“You’re only as young as your spine is flexible.”
So in a perfect world we would all be capable of stretching like the guy from the Fantastic 4, but in reality, most of us are not gifted with super bendy genes. The art of yoga can be quite exquisite, with beautiful backbend poses that are performed with such elegance and grace.
Some of us want to become more flexible to be better dancers, performers, and athletes, but the vast majority of us really want to relieve back pain, and increase our overall mobility.
I learned right away that my back had underlying issues, and yoga has helped me so far in slowly correcting them.
The spine is composed of three areas: the cervical spine, thoracic spine, and lumbar spine. The cervical spine which has 7 vertebrae is the neck, and is the most flexible part of the spine. The lumbar spine which has 5 vertebrae, is the lower back and has a slight inward curve known as lordosis. This is the second most flexible part of the spine. So, I saved the worst for last. The thoracic spine is made up of 12 vertebrae, and this my friend, is where most people have trouble.
Several factors can contribute to irregularities within the thoracic spine, such as poor posture, herniated discs, joint dysfunction, arthritis, and scoliosis.
For me the main issue has been muscle overuse and very poor posture. So here are a few ways to help reduce back discomfort and lead you on the road to success.
Avoid Sleeping on your stomach! It pains me to say I had been sleeping on my stomach for years and didn’t realize the damage I was causing. This is the least recommended position for back pain. Sleeping on your side without curling your legs too much and with a pillow between your knees, or on your back is much better support for your spine.
Rollers/Massagers- There are many different types of rollers to choose from. There are some with ridges designed for deep tissue massages and there are the simpler foam rollers. These really help relieve back pain and stiffness, especially after sitting in a chair for hours during the day. Talk about a major back killer! Peanut massagers are also really great to use because it treats the muscles on both sides of the spine. You can buy one pre-made or you can duct tape two tennis balls together and place it under your back in the area you’re in pain. You can lie still for a few minutes or slowly lift up in a sit-up position.
Standing Forward Fold- This is an awesome yoga pose because not only are you giving yourself a hug, but this pose really helps relieve back pain and loosen the back muscles. It’s recommended to bend your knees if you have tight hamstrings, and warm-up first with Downward Facing Dog.
Thoracic Spine Stretch– For this, you start off in the table top position or on all fours, and you thread the needle by reaching one arm up and threading it under the other arm, and lowering your shoulder to the mat.
Legs up the Wall– This is one of the most comfortable and soothing positions I’ve come across. You simply align your legs against the wall, and you can angle your arms into a goalpost . This provides instant relief to my back and I highly recommend. There’s also the supine spinal twist, knee to chest, plow pose, and other wonderful asanas to release back tension.
Shoulder Girdle– Tight shoulders are also a culprit in back inflexibility and minor pain. One of my favorite stretches is to stand in between a doorway with my arms on each side and press forward.
Full body stretch– I know this is not very comforting, but sometimes if one area is out of whack, your entire body won’t be in sync. Stretching your hamstrings, opening your hips, and all other areas of the body can help increase our back mobility.
Seek help– There are trained physical therapists, chiropractors, masseuses, and other professionals that can diagnose the issue and devise a treatment plan.
Thank you for reading! Namaste.