Your youth resides in your spine.
Welcome to your spine
Your spine is a curved, flexible column consisting of 33 vertebrae. The curve is like the letter “S” with one last curve reversing off that bottom portion, as if to start another “S”. Place a hand on your neck, at the back of your head, and feel the start of your spine. If your arms are flexible, you can use both of them to have your hands trace your spine all the way from the back of your head down to the bottom of your tailbone.
That vertebral column you feel is further described by distinct portions, each with a specific name. Beginning with the area just below your head, the cervical (your neck) curve has 7 vertebrae. This is followed by the thoracic (area where your ribs are attached) curve consisting of 12 vertebrae. Next comes the lumbar (your lower back, between your ribs and hip bones) curve, with 5 vertebrae. And the bottom most portion of your spine contains the sacral/coccygeal curve of 5 sacral vertebrae and 4 coccygeal vertebrae. Your sacrum is a triangular bone nestled between your two hip bones. Your coccyx, also known as your tailbone, is the final, tail end of your spine. The 9 vertebrae of the sacral/coccygeal curve are fused together, able to move as a group but not individually. (Adapted from page 30, Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries by Susi Hately Aldous.)
6 movements of your spine
Every pratapana should focus on warming up the six movements of the spine. Just what are those six movements? Think about how you move your body on a daily basis – what is your spine doing as you move? Visualize each of these movements as if being done from a standing position, though in yoga they can also be done from a sitting position or from a table position, which is being on your hands and knees, shoulders aligned over wrists, hips aligned over knees, with legs flat on the floor behind your knees and the tops of your toes facing the floor.
- Flexion and extension movements are akin to forward and back bends. Flexion is where the angle between two bones decreases, as in a forward bend, and extension is where the angle between two bones increases, as in a back bend.
- Lateral movement is side to side, as in a side bend to either side.
- Twists to each side are the last two movements of the spine and involve actually twisting your spine like a gentle wringing out of a wet sponge.
Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga adds an additional movement of the spine, two movements if you consider that the movement should be done in each direction.
- Circular movements are just that, circling the torso while seated, first slightly forward, then to the right, lean back, then to the left and finish forward. Sit tall before reversing the movement.
Only you know how your body is doing, so only you can determine if it is safe for you to try any of these movements. However, if your body is feeling willing and you are able to perform these movements, give your spine a treat and see how your body begins to react to a daily juicing up of its main trunk line!
Circular Movement from and with thanks to Lakshmi Voelker Chair Yoga Teacher Development Manual, page 2-35.