Taking care of your spine is a key part of practicing yoga. A stiff spine is not only uncomfortable, but it can also be the cause or symptom of many other troubles in your body. There's a saying in yoga: You're as young as your spine is flexible. Practicing yoga can create suppleness and ease that will aid in all of your movements in everyday life, and perhaps even keep you young!
Practice this sequence a few times a week. It should take about 20 minutes to complete all of the poses. Remember to take it slow and never force your body into any position. If you feel any sharp, pinching, or jarring pain, come out of the pose immediately and rest. Always remember these general guidelines for practicing yoga:
- Move slowly in and out of the poses.
- Keep your breath smooth and even throughout the practice.
- Practice with an empty stomach.
- Never strain or force yourself beyond your current abilities.
Do not change the arrangement of the poses. Keep the exact order of this sequence, as it has been organized to bring you the most benefits. Be sure to check with your doctor before practicing yoga if you have any injuries, health issues, or concerns.
1. Warm Up: Sun Salutation C
Begin your practice with three to five rounds of this traditional warm-up sequence. The Sun Salutation — “Surya Namaskara” (SOOR-yuh nah-muh-SKAR-uh) — is a sequence of yoga poses performed in a particular order in conjunction with the breath to build heat in the body.
- Begin standing in Mountain Pose (Tadasana) at the top of your mat with your feet hip-width apart. Press your palms together in prayer position.
- Inhale as you sweep your arms out to the side and overhead in Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana). Gently arch your back and gaze toward the sky.
- Exhale as you fold forward from the hips into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana). Bend your knees if necessary. Rest your hands beside your feet and bring your nose to your knees.
- Inhale as you lift your torso halfway into Half Standing Forward Fold (Ardha Uttanasana). Lengthen your spine so your back is flat and your torso is parallel to the floor. Rest your fingertips on the floor or on your shins.
- Exhale as you step your right foot back into Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana). Place your right knee on the ground. Keep your fingertips and left heel on the mat.
- Inhale as you step your left foot back, coming into Plank Pose, or High Push-Up Pose (Kumbhakasana). Your body should be in one straight line.
- Exhale as you lower your knees to the floor, keeping your elbows tucked in toward your sides. Keeping your hips lifted off the floor, bring your chest and chin to the mat in Knees-Chest-Chin Pose (Ashtanga Namaskara). Place your chest between your hands.
- Inhale as you draw your chest forward into Cobra Pose (Bhujangasana). Keeping your hands underneath your shoulders, extend your legs along the floor and un-tuck your toes. Draw your shoulders back and lift your chest slightly. Keep your lower ribs on the floor.
- Exhale as you lift your hips and place the soles of your feet on the floor in Downward-Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana). Lift your belly and sit bones to the sky and lengthen your spine. Stay here for five breaths. On your last exhalation, bend your knees and look between your hands.
- Inhale as you step your right foot between your hands, coming into Low Lunge (Anjaneyasana) on the opposite side.
- Exhale as you step your left foot forward and come back into Standing Forward Fold (Uttanasana).
- Inhale as you sweep your arms out to the side and extend up into Upward Salute (Urdhva Hastasana) once again.
- Exhale as you come back into Mountain Pose (Tadasana).
2. Full Spinal Flex: Cat-Cow Pose
Cat Pose — Marjaryasana (mahr-jahr-ee-AHS-uh-nuh) — is often paired with Cow Pose — Bitilasana (bee-tee-LAHS-uh-nuh) — for a gentle full-body stretch. Practiced together, the poses bring flexibility to the spine, stretch the back torso and neck, and softly stimulate the abdominal organs.
- Start on your hands and knees with your wrists directly under your shoulders and your knees directly under your hips. Point your fingertips to the top of your mat. Place your shins and knees hip-distance apart. Center your head in a neutral position and soften your gaze downward.
- Inhale as you drop your belly towards the mat. Lift your chin and chest, and gaze up toward the ceiling. This is Cow Pose.
- As you exhale, draw your belly to your spine and round your back toward the ceiling. The pose should look like a cat stretching its back. This is Cat Pose.
- Release the crown of your head toward the floor, but don't force your chin to your chest.
- Inhale and come back into Cow Pose, and then exhale as you return to Cat Pose.
- Repeat 5-20 times, and then rest.
3. Upper Spine Stretch: Cobra Pose
Cobra Pose — Bhujangasana (boo-jahn-GAHS-uh-nuh) — stretches the chest while strengthening the spine and shoulders. Traditional yoga texts claim the pose heals the body and awakens “Kundalini,” which is believed to be the divine cosmic energy that brings forth self-realization.
- Begin by lying face-down on the floor with your legs extended behind you, spread a few inches apart.
- Place your hands under your shoulders with your fingers pointing toward the top of the mat. Hug your elbows in to the sides of your body.
- Press down through the tops of your feet and your pubic bone. Spread your toes.
- Inhale as you gently lift your head and chest from the floor. Keep your lower ribs on the floor.
- Draw your shoulders back and your heart forward, but do not crunch your neck. Keep your shoulders dropped away from your ears.
- Only straighten your arms as much as your body allows. Deepen the stretch as your practice advances, but avoid straining to achieve a deeper backbend.
- Hold the pose for up to 30 seconds. To release, exhale as you slowly lower your chest and forehead to the mat. Turn your head to the right and rest your right ear on the mat. Relax your arms alongside your body. Repeat the pose 5-10 times.
4. Lower Spine Stretch: Bridge Pose
Bridge Pose — Setu Bandha Sarvangasana (SAY-too BAHN-duh shar-vahn-GAHS-uh-nuh) — opens the spine, chest, and neck, while also reducing stress and anxiety. It calms the mind and is known to be therapeutic for individuals with high blood pressure. Do not perform this pose if you have a neck injury.
- Lie on your back with your knees bent and feet on the floor.
- Press your feet and arms into the floor as you lift your hips toward the ceiling.
- Keep your thighs and feet parallel — do not roll to the outer edges of your feet or let your knees drop together. Roll your shoulders back and underneath your body. Clasp your hands and extend your arms along the floor beneath your pelvis.
- Hold for up to one minute, then exhale and release by slowly rolling the spine along the floor, vertebra by vertebra. Repeat the pose up to five times.
If you're having trouble keeping your hips lifted, place a block or bolster under the sacrum — the spot at your lower back directly above your tailbone — to support your pelvis.
5. Recovery: Child's Pose
Often used as a resting position, Child's Pose — Balasana (bah-LAHS-uh-nuh) — helps stretch the hips, thighs, and ankles while reducing stress and fatigue. It is recommended as a counter pose to backbends because it aids the spine in recovery.
- Start on your hands and knees, and then spread your knees wide while keeping your big toes touching.
- Exhale as you bow forward, letting your torso drape between your thighs.
- Keep your arms long and extended. Place your forehead on the floor or on a pillow. Then, bring your arms to rest alongside your thighs, with your palms facing up.
- Hold for up to one minute or longer, breathing softly.
Lengthen & Strengthen
A stiff spine can be uncomfortable in daily life. But with dedication and regular practice, your spine will begin to open up and become more flexible. Remember to breathe and relax. With time, your entire torso will be more supple and graceful than ever before!