An Important Indicator of Youth is the Flexibility of the Spine: How Yoga's Four Types of Movement Will Help
Though someone may be 35 years of age, his health may be affected by a weak, inflexible spine causing his actual age to be far beyond 35 years. On the other hand, a woman of 80 years who has practiced yoga for 40 years and maintained a healthy flexible spine may have the health and vitality of a far younger person. Youth is determined by the flexibility of the spine and yoga is one way to elegantly achieve and maintain it. (Check out MindBodyGreen's 10-minute yoga sequence for a strong and flexible spine.
Some of the most common health complaints by adults are low back pain and upper back stress. An excellent enjoyable way to prevent back aches is to take care of the spine on a daily basis. Since a daily visit to the chiropractor may not be possible or even advised, an optimum method to tend to the daily vitality of our spines is by practicing yoga.
Regularly visiting a yoga studio under the tutelage of a well trained certified yoga instructor and then maintaining our yoga practice at home on the days in between, even if we only do a very exercises on those days at home, is a viable and excellent way to keep our spines flexible and our bodies young and healthy.
There are no quick fixes for back pain, but a set of yoga postures designed to target developing flexibility of the spine can be an important component for healing and an effective spinal health maintenance program.
“By practice of the yogic system, we not only retain the elasticity of youth and eliminate the abnormal growth of mineral deposits in the bones, but to a great degree we can also regain lost youth.” –Swami Vishnu Devananda, Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga
The spine has the potential to be extremely mobile but without enough physical movement that encourages flexibility our muscles can quickly tighten and our spine stiffen. We lose valuable mobility and elasticity.
Without spinal flexibility, we may be unable to properly perform certain everyday activities well. We may also increase our risk of injury should we lose our balance or get in some sort of physical accident.
The postures of classical yoga concentrate almost exclusively on the spine and they always include four types of movement:
- forward bending
- backward bending
- sideways movement, and
- rotation/lateral movement of the spine.
A great benefit of practicing the four principle spinal movements in yoga is increased circulation to the spinal nerves leaving us feeling better and more energetic.
It’s important to note that the spine is also an energy channel. For subtle energy (prana or chi) to flow freely through the spine, it must be kept healthy, flexible, and erect.
“[The human spine is an] engineering masterpiece, flexible and stable at the same time. Similar to a ship's mast, the spinal column is inserted into the pelvic deck and rises up to the head. It supports the shoulder girdle in the same way as the mast supports the weight of its sails.” –Maxine Tobias and Mary Stewart, Stretch and Relax
The spine is the central structure of the body. Not only can it provide flexibility to the whole body, it lends stability to our movements as it supports our body. If we stop and think about it, we realize that in almost every physical effort we make the spine is involved. In lifting a heavy object, for example, the spine is a key player which gives us an idea of how important the spine is as an indicator of our health, vitality and physical age.
We have all noticed people in more advanced years whose spines have become bent and stiffened. It can happened early or late in life but when the spine starts stiffening and bending, it’s one sign our body is beginning to grow old. If we want to remain physically young and vital, we must pay attention to our spinal health and flexibility.
Keep the spine strong, erect, and flexible to be and feel younger!
“Yoga helps break bad habits and re-educates the spine so as to bring back its original suppleness. The function of the spine is to elongate, and in this elongation its elasticity and youth are regained.” –Vanda Scaravelli, Awakening the Spine: Yoga for Health, Vitality and Energy (see notes on Vanda Scaravelli below)
"The pull of gravity under our feet makes it possible for us to extend the upper part of the spine, and this extension allows us also to release between the vertebrae. Gravity is like a magnet attracting us to the earth, but this attraction is not limited to pulling us down, it also allows us to stretch in the opposite direction towards the sky." –Vanda Scaravelli (see notes on Vanda Scaravelli below)
On Vanda Scaravelli: Vanda Scaravelli (1908-1999) was a concert pianist and friend of violinist Yehudi Menuhin who introduced her to BKS Iyengar and Iyengar yoga when she was in her late 40s. After many years of study with Iyengar and TKV Desikachar (who developed Viniyoga to fit the individual student), she developed her signature approach to breath, gravity and the spine through yoga practice. She never believed in creating an organization around yoga or her own practice and took only a handful of students at a time for long periods of time.
Her teachings focused on surrendering to gravity and dropping the bones towards the earth in a space of patience. She would tell her students that the body needs patience, that to absorb the teaching, the body requires infinite time and no ambition. The authentic process can take many years of persistence to experience a real sense of softening and release with crystal clarity.
- Vishnudevananda. Complete Illustrated Book of Yoga. Arch Cape Press, 1995.
- Gupta, M. K., and Luigi Freda. Eslava. Freedom from Cervical Pain and Backache the Natural Way. Pustak Mahal, India, 2007.
- Piwonka, James M. Spine Culture: Your Spine, the Key to Good Health. Health Research, 1982.
- Tobias, Maxine, and Mary Stewart. Stretch & Relax. Dorling Kindersley, 1985.
- Scaravelli, Vanda. Awakening the Spine: Yoga for Health, Vitality, and Energy. HarperOne, an Imprint of HarperCollins Publishers, 2015.
- Photo by Irina Logra on Pixabay.com