Improve Your Spinal Flexibility
There's a saying made popular by Joseph Pilates: "You are only as young as your spine is flexible." As a yoga practitioner and teacher, I embrace this as a truth essential to a strong practice and being a happy human!
Activating and developing a flexible and flowing spinal capacity is the heart of successful yoga and powerful meditation practice. By aligning the body, we harmonize the natural flow of life force, allowing for a calm state that supports deep meditation practice.
Blocked spinal energy can happen when the blood can't flow, creating tight, stiff muscles and ligaments. This usually results from a lack of physical movement or work that requires static positioning — such as sitting at a desk or driving for long periods —but physically active people can also experience blocked spinal energy.
To achieve optimal results, you want to introduce movement and strengthen the core muscles that support a strong spine.
It is not difficult or complicated to activate the spine. A few simple exercises can be an enjoyable way to punctuate long workdays, and you might even find you become more productive as you free up life force so that it can flow from the spine, activating and energizing the whole body!
5 Simple Spinal Movements to Try
I like a handful of postures for loosening and strengthening the spine that are quite easy and accessible to almost anyone.
Also known as Chakravakasana, Cat-Cow takes you through spinal flexion and extension. Start by coming onto all fours with the knees under the hips and the hands directly under the shoulders. Arms are straight, and your elbows should have no bend in them.
Inhale into the cow position. Initiate the movement by turning the tailbone and sacrum up, looking up and back while arching the spine with a swayed back belly to the floor. Exhale slowly as you curl the sacrum under, arching up like an angry cat, dropping the head toward the pubic bone and the spine to the sky.
Continue breathing and flowing through the two positions, exploring the full range of motion following the breath — and remember not to bend the elbows! Let the focus of the motion be initiated through the sacrum, with the head and spine following. You can speed up as you become warmed up and comfortable with the motion.
Inhale into cow position and suspend the breath, squeezing at the pelvic floor and navel.
Imagine the energy moving up the spine.
Do this for two to three minutes once or twice a day.
In Kundalini yoga, we do spinal twists during warm-ups to add flexibility to our spine, detox our liver, and open our heart center. In a seated position, either in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, sit up straight and place your hand on the corresponding shoulder, with fingertips on the front of the shoulder and thumbs behind.
Visualize a pillar of light flowing from the earth center along your spine and out through your head. Tuck the chin and lift through your crown while rooting through the tailbone. Keep lifting through the spine as you inhale, twisting to your left and exhaling as you turn to the right. Keep your eyes closed, looking to the brow and letting your head track with the motion.
To finish, perfect your beautiful, straight posture as you suspend the breath, squeezing at the pelvic floor and navel. Imagine the energy moving up the spine. Do this for one to three minutes once or twice a day.
Seated Spinal Flex
This is a wonderful posture for moving energy up and down your spine, and it can even be done sitting in a chair at your desk! It's great for helping to clear the mind.
Sitting in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, place your hands on your shins or knees, inhale as you open your heart. Arch forward as you rock forward on the sit bones while keeping the chin level with the earth.
Exhale as you draw back, curving your spine toward the backspace, almost like someone pulling you back by your lower ribs as you move gently toward the tailbone. Keep fluidly moving forward and back, letting the breath guide the movement and the movement guide the breath.
To finish, perfect your posture as you suspend the breath. Squeezing at the pelvic floor and navel, imagine the energy moving up the spine. Do this for two to three minutes once or twice a day or as needed.
For this one, imagine a pillar of light from the center of the earth beaming up along the inside of the spinal column and out through your head to the infinite universe. You can be sitting in a chair or on the floor cross-legged.
Place your hands on your thighs and circle your spine and navel around in one direction, drawing a circle around that column of light. Inhale into the front space and exhale into the backspace. Move in one direction for one to two minutes, then switch directions for another one to two minutes.
To finish, perfect your beautiful, straight posture as you suspend the breath, squeezing at the pelvic floor and navel. Imagine the energy moving up the spine. This is energizing and has great benefits for digestion.
Beginners' Stretch Pose
Stretch Pose is a practice that will activate and strengthen your core.
Lying on your back, flex your feet while engaging the heels with the floor. Keep pulling the spine into the floor and the navel into the spine. The lower ribs also pull in toward the navel. Imagine a lead weight tied to your navel, drawing you into the earth. Lift the shoulders and head off the floor as you look and reach toward your toes (keep the heels pushing into the ground).
The practice is done with Breath of Fire, also known as Kapalabhati breathing. This is done by actively and deliberately exhaling forcibly through your nose as you pull your navel in. The inhale is involuntary as your diaphragm relaxes. It is a rhythmic breath. (It is a good idea to become familiar with Breath of Fire in a sitting position before you try it in Stretch Pose.)
You can also do Stretch Pose in this variation with Long Deep Breathing to start, then progressing to using Breath of Fire. Hold Stretch Pose for 30 seconds to 3 minutes once or twice a day. You want to make sure you can keep your navel engaged and strong before you add more time!
Suspend the breath, squeezing at the pelvic floor and navel, perfecting the pose.
Imagine the energy moving up the spine.
Exhale and relax for a moment before sitting up or doing a second round. You can add a little time each day for a powerful core that will support your flexible spine and posture!
Activate the Spine to Become Divine
Motion in the spine allows life force or Kundalini energy to move through the spine and up into the brain, activating the upper triangle of energy centers. Our intuition comes in, and we are connected with universal life flow.
The life force is stored in the root chakra, located at the base of the spine, but you want to bring it up into the upper chambers so that you have flow — a dance between the earth and the heavenly realm.
Pay attention to where your mind goes and incorporate imagery into your spinal practice. In martial arts, I was taught where the mind goes, energy flows. Envision energy moving up your spine or look at pictures of the spine and nervous system so you can more easily visualize energy moving.
Nerves stretch along the spinal column and come up into the skull, connecting to our brains. Visualize and get to know that inner working so you may draw in the divine energy available to us all.
Be gentle and continue working on it if you find tightness, keeping movements small. Even tiny, fluid movements will create gradual improvements. Over time, these restrictions will start to open, and energy will flow. Invite discipline, attention, and focus to your practice, and a more flexible spine is soon to follow.
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