5 Yoga Exercises To Realign The Spine

From a physical perspective, one of the main benefits of a yoga practice is to cultivate and maintain spinal flexibility and strength. There’s a saying ‘You’re only as young as your spine is flexible’. Having a stiff, tense and weak back not only makes us feel old, but it has a negative knock-on effect on the mobility throughout the entire rest of your body. This is why I often focus in my private sessions on helping clients to improve their spinal health and to realign the spine if their posture is poor.

The spine has five ranges of motion – flexion (forward-bends), extension (back-bends), lateral flexion (side-bends), rotation (twists) and axial extension (lengthening/traction). A nice way to sequence a yoga session is to see if you can incorporate all five of these movement patterns into the practice. If you’re short on time, or it’s first thing in the morning and you just need to gently bring some energy into your body, try the following five yoga exercises. Hold each pose for 5-8 breaths (each side if there are two sides) and you’ll be good to go!

Remember if you have any back injuries or current back pain these poses may or may not be appropriate and you might want to check with your healthcare provider beforehand.

 

Supine twist (rotation)

Come to lying on your back. Pick your hips up and shift them slightly to the left so they are slightly skewed. Bring your knees into your chest and take them over to rest to the right side.

Put a rolled up towel between the thighs if the thighs and knees don’t touch each other.. Rest your right hand on your left outer thigh and allow the left arm and shoulder to stretch out to the left, releasing the left shoulder blade down towards the floor. Take 5 deep breaths before switching sides.

 

Bridge roll ups (extension)

Come to lie on your back. Bend the knees, heels under knees and placing feet hip-width apart with the toes pointing forwards. Bring the arms alongside the hips, palms facing down.

On an inhale start to peel the hips, lower, middle and upper back away from the floor. On an exhale lower the arms, upper, mid, lower spine and hips towards the floor. Try to articulate the spine one vertebrae at at time, synchronising the movements with the breath.

Repeat 5-8 times before releasing stretching the legs out and taking a few moments to pause and feel the effects.

 

 

Cat-cow (flexion and extension)

Coming onto hands and knees, place your knees hip-width apart under your hips and your hands shoulder-width apart.

On an inhale drop the belly slightly towards the floor and arch the chest forwards (creating a little backbend in your upper back). This is cow pose.
On an exhale press down through the hands and round the back towards the ceiling, lifting the belly and front ribs up into the back body, tucking the chin to the chest and looking towards the belly button. This is cat pose (imagine an angry cat!). Repeat this back and forth motion for 5-10 rounds, synchronising the movement to the breath.

 

Downdog against a chair (flexion and axial extension)

Hold onto to a ledge, table or back of chair. Hands shoulder-width apart, palms facing downwards or even inwards if possible so that you can draw the shoulders away from the ears.

Walk your feet back, bend your knees and align your heels under your hips as you stick your bottom backwards. Work on maximising the length in your spine. Gently lower the chest down so that eventually the spine is parallel to the floor (or just above) and the ears and upper arms line up with each other. Feel for a long line of energy from the tailbone all the way through to the crown of the head. Relax and soften the upper trapezius muscles right around the ears. Hold for 5 breaths. Make sure your breath remains fluid and easy without strain or tension. Repeat twice.

This would be a good pose to repeat throughout the day!

 

Mountain Stretch and Standing side bend (axial extension and lateral flexion)

Standing in mountain pose, feet hip-width apart and parallel. Hands resting by your sides. On an inhale reach your arms up overhead, interlace the fingers and flip the palms. Hold for a couple of deep breaths. On the inhale think about stretching up through the spine, pressing outwards and up through the palms. As you exhale think about drawing the lower belly back towards the spine and softening the inner shoulders slightly down away from the ears.

Then place one hand on your hip, inhale to reach your other arm up towards the ceiling, lengthening the side of your waist. Exhale as you begin to lean over to the side stretching into the sides of your body. Inhale to come back up and switch arms, exhale to lean over to the other side. Repeat 3-5 times each side, returning to mountain pose with your arms by your sides to finish.

5 Yoga Poses for Upper Body Strength

I’ve been enjoying some strength-based circuit training recently and started to think how this framework might be incorporated into an upper body strength focused yoga practice. So this week I’ve created another upper-body focused yoga practice – with a bit of a twist – there are only 5 poses and it’s designed to be practiced as a circuit!

The idea is that you do each pose for a fixed amount of time, perhaps 15 seconds, building up to 45-60 seconds as you get stronger, and then take a few breaths relaxation before moving onto the next pose. At the end of the 5 poses (remember to do side-plank on both sides!), you can then repeat the whole circuit another 3-5 times depending on how much time you have to practice.

I do recommend starting and ending each practice on your back and just taking some time to connect to deep breathing. I should stress that this is not a particularly well-rounded yoga practice as we’re focusing on some very specific upper-body strength poses so if you’re doing this as a stand-alone practice it would be good idea to do some preparatory warm-up poses such as cat-cow or even sun salutations beforehand. This practice could also be done at the end of a run or a gym session when the body is already nicely warmed up.

As always please be guided by your body and your breath – remember to aim for smooth, even breathing throughout and if you are new to yoga check consider doing the modified versions of each pose until you feel stronger. These poses are challenging but should never be painful so check out the alignment tips below to help you.

 

  1. Forearm plank pose
  • Start with your forearms parallel to one another on the floor, elbows under the shoulders and palms facing downwards with the fingers spread. If your shoulders feel tight or the elbows tend to splay outwards try interlacing the fingers instead.
  • Step your feet back and on an inhale press down through the forearms and balls of the feet to lift the thighs and hips.
  • Draw the belly strongly back towards the spine. Aim for a long line of energy reaching from the heels to the crown of the head and vice versa. Make sure that the hips aren’t sagging in the middle, nor are the hips lifting higher than the shoulders. Keep your breath smooth and steady.
  • When you feel ready to release bring your knees to the floor and press back to childs pose for a couple of breaths to rest.

 

  1. Locust
  • Lying on your belly, take your arms and hands back alongside your hips, palms facing down. If it feels ok on your shoulders, interlace your fingers and squeeze the shoulder-blades and palms together.
  • Separate your feet hip-width apart and engage the muscles of your legs. Bring your chin or forehead to the floor but lift the front of your shoulders away from the ground to engage the upper back muscles.
  • On an inhale lift your upper back, chest, head, legs and arms up away from the floor. Keep your knees straight, extending the legs straight back.
  • Keep squeezing your shoulderblades together onto your back to encourage the collarbones and chest to expand. Press your pubic bone gently into the floor but lift the skin of the lower belly up and back towards the spine to support the lower back.
  • On an exhale lower back to the floor to rest.

 

  1. Side-plank
  • Bring your right hand on the mat, just slightly in front of your shoulder. Spin the inner eye of your right elbow slightly forwards and unlock the elbow (if you tend to hyper-extend).
  • Stack your left foot on top of your right foot and flex the toes towards the kneecaps. Press down strongly through the right hand and blade of right foot to lift the hips up into the body and away from the floor.
  • You can bring your left hand to your hip or if balanced straight up towards the ceiling. Gaze slightly down towards the floor if you need for balance or for more challenge look towards your top hand.
  • A modified variation is to step the top foot in front like a kickstand to help with balance, or if the wrists are sensitive you can also practice this on your forearm.

 

  1. Dolphin
  • Bring your elbows and forearms to the floor. Check that the forearms are parallel and no wider than shoulder width apart with palms flat. If your shoulders feel tight or the elbows tend to splay outwards try interlacing the fingers instead.
  • On an exhale tuck your toes and pike your hips up and back towards the wall behind you. Press the forearms strongly down and forwards into the floor to lift the hips up and press the thighs back. Feet are hip-width apart, knees can be slightly bent if the hamstrings feel tight or the back is rounding.
  • Feel your shoulder blades move away from your ears and up towards your hips. Press the chest back towards the thighs to create length in your spine. Relax your neck, ears lining up with upper arms.
  • When you’re ready to release, bring the knees to the floor and rest in childs pose.

 

  1. Handstand variation against the wall
  • To measure the correct distance first of all, sit facing the wall with your legs stretched out in front of you, soles of feet pressing into the wall, hands down alongside your hips. Where your hands and hips are is where you need the hands to be for the handstand variation so now swivel around coming into downdog with your heels against the wall and the hands still in the same place.
  • Place one foot up the wall at the height of the hips. Press strongly into that foot straightening into the leg to bring the other foot up alongside it. Press the feet firmly into the wall, lifting the thighs to the ceiling to help prevent the feet sliding down. Press down strongly through your hands and arms, straightening your elbows.
  • Moving your shoulders away from your ears, draw your chest towards your thighs and relax your head and neck so you can look back towards the wall. The shape of your body is a right-angle, hips above shoulders and feet the same height as your hips.
  • This is a strong pose – you may only be able to hold it for a few seconds initially so build up slowly and enjoy the process!

 

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