By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500
Can asana practice create an environment for a healthy spine? Due to individual habits, movements, illnesses, injuries, and genetics, each spine is unique in its strengths and weaknesses. This means that one asana (posture) may be beneficial to one person’s spine, while it may cause extreme pain to another. When the spine is misaligned, the circulation of spinal fluid, and the nerve responses throughout the body, is affected. With that said – any person who has pre-existing spinal problems, should consult with a medical professional before practicing Yoga postures or any form of exercise.
A Universal View of the Spine
The spine serves as the central axis of the body and is made up of many parts: the spinal cord, nerve roots, the bones, discs, supporting muscles, and ligaments. In Ayurvedic medicine, and Yoga, charts of the subtle body display chakras, marmas, nadis, and much more. These charts are similar to Chinese medical charts, which confirm that Ayurveda, Yoga, Chinese medicine, and Western medicine have all been aware of the intricate nature of the energy that runs through the spine and central nervous system.
Yogic Remedies for Spinal Health
Pranayama (Yogic controlled breathing) helps to circulate life force energy – also known as prana or qi – throughout the body. The idea of breathing one’s way to better health is often a subject for criticism by skeptics. Yet, skeptics are easily convinced if they attend a pranayama workshop. Pranayama is a complicated science, which requires time to master, but it can improve overall health in many ways.
Asana is the Yogic posturing method made popular by modern Yoga magazine covers. Yoga postures (asanas) stretch the spine and help to align the physical body. In turn, the skeletal structure can be given an extra lease on life. Good skeletal health can reduce, or eliminate, pain throughout one’s body.
The Toll of Poor Spinal Health
Muscle imbalance, around the spine, may be caused by poor posture (during the day or while sleeping), genetics, skeletal diseases, trauma, or a variety of diseases that attack a healthy spine. Either way, the source of the problem causes sharp pain or painful tension within the cervical, thoracic, or lumbar regions. Constant pain brings about depression, anxiety, breathing difficulties, as well as other significant health problems.
More Causes of Poor Spinal Health
Although many back problems are caused by physical conditions, such as arthritis, ruptured discs, or overexertion, some are simply the result of everyday living, such as sitting too long at a desk or slumping over a computer.
One More Precaution before Starting a Physical Yoga Practice
In order to make sure that injuries and other ailments are not exacerbated by exercise, seeking the advice of a doctor (orthopedic specialist, chiropractor, family physician, etc.) or physical therapist, before starting a new physical program, is always a good idea. Poses can be adapted by an experienced Yoga teacher, to fit individual needs, and prevent further injuries.
Yoga exercises help the spine by stretching many different areas.
• The lumbar region of the spine (lower back)
• The thoracic region of the spine (middle and upper back)
• The cervical region of the spine (neck)
• The sacrum and pelvis
Eight Types of Yoga Poses for a Healthy Spine
1. Seated Poses, such as Easy Pose, Bound Angle Pose, and Bharadvaja’s Twist
2. Forward Bends, such as Head-to-Knee, Extended Puppy, Downward-Facing Dog
3. Standing Poses, such as Chair, Warrior Poses, and Triangle
4. Inversions, such as Dolphin and Legs-Up-the-Wall
5. Core Poses, such as Plank, Dolphin, Happy Baby
6. Backbends, such as Bridge, Camel, and Fish
7. Restorative Poses, such as Reclining Big Toe, Child’s Pose, Legs-Up-the-Wall
8. Poses that stretch the pelvis, such as Cow, Cat, Big Toe, Tree Pose
It is important to remember: Not all postures are good for every spine. It is a matter of trial and error to find the exact Yoga postures for a pain free, healthy, and balanced spine. When stretching the spine, the weight should be evenly distributed, joints should not be locked, you should not feel pain within a joint, and the spine should kept be as straight as possible.
Unfortunately, it is easy to overwork the neck and under use other areas, such as the upper and middle back. As awareness of the body increases, so does the knowledge of how long poses need to be held and which ones are needed.
If you have pre-existing spinal health problems, seek out a Yoga instructor who is competent, compassionate, and listens to you. Yoga students should not be forced to fit into a “cookie cutter” mold. A Yoga teacher, who is knowledgeable, will know how to modify, adjust, and use props. The muscles may feel taxed, but pain within a joint means you are too far into the posture.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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