spinal twist, sage twist and half lord of the fishes twist. All these postures strengthen the spine and ease the routine twisting of the body that it performs naturally.

Lateral Flexion is the sideways bending acts that are a part of the normal daily activities, such as lifting something one handedly. Yoga asanas that augment this act include the side stretch and the revolved head to knee pose.

Axial Extension is the fifth movement of the spine that occurs naturally but is not very common in daily life. So there are no particular asanas that assist in enhancing this movement, but some indirectly produce this effect.

All these can lead to a strong spine that will assist in leading a full and safe life.

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