In my previous blog you may recall that I recently read the book, Your Spine, Your Yoga, by Bernie Clark. I dove deep into this book and thought it would make a great blog series.
Your Spine, Your Yoga is divided into five chapters: the axial body, the sacral complex, the lumbar, the thoracic and the cervical complex.
This post is dedicated to the chapter on the axial body.
Think of the spine as the axis of your body; the line which things move or rotate around. Your head, legs and arms are connected to this axis thus making the axial body. The spine is what gives our body first, stability and second, mobility. In the Yoga world, many people strive for the mobility aspect, willing their bodies to perform deep backbends, twists and binds which can come at a cost: injury.
The primary function of the spine is stability. We humans are bipeds, which means we walk on two limbs, not four. As a biped we have more load to bear as we work against gravity to keep ourselves upright. Animals who travel on all fours have the luxury of stability and increased mobility because their spines are designed to twist and turn at a greater degree.
What does this mean for your Yoga practice? It means we need to let go of this idea that we have to take Camel Pose (Ustrasana), Wheel Pose (Urdhvadhanurasana), Half Lord-of-the Fishes II Pose (Ardha Matsyendrasana II) and countless other poses in their full expression. We are allowed to modify.
Modifying our yoga practice is not just for the middle-aged students, or the curvaceous students, or for the guys in the room who can’t touch their toes. Modifying is for ALL of us.
We modify throughout our practice as each body, each spine is unique.
A good Yoga teacher will be more concerned with the functional aspect of Yoga and not the aesthetic. Being that
each spine is unique and each posture is unique the goal is to move from posture to posture with ease and comfort. It is the teacher’s job to recognise this and assist accordingly.
-The spinous processes (the knobbly bits you can feel running down your spine) are different lengths and thicknesses for all people. These are bones you are born with! A person with short and thin spinous processes will have a deeper backbend. If you have long spinous processes you can’t bend back as far because these bones will touch….and bone on bone hurts! At the age of 40, the spinous processes start to grow longer, thicker and wider. There’s not a diet in the world that can stop bone growth. That’s why you don’t see 80 year olds doing backbends!
-As we sleep the discs of the spine rehydrate. When we wake up in the morning the spine feels stiff because it actually is. When the discs are hydrated our spine is longer, therefore, the surrounding ligaments are under more tension. What does this mean? There’s a reason we only do Baby Cobra (Bhujangasana) during a 6am class instead of Upward Dog (Urdhvamukhasvanasana). We don’t want an injury. Be kind to your spine in the morning.
-When the teacher says, “elongate your spine,” you can’t, that’s because there are no muscles to lengthen the distance between the vertebrae. What you can do is straighten up your spinal curves. These curves are like shock absorbers which allow us to not walk like rusty robots, but to move with grace and ease.
-Mountain pose (Tadasana) is a static posture, it is a posture you pass through. We are not in the military trying to hold this position for an extended period of time. In Yoga classes many consider this pose to be the ‘perfect posture,’ but this is only for a brief moment in time as we move from one posture to the next. We can’t walk around all day with Tadasana as the ideal.
Stay tuned for my next blog on the sacral complex.
Please contact me if you would like to hold a private, in person or online yoga session where we can discuss your needs and I can design a Yoga plan uniquely for you.