If you’ve ever been the victim of back pain, you won’t need me to tell you how important it is to look after your spine. Although it might feel indestructible, it’s actually incredibly fragile and one wrong move can cause you to cripple over (as you probably already know).
The spine is a part of the body you’ll become well acquainted with during your yoga practice. Backbends, twists, and spinal mobility are key parts of a practice and when done safely, can leave you feeling like you’re floating on Cloud 9.
Whether you’re new to yoga or someone who has been doing it for decades, here are a few facts you should know about your backbone:
1) Your spine is made up of 24 individual vertebrae, the sacrum and your coccyx (or ‘tailbone’ as us yogis like to call it).
2) These vertebrae protect our spinal cord - this is our central nervous system which essentially carries information to and from the brain to our skin, joints, muscles etc. It’s said that a human body has 10 million sensory neurones (what we feel/sense) and half a million motor neurones (what we do/how we move).
3) In space, you can grow 5cm taller because there’s no gravity compressing your spine. It’s also why you’re about a centimetre taller in the morning (or maybe after a super extended Savasana).
4) The vertebrae at the top of your spine is called Atlas named after the Greek God. In Greek mythology, Atlas held the whole world on his shoulders just like how we support our whole head on such a tiny piece of bone. You’ll probably hear the words ‘let your head be heavy’ in many yoga classes - give little Atlas some rest in your forward fold.
5) Your spine is divided up into three sections: The Lumbar (lower back), Thoracic (middle back) and Cervical (upper back/neck). The Lumbar spine bears the full weight of your upper body and so it’s a common area for back aches and pains.
6) Between each vertebrae you have discs, which are like little cushions between each bone. They also act as shock absorbers when we jump, run, bend, etc so our vertebrae don’t bump each other.
7) Boat pose or Navasana, is hugely beneficial for your spine. Think about your tummy; the only bones in this area are a few vertebrae. Strengthening your core helps support your lower back bones and improves your posture. When we have weak abdominals we usually put extra pressure on our spine to help us move. Next time you’re moving through your Vinyasa try and engage your core to take you from Cobra/Up-Dog into your Down Dog. Squeeze and engage your tummy until you feel a slight shake.
8) In yoga, we refer to backbends as ‘heart-openers’ and for good reason. Although it might sound a little airy-fairy, it’s actually because when bending, we try to keep the lower part of our back relatively straight, and instead allow the curve to come from the Thoracic spine. Rather than collapsing into the lower back (ouch), try to think about pushing your heart higher and opening through your chest.
As horrible as back pain is, the good news is that most of the time there’s no need for any medical treatment. The majority of common aches, pains and twinges can be fixed through a regular safe yoga practice, so rather than spending your savings on seeing the chiropractor, why not treat yourself to some yoga!