Can you guess what the three most common reasons people visit their doctor are? Not colds, not influenza or heart problems. Skin disorders, joint pain and back problems. Yes, in a 2013 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, back problems represented 23.9% of all visits to physicians in the United States. Back pain is the most common indicator that something is going wrong and anyone with tightness or stiffness of the back or neck will agree for sure, it reduces the quality of daily life, sometimes drastically.
You may have heard the expression “you’re only as old as your spine” in a yoga class and it’s what Joseph Pilates believed. I have to agree. Pilates’ exact words were “If your spine is inflexibly stiff at 30, you are old. If it is completely flexible at 60, you are young.”
What causes a tight and stiff spine? There may be contributing factors but it always comes down to posture. Let’s dispel one myth… posture has nothing to do with fitness. You can be an Olympic athlete, yet with a poor posture, still suffer from back problems, issues of the body and decreased sporting performance.
Where does poor posture come from? Can’t we just sit upright? Not easily because over time we have conditioned our bodies into bad habits and under the law of use, if you don’t use it, you lose it. I’m talking about the postural muscles that have the job of holding our body upright and in good alignment.
They are like the suspending cables of a suspension bridge that hold the pillars upright. If the cables slacken, the bridge will begin to buckle under its own weight. The same happens with our spine when we do not exercise our postural muscles. So we need to retrain our bodies to know what good posture feels like and work the muscles to do their best for our health.
Three top yoga poses for increasing spine health*
- Supta Matsyendrasana: if you can only do one pose in your day, do a twist. A properly aligned spinal twist will lengthen, relax and realign the spine; stretch the back and glute muscles; massage the back, hips and abdominal organs; and strengthen the abdominal muscles. Allow your breath to help deepen you into the pose. A great practice is finding an equal breathing pattern, try breathing in for 4 seconds, retaining for 4 seconds, exhaling for 4 and if you feel comfortable to retain for 4 seconds. if not just repeat that breathing rhythm. This begins to lead you into the level of the facia in the body.
2.Bhujangasana: A good back bend will help correct our modern day office posture. Think of opening your chest and heart rather than ‘bending back’ by drawing your shoulder blades together. This pose is great for stretching the shoulder, chest and abdominal muscles; decreasing stiffness and increasing flexibility of the lower back; and elevating your mood.
3.Balasana: Bring your toes together and keep your knees shoulder width apart. So simple yet effective at releasing tension of the back, chest and shoulders; lengthens the spine; gently stretches the hips, thighs and ankles.
*Be cautious of performing any back bend if you have back pain or degenerative disc disease. We recommend practising under the guidance of an experienced and knowledgeable instructor.