“You are only as young as your spine”
“Lengthen your spine” is one of a handful of phrases you will hear in a yoga class. “Breathe,” “root down,” and “rise up” are a few others. “Lengthen your spine” has become a very important one for me because of the muscle activation that needs to happen and the safety it offers in EVERY. SINGLE. POSE. Let’s explore together. I am only beginning to learn about the spine and all its intricacies. I am not an anatomy expert (this guy is).
My current understanding: our spine is composed of discs, vertebrae, spinal fluid and cords, and muscles. It starts at the tailbone and ends at the base of the skull. It is the control system of the body, connecting the brain to everything else. You want to wiggle your toe, you need your spine to send that signal from the brain to the toe. The vertebrae are the support and protection for the spinal fluid and cords, the discs are the cushions that allow the spine to bend and move. As we age, the discs wear down, either getting smooshed or dried up (ouch!) creating stiffness and pain as a result of discs rubbing against each other, or pinching nerves.
Gravity takes a big toll on bodies and spines. We sit. We stand. We run. We hunch over. All that compression and uneven weight distribution over time weighs down the spine and squeezes the fluid out of the discs, think olives becoming oil. Except we don’t want to create oil, we want those discs to stay plump, firm and cushy.
Lengthening doesn’t happen on its own. It takes muscle activation and involvement. Those muscles are…..drum-roll….the core muscles!! “Strengthen your core” is a familiar phrase and just as important as “lengthen your spine.” The two go hand in hand, the body can’t successfully do one without the other. (See this post from Daily Bandha Lengthen torso in forward bend)
Learning what it feels like to activate those muscles is how you will learn to strengthen them. It’s easy, you can do this right now and I’ll give you the steps, just like I give in a yoga class.
- Come to a seated posture, legs extended out in front of you, and be lazy, let the spine round. (If you experience extreme discomfort in the low back or hamstrings, sit on the edge of a folded up blanket or small pillow.)
- Place your palms flat on the ground on either side of you hips.
- Inhale as you press your hands into the ground and notice what happens.
- Repeat steps 3 & 4 until you feel something.
- Inhale press your hands into the ground and attempt to drag the hands back (they don’t actually move) and notice what happens.
- Repeat steps 6 & 7 until you feel something.
What did you notice? How did it feel?
As you placed your hands on either side of you hips, you may have noticed how you sat taller, the chest rose, the inhale was deeper, the engagement of the arms.
When you added on the pull back of the hands, you may have noticed the belly button pulling in towards the spine, shoulder blades drew down the back and together, the abs engaged.
Now do the exercise again and after step 6, keep everything engaged and just lift the hands off the floor. See if you can keep the same feeling of engagement and length.
Ta-da! You have learned how to actively lengthen and protect your spine. If you don’t currently have a yoga practice, then experience this every day, multiple times a day, especially when you feel tired or strain in the back. I’ll help you develop a yoga practice, keep coming back or leave a comment! If you do have a yoga practice, see how often you do (or don’t) engage the core muscles before you lengthen in a forward fold, or standing in your mountain pose, or anytime.
Share with me what you think. Namaste!