When we practice yoga, we move the spine in many different directions. When we are stiff from sitting all day, sometimes our spine doesn’t want to move the way we want it to. Forward bending and twisting are healthy spinal movements. When you have a young, healthy spine, you can “get away” with all sorts of movements, but as we age, we need to be more intentional with how we move our body. When you forward bend and twist there are a few things to keep in mind.
Forward bends in yoga abound, in seated, standing, and reclining positions. There are two ways to move your torso toward your legs: flexing the spine and hingeing at the hips. Flexing the spine (rounding it) will stretch the back, and hingeing at the hips will stretch the hamstrings and/or hips depending on the position of your legs. How you forward bend will change depending on which pose you are practicing. For example, you definitely want to flex the spine in Cat pose, but that is not usually considered a forward bend. When doing a pose like Uttanasana (Standing Forward Bend), to get the most out of the pose, you want to hinge from the hips. Tipping the pelvis will give you more of a hamstring stretch. If your spine is healthy, i.e. no disc or stenosis problems, you can flex the spine at the end of the hinge. If you have any type of disc degeneration that is causing lower back problems, keeping a straight spine is much safer.
For most forward bending poses, you are trying to stretch the back of the body in some way. Hip hingeing is the best way to stretch, as the hamstrings and hip muscles all attach to the pelvis. When you tip the pelvis forward, you are stretch the muscles that extend the hip (move the thighs backward). Rounding the spine at the end of the stretch by “giving in to gravity,” allows the weight of the torso to encourage the stretch. However, if you create the pose by rounding the spine, you are bypassing the stretch by keeping the hips in extension (tucked under). Reaching the sit bones backward and lengthening the spine forward is the best way to feel the stretch where you need it.
If your hamstrings are tight, it may prevent you from tipping your pelvis very far. Often we try to compensate for that by rounding the spine because it feels like we are going further toward our legs. You are better off bending your knees slightly, tipping the pelvis more, then working toward straightening the legs. This will keep your lower back from taking over and actually give you the hamstring stretch you are looking for.
Twisting is another healthy movement for the spine, when done correctly and without force. Ideally, when twisting you want the movement to come from the obliques, and not the force of your arm or another part of your body. When you can activate the obliques and relax into the twisting movement, you prevent doing more than your spine can tolerate. Keep in mind, when doing twisting poses, you want to keep the spine straight and rotate the rib cage, keeping the pelvis still. Alternatively, you can rotate the pelvis while keeping the rib cage still, like in a reclining twist. In both cases, the spine stays straight and you rotate either the ribs or the pelvis so that they stay perpendicular to the spine. This creates a uniform twist through the spine and doesn’t compress the vertebral discs unevenly.
Click here to watch a short video guiding you through safe forward bends and twists!
Join me for Sun Salutation Breakdown, free in my Facebook Group, from Feb 27-Mar 3. I’ll be breaking down the poses of Sun Salutations A and B so that you will be able to flow through them and feel like you know what you are doing! Click here to sign up!
Back to Yoga Basics is my 4 week online course starting March 13th! Back to Yoga Basics is for anyone new to practicing yoga, or anyone who wants to go back to the basics of alignment, breathing, meditation, and anatomy, so that you understand more about your body and how to do 25 basic yoga poses. Click here to learn more!
Make yoga part of your everyday life by taking classes online! Click here to join me live or on demand!