By Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500, YACEP
How does Yoga decompress the spine? Our backbone is made up of vertebrae and intervertebral disks, which work as cushions between vertebrae. As time passes, and the aging process begins, these disks start to shrink and lose water content or fluid present in them. This is also the reason why people lose their height as they age. These days, the majority of jobs require a long duration of sitting without any change in posture, leading to excess strain and compression of the backbone.
Compression within the backbone is often characterized by too much strain on the intervertebral disks. Engaging oneself in physical activities will help office workers to reduce pain, and possibly overcome this condition, by allowing intervertebral fluid to circulate properly and decompress the spine. In turn, safe physical activity will effectively manage to improve posture and restore decompression of the spine.
The physical practice of holding Yoga postures (asanas) is often referred to as the best for elongating muscles, lengthening the backbone, and strengthening the abdominal region. A regular practice of physical Yoga training and posturing provides a number of noticeable health advantages, along with spinal decompression. For the most part, all Yoga-stretching exercises offer an effective outcome that aids in lengthening of the spine when performed correctly. A regular practice of these exercises will help to increase body balance, coordination, and flexibility.
Aerial styles of Yoga, a new trend, also help to decompress the backbone and improve core strength; it is strictly advised to practice aerial or anti-gravity Yoga under the supervision of a skilled and certified teacher. Here are some specific asanas recommended for decompressing vertebral disks and alleviating symptoms related to this condition.
Folding Forward Bend in One Breath: This posture works as a perfect stretch for elongating the back muscles and reducing tension from the spine. It can be performed by placing your arms along side the body and by standing or sitting straight, inhale deeply and bend at the hips with your back straight, moving your head toward the general direction of the feet, stretch the backbone, and exhale. Do not push or force. Remember that the standing variation is an inversion. Therefore, if you have high blood pressure, eye problems, heart problems, a neurological disorder, or are at risk of a stroke, you should consult with your doctor before practicing inversions.
Child Pose: This is a simple resting asana that stretches the back, by elongating the lower part of the back, while the torso is resting on the natural curves of the thigh muscles. From Table Pose, draw your hips back so that you sit on your heels – lowering your whole upper body toward the floor, take a few deep breaths and place the hands beside the legs. Another variation is to extend the arms and hands forward and away from head. If you want to breathe deeply into this asana, bring your knees wide and let your abdomen sink toward the floor.
Half Forward Bend: This is a personal favorite because I have seen it help many people over the years, and this is not an inversion. From a standing position, you can fold forward at the hips, exhaling, bringing the spine parallel to the floor, until the side view of the body take the shape of an inverted L. Hold this asana for 3 to 5 full breaths.
Cat and Cow Stretch: This two-posture sequence combines the benefits of stretching and contracting muscle groups in opposite directions, and it helps to decrease compression on all of the vertebral disks. Position the body, by resting on the knees and hands in Table Pose. With your head facing forward on the floor, exhale deeply, gradually draw your chin toward your collarbone, and raise the backbone while drawing your stomach in, and tighten the abdominal muscles. Now, inhale, while bringing your head upward, bring your spine into a gentle back bend, and find your natural upward limit, while strengthening your back muscles.
Reclining Twist Pose: There are many variations of this therapeutic asana. This twisting stretch creates decompression in the lumbar and thoracic vertebrae.
Upward and Downward Facing Dog: This two-posture sequence offers a complete stretch to all body parts and creates decompression along the whole backbone. However, if you have rotator cuff problems, this exercise may put too much stress in that area.
Legs-up-the-Wall Pose: This posture provides mild adjustment, alignment, and decompression throughout the spine. This is a wonderful stretching asana for the back of your legs and with the support of props.
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