Prolonged sitting, poor posture, stress or injury can cause major damage to the spine.
The health of your spine is connected to the balance of strength and length in the whole body. When one part of the body is stronger or weaker, it brings imbalance to the muscles and pulls the skeleton out of alignment. One way to adjust these imbalances is yoga.
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Yoga is a full-body practice. As you lengthen the spine in one posture, you could also be building strength in the legs and abdominals while opening the hips and chest. Each posture has a different purpose and result.
The following four poses focus on lengthening the spine, but will also build strength, flexibility, stability and balance in the torso and legs.
How Everything Connects
The hip flexors and hip extensors particularly affect the spine by controlling the tilt of the pelvis, which controls the actions of the muscles and positioning of the skeleton.
The iliopsoas is the strongest of the hip flexors and plays an important part in standing, walking, and running. The main functions of the iliopsoas are to flex the thighs and hips, bend the spine forward, and to twist and stabilize the trunk.
The rectus femoris and sartorius muscles of the quadriceps flex the knee and assist in hip flexion.
The hip extensors are made up of the hamstring muscles and gluteus maximus and perform the opposite action of extending the hips.
4 Yoga Poses to Lengthen the Spine
Utthita Parsvakonasana: Extended Side Angle Pose
Stand with your feet about 4 feet apart. Turn the left foot in slightly to the right and right foot out to the right 90 degrees. Align the right heel with the left arch. Engage the thighs, raise the arms parallel to the floor, and reach them actively out to the sides. Make sure the shoulder blades are spread wide and palms face down.
Gaze over your right fingertips. Bend the right knee over the right ankle so that the shin is perpendicular to the floor. If possible, bring the right thigh parallel to the floor. Lean the torso forward allowing the right elbow to rest on the knee or, bring the right hand down to the floor on the outside of the right foot.
Extend the left arm over the left ear and face your palm toward the the floor. Activate the left leg and press the outer edge of the left foot into the floor to stabilize. Rotate the left hip open and reach through the extended arm to lengthen the torso. Rotate the right hip slightly forward, toward the left, and rotate the upper torso back to the right. Hold for five breath cycles; inhale back to center and switch sides.
Benefits: The extended side angle pose strengthens and stretches the legs, knees and ankles. It stretches the groins, spine, waist, shoulders, chest and lungs. The pose also relieves stiffness in the shoulders and back and tones the abdomen.