How many times a day do you think about your spine? If you are like most people, you probably don’t think about your spine until you experience some form of back pain. One of the best ways to keep your spine healthy is by doing yoga! With the right yoga sequence, you can essentially take your spine through the five movements that keep it strong and flexible: flexion (rounds the spine forward), extension (rounds the spine back), rotation (twists), side bending, and axial extension (vertically elongates). With these five movements, you will increase the amount of spinal fluid flowing along your spine, bring fresh blood to your organs, and see a dramatic improvement in your health. Keep reading to discover what 15 yoga poses are best for a strong and flexible spine.
1. Child’s Pose
There is a reason why Child’s Pose feels like such a sweet release. The movement of this pose takes the spine into flexion, rounding the spine forward. The action calms the brain and relieves stress and fatigue. Additionally, this pose can provide tremendous relief from low back pain and neck pain, especially if you practice the pose with the support of a yoga bolster. This pose also gently tugs at the hips and releases tight hip muscles. The combination of tight hips and lower back pain usually comes from sitting all day, but this pose can address both of those issues with it’s gentle forward folding action.
2. Cat Pose
If you can imagine the flexion of the spin in Child’s Pose, think of the opposite movement when you perform Cat Pose. This pose takes the spine into extension, so the main action is to stretch and lengthen the spine. For some people, this pose can cause a little pinching or pain in the lower back, especially if you are hyper-mobile. In that case, make sure you are supporting the extension of your spine by pulling the belly in really firm. Pay special attention to the firmness of your lower belly and draw the spine out from there.
3. Boat Pose
As you can feel in Cat Pose, the abdominal muscles and deep core muscles are an incredibly important source of support for your spine. If you want to increase the mobility of your spine and prevent back pain, it is wise to build up the muscles that support your spine in daily movement. Boat Pose doesn’t just strengthen the superficial abdominal muscles either. According to Yoga Journal, this pose also strengthens your hip flexors and spine by having you balance on the tri-pod of your sitting bones and tailbone.
4. Hand to Big Toe Pose
If you already have lower back pain, it is probably best to avoid this pose. But, if your spine is in good health and you practice yoga as a preventative exercise, then Hand-to-Big-Toe Pose is one of the perfect poses to increase spinal flexibility and strengthen the muscles that support your spine. Similar to Boat Pose, this pose activates your core muscles and hip flexor, but it also elongates your spine and can improve your posture. In order to keep your balance in this pose, you should focus on maintaining the natural curves of your spine (Source). If it is difficult to keep your balance, try practicing next to a wall or with your back against the wall for support. By removing the balancing aspect, you reduce the risk of injury and can explore the main actions of the pose.
5. Bridge Pose
It is no surprise that backbends are one of the best poses to strengthen, lengthen, and stretch your spine. And what is great about Bridge Pose is that it has many variations so it can be practiced by anybody. Yoga expert and Certified Health Coach Anne Asher even claims that this pose can realign your SI joint. In order to keep your body elevated, you must have your pelvis, core, back, hips, and hamstrings all work together as one unit. This is a strengthening action and it also helps to establish proper alignment of the pelvis and lower back. If you experience difficulty or pain in this pose, try practicing it with a yoga block under your lower back.
6. Bow Pose
If you spend a lot of time sitting at a desk, this pose can be very beneficial. Bow Pose simultaneously stretches your chest muscles (which get rounded forward if you sit at a computer), activates the abdominals, and places the spine in extension. This pose can help correct forward head posture and is great for menstrual cramps. If it’s hard to lift your thighs in this pose, place a folded blanket under your legs before beginning.
7. Camel Pose
Believe it or not, spinal extensions like Camel Pose can actually relieve issues like back pain over time. According to this article from POPSUGAR fitness, Camel Pose is the perfect exercise to do if you’re a runner as it stretches the front of the legs and increases the mobility of your spine. One caveat though – this is not the kind of pose you just want to jump into. It’s important with any spinal extension pose to warm up to the peak movement. This one is best done after poses like Bridge, Seated Warrior, and Cow Face Arms.
8. Extended Triangle Pose
When you are working on strengthening and increasing the flexibility of your spine, it is easy to get caught up in flashy back bending poses and feel-good flexion. But don’t forget, in order to get the most out of a spine-focused yoga sequence, you want to move your spine in every direction! This includes side-stretches like Extended Triangle Pose. Side stretches are important for the spine because they elongate ad stretch the intercostal muscles – these muscles can shorter over time and reduce mobility if they aren’t worked. Tight, short intercostal muscles restrict movement, encourage shallow breathing, weaken posture, and can cause neck and shoulder pain (Source).
9. Extended Side Angle Pose
Another beneficial side-stretch pose is Extended Side Angle. This pose is beneficial for everything from backache to sciatica, and in addition to stretching the spine it stretches your groin, waist, check, lungs, legs, knees, ankles and shoulders. It also increases your overall stamina and brings attention to the sides of the body, which are often neglected in daily life. The key to the benefits of a side stretch is that it stretches the body asymmetrically. This means you must balance while stretching at the same time.
10. Standing Side Bend
Standing side bend is one of the easiest poses to bust out on a regular basis. This pose can be done between breaks at work or while standing in line at the store without looking too strange! Standing side bend, otherwise known as Upward Salute, activates the spine, belly, armpits, arms, and helps with balance. While practicing this pose, make sure your legs are properly aligned in Mountain Pose. This is important for maintaining the proper curves of the spine. As an added bonus, practice this side bend if you have a cold. It can create more space in your lungs and open your chest. If you are suffering from a back injury, try doing this pose on the floor over a yoga bolster. That will make the pose more restorative but you will get the same benefits of a spinal side stretch.
11. Downward Facing Dog & Puppy Pose
If you only have time for one yoga pose every day, go for either Downward Facing Dog or Puppy Pose! These poses are some of the few that move your spine into axial extension. Axial extension is beneficial for the whole spine as these movements actually do lengthen your spine. In this excerpt from Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews, you can see an anatomy diagram that shows how axial extension lessens the curves of the spine. Although you do want to maintain the natural curves of the spine (it’s not perfectly straight!), exaggerated curves can cause problems with almost every system of the body.
12. Cobra Pose
What would life be without Cobra Pose? This pose is incredible for stretching your back and strengthening your core muscles. For starters, this pose calls for spinal extension. The main action is to bend your spine backwards using the support of the tops of your feet and thighs pushing into the ground and the tightness of your core. This spine should feel like your spine is lifting up and out from your lower body, and you should also feel an opening in your chest.
13. Half Lord of the Fishes Pose
Once you’ve mastered spinal extension and flexion, give your spine a little release with twisting movements. Poses that rotate the spine, such as Half-Lord of the Fishes Pose, are stimulating to the spinal fluids and can lengthen the erector spinae, serratus posterior, and rhomboids muscles .
14. Marichi’s Pose
Marichi’s Pose is another stimulating twisting pose, and it has numerous benefits to the spine. For this pose, you move into a deep twist using your own leg as leverage. When performing this deep twisting action, think of the organs and muscles surrounding your spine like a sponge. As you twist, you squeeze the fluid out of these organs. When you release, the organs are flooded with fresh fluid. This movement is a terrific form of self-massage in that way! The twisting action of Marichi’s Pose actually stimulates the brain and over time can strengthen your spine.
15. Wheel Pose
If you’re new to yoga, you might look at a photo of someone doing Wheel Pose and think, “Ouch!” However, this pose is extremely beneficial for the spine. Really, this pose hits on every major muscles group in your whole body! When you practice deep backbends like this one, don’t think of it as “bending.” What you’re really doing is extending your spine. This pose uses strength in the arms and legs to simultaneously pull the spine in opposite directions.
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Having been a teacher’s assistant at over 50 yoga teacher trainings worldwide, Rebecca Rebecca has a firm grasp on the fine art of yoga and meditation. In her work, she carefully reflects on a vast expanse of knowledge to help others find peace in both body and mind.