Focus on the spine

Neutral Spine

The neutral spine refers to the position of your spine when it is naturally curved through the lower back, the mid and upper back till the neck. The curves are not too deep, not too flat. To come to this point, some people need to deepen or flatten the curves.

Curves are different from one person to another. Muscle distribution might influence the curve of the spine. Curves allow a flexible and strong spine. Shape of the spine and form of the curves are critical to maintain a good health. Forces applied on the spine which has no normal curve can lead to injury. Shape can also be a reflection of our mental state. Tendency is to get the spine collapsed.

Curve changes with:

  • Use/posture: we have the tendency not to use enough effort to hold our spine lengthened constantly;
  • Aging process: if we don’t make exercise with the spine, while getting old, our spine will become back to the C shape because of gravity (which we don’t want);
  • Genetics;
  • Trauma.

In yoga, we cannot do anything with trauma and genetics, but we can make the effort to optimize the use of our spine, improve our posture, and fight against the aging process. We want a long tall spine by doing exercises so that we keep our well being.

In neutral position, your spine is in its strongest position whether you are in a standing, sitting or lying down position. With a stable spine, the force transmission is optimal. Spine without muscle is extremely unstable: muscles exert forces on all sides to support the spine. If these are weak, you may end up with chronic lower back issue. Extension of the thoracic spine is also a key to neutral position. In yoga, we stretch to keep the spine functionally free of movements but we also strengthen the abdominal and back muscles as a protective and prevention mean.

 Apply your yoga practice to your life

Integrate the yoga tips to your daily life. While standing up after being seated, lift your spine first in neutral position and then stand up. By doing this, you remove the pressure on your lower back.

Besides, remind yourself to stand or sit in neutral spine position as much as possible at the office/desk. We have the tendency to round our spine when staring at the computer, which is really bad for our back: extend your torso instead, and roll your shoulders down and back.

Bending forward from the hips!

Contrary to common belief, we bend forward from the hips not from the spine: our lower back is not supposed to be in flexion (even though it is constantly in flexion for most of us at the office). Besides, in forward bending pose, our thoracic spine extends, lengthens.

While bending forward, keep your neutral spine as long as possible. If you find difficult to keep your spine straight while bending forward, bend your knees to allow your spine to remain in neutral position. If in the full forward bending pose, your hands don’t reach the floor, hold your opposite elbows to elongate your thoracic spine. Once your hands are touching the floor, slowly straighten your knees till your limit.

You are responsible for your body, so be aware of what your body is capable of doing, don’t force it. This is what we call “practicing with awareness”. Yoga is not about performance. It is about safety instead. There is no judgment about others or yourself. We all have our weak points. Believe me or not, mine are flexibility and abs! I have been working for years to improve my flexibility and strength. I still struggle in every stretching pose, and abs exercises are not my favourite ones!  Just do what you are able to do today. Tomorrow is another day. No rush. Your flexibility and strength will improve someday, but it requires patience and effort. Apply the tips of yoga to your daily life, and the result will be visible quicker than expected!