Start a home yoga practice and prevent back pain by moving your spine in all directions.
Students often ask me for tips about how to start practising yoga at home. There are all sorts of ways to approach a home practice but one thing I suggest is to think about moving your spine in five different directions. This is also a great way to prevent and alleviate back pain. So what are these five movements and why are they important?
“Look well to the spine for the cause of disease.” – Hippocrates
Anyone who has experienced back pain (i.e. most of us) will know the misery that comes with stiffness, aches and twinges, and how distracting or even debilitating that can be. Our sedentary lifestyle, desk-bound at work, and device-focused in leisure, needs off-setting with regular movement in all directions. Keeping the spine fluid and mobile fends off these pains and helps to make us feel youthful and well. So this is a great thing to focus on in a home-based yoga practice.
Here are the five movements: 1. Lengthen, 2. Forward bend, 3. Backbend, 4. Side bend, 5. Twist.
And here are a few key points to remember and some examples of yoga poses (asana) for each movement.
1. Lengthening / axial extension
- Always start your practice by lengthening the spine. This is a vital precursor to all the other movements so remember to focus on lengthening before each pose too.
- Visualise your spine lengthening with the breath. With the inhale imagine your breath creating space between each vertebra. With the exhale allow your body to soften and relax into this new length.
- When lying down on your back, after working with your breath, you can also take hold of each side of your mat and, keeping your sacrum where it is, slide your back up your mat, physically creating more length.
- Other positions: seated with crossed legs or kneeling, on all fours (in preparation for cat-cow), standing in mountain pose (Tadasana), downward facing dog (with knees bent so you can focus on lengthening the spine).
2. Forward bends / flexion
- Start by creating length through the spine.
- There are two kinds of forward bends. The first involves rounding the spine, which is what we’ll focus on here (as in cat pose from the cat-cow sequence). The second keeps the spine long, maintaining the natural curves, and hinging forwards from the hips (as in a seated forward fold).
- Yoga poses: Cat pose (can be done seated or standing as well as on all fours), child pose, cosmic egg pose, rabbit pose.
3. Backbends / extension
- Start by creating length through the spine.
- The backbend should involve the whole length or your spine, including your upper back.
- When backbending from a lying down position on your front, keep your legs strong and engaged, pressing the tops of the feet and the pubic bone into the ground, to protect the lower back.
- Keep your front ribs gently drawing in, and lengthen your spine as you bend backwards to access support and stability from your core.
- Yoga poses: Cow pose (can be done seated or standing as well as on all fours), cobra pose, upward facing dog, camel pose, dancer pose, standing backbend.
4. Side bends / lateral flexion
- Start by creating length through the spine
- Lift one or both arms overhead to help you to lengthen before you bend.
- As you curve your spine sideways aim for a sensation of moving “up and over”, lengthening both sides of your waist, rather than collapsing sideways.
- Keep your front ribs gently drawing in, and lengthen your spine as you move to access support and stability from your core.
- Send your breath to the open side of your body, creating space between each rib bone with the inhale and allowing some softness and ease in the pose with each exhale.
- Yoga poses: “Bananasana” (side bend lying on your back), child pose with a side bend, seated side band with crossed legs or kneeling, standing side bend, side bend in a low or high lunge, gate pose, extended side angle pose.
5. Twists / rotation
- You guessed it, start by creating length through the spine!
- Imagine the movement starting at the level of your belly button, then travelling up the rest of your spine.
- Begin by using only the muscles of your torso, rather than leveraging with your arms.
- Keep your nose in line with the centre of your chest until the very end of the twist –this helps to encourage the twist through the whole length of the spine rather than mainly the neck.
- Yoga poses: supine twist (lying on your back), simple seated twist with crossed legs or kneeling, half lord of the fishes pose, “thread the needle” from all fours, twisting in a low or high lunge, chair pose with a twist, revolved triangle pose.
You can keep your sequences as short, long, simple, complex, restorative or vigorous as you need to while combining these five different movements. You can do a whole sequence lying down, on all fours, seated, or standing, or you can incorporate all those things in a longer practice (as long as you end with a relaxing Savasana to allow your body to absorb the benefits).
You can even take five minutes to do simple versions of these movements at your desk – you don’t have to get your yoga mat out to reap the benefits and incorporate some movement into your day.
If you move your spine in all these directions every day it will go a long way to prevent or alleviate back pain and get you started on your way to your own yoga practice at home. Let me know how you get on!