10 simple things you can do to save your spine

1. Give your neck a rest! Your neck is one of the most overworked parts of your body. Lying down with the support of a book or cushion under your head and consciously relaxing your neck will help your whole spine.

2. Quiet hands. Our hands are always busy busy busy, either doing something or holding the thoughts of doing. Quieting our hands allows our shoulders to relax and guess where the shoulders are attached to? Your spine of course.

3. Explore neutral spine. Neutral spine is a place where the curves of your spine are in an optimum relationship with each other. Years of habits mean that we’re never really in neutral spine, most of us are actually frozen in a forward bend or back bend. Taking time to explore what neutral spine means to you lying on your side, on your back and on your front (that is, somewhere you can experience total ease and comfort) will help to release the years of bad habits.

4. Take a few minutes each day to consciously move your spine in all the directions it’s capable of. Bending forward, bending back, bending to the side and rotation. Start from neutral, do the movement and go back to neutral to absorb the benefits of this. Yoga poses are great for these but it doesn’t have to be a full on asana to bring the benefits.

5. Relax your shoulders when you breath. All too often we are subconsciously trying to breath by moving our shoulders up and down as opposed to letting the breath come from the action of the diaphragm in the middle of your body. Shoulders move with the breath rather than trying to control the breath.

6. Allow your shoulder blades to respond to and support the movement of arms in the same way your eyes track the movement of a ball you want to catch. Most often, your finger tips initiate arm movement and so your shoulder blades should respond to this. All the students I’ve taught who have shoulder problems brace or fix their shoulder blades before moving their arms.

7. You have two bones at the bottom off your pelvis. They’re called the sitz bones or ishial tuberosities.  When you sit, see if you can find them so that the weight of your torso is moving through these bones. Sitting on your tailbone (slouching back) is storing up problems for the years to come.

8. Do movements which pulse force and energy through your spine. If you’re really fit, jumping and running will provide this. If you want to do this in low impact way, bouncing on a swiss ball or doing pulsing movement lying on a mat will help. It helps to keep the joints in the spine mobile.

9. Cultivate awareness of arms and legs and their relationship to your spine. If you have a very painful area or damaged area in your spine, working with arms or legs can be a way into treating and healing the spine.

10. Become mindful of the way that your internal organs support and are supported by your spine. This is quite an advanced subject, so just beginning with how your lungs support your upper spine and the movement of your arms is a good starting place.

I do all of these things on a regular basis and over the years it’s really helped me build a strong spine. If I get really run down or practice yoga in an over aggressive way, I start getting an aching back. Other than that,  my spine feels great most of the time.

Most of these tips are ones that I’ve learnt over the years, the one about quiet hands is from Steve Hamlin, a Feldenkrais practitioner in the US.

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© Kevin Saunders, Yogaground 2011

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