Oct 20, 2008

Yoga and spine health –I

This post deals with maintaining the health of spine with the help of yoga.

Healthy people, especially the youth, often ignore spine health because when there is no pain or heaviness in spine, this part of the body is taken for granted. After all, except when it is injured, the spine does not bother us unlike aching teeth, sight problems, skin rashes, fever, runny nose or sore throat.

But spine health is of paramount importance. The spine supports the middle and upper parts of the body, and equally significantly it carries the main nerve cord of the body. Its composition – a series of bones, with pads in between them, nerves branching out across the bones and muscles attached between the bones and other body parts - makes it quite flexible and eminently suitable for various body movements, but makes it that much weaker than a single bone. So, any injury or deformity in it not only makes movements difficult and painful, it might result in damage to the nerves in and around it.

The best way to keep your spine healthy is to keep it flexible. An unexercised spine turns rigid over time and an external or internal jerk to it [and there are plenty of occasions for a jerk] causes the spinal bones to misalign, the pads to tear or swell, the ligaments and muscles to twist and break. An unexercised spine is also like an ill-lubricated machine and undergoes wear and tear faster.

Yoga asanas pay special attention to bending of the spine. Asanas are special in that they do not put unnecessary force on the spine and yet are immensely beneficial. They also take care that bending activities of different types balance each other out.

The main types of asanas for overall spine health are: [very difficult asanas not given; they are really not needed required unless you want to be an advance practitioner of yoga]

1. a complete set of bending asanas:
Surya Namaskar
: sun prayer; set of 12 postures alternately bending forward and backward [mid-difficult]

2. forward bending exercises [choose one of them but then do one of the backward bending exercises given below]
A. Halasana: plough pose; bending entire body inwards in lying down position [mid-difficult]
B. Padahastasana: forward bending; hands touching the feet while standing [difficult]
C. Paschimottanasana: forward bending; hands touching the feet while sitting [difficult]

3. backward bending exercises [choose one of them but then do one of the forward bending exercises given above]
A. Shalabhasana: locust pose; lying with face down and raising legs up [mid-difficult]
B. Bhujangasana: cobra pose; lying down with face downwards, and raising the entire front like cobra hood [mid-difficult]
C. Ushtrasana: camel pose; lying with head up, raising middle portion [mid-difficult]
D. Chakrasana: total bending backwards while standing [difficult]
E. Dhanurasana: bow pose; lying with face down and bending legs as well as torso upwards [mid-difficult]