September 7, 2021

Moving Into Mindfulness: Stretching The Spine 6 Ways

Spine health  is not only related to how we feel physically. Our mental health is also an interconnected factor. In a study involving more than 200,000 spine patients, those that were suffering from back pain were also twice as likely to report struggles with anxiety, depression, stress, or sleep deprivation. The connection between spinal irregularities and mental health was discernible.  Even if we aren’t suffering from chronic back pain or are suffering from a back injury, it is so important  to ensure that our spine is taken care of. 

The spine is made up of bone, disks, nerves, and the spinal cord. It’s a complex part of our body, but taking care of it doesn’t have to be. A simple way to begin taking care of your spine is to begin stretching it in the many directions it can move. This will encourage blood flow, decompression, mobility and more. 

The spine can move in six-different directions and each will be explained in more detail below. Each movement can be modified to be done at home, at your desk, or anywhere you feel comfortable moving. If you have any back pain or preconditions, please consult with your doctor before working through these exercises.

Spinal Extension

(In yoga terms - Cow pose, upward facing dog, or seated heart opener)

A spinal extension involves expanding the chest. From a seated position, pull the chest forward so that your lower back begins to arch inwards. Allow your shoulders to drop. Bring your chest as far forward as your spine feels comfortable to do so. Bring your gaze up, without allowing your neck to drop.

Spinal extension is a great way to counteract sitting all day. 

Spinal Flexion

(Cat pose, forward fold, or seated fold)

A spinal flexion extends the back of your body. This involves engaging your core and provides a stretch to your rear lungs and back muscles. From an upright seated position, simply fold your chest forward over your legs, allowing your back to curl. Be cautious of over stretching in this position.

Lateral Side Bending, Left and Right

(Standing lateral side bend and seated side bend)

Where the last two poses were focused on moving our spine forwards and backwards, these two movements bend us left and right. Lateral side bends lengthen the side body, open up our rib cages, and help release tension in the lower back muscles. Seated or standing, clasp both hands overhead with the palms of your hands facing forwards, and begin to bend your body to the right. Continue to stretch your arms up and over your head. Ground your feet (or ground yourself in your seated position) and try to keep your weight evenly distributed. Your body will look like a crescent moon. Return to the center gently. Then, continue with the same movements to the left side of your body. Perform on each side for as long as you need. 

Spinal Twists

(Supine spinal twist, seated spinal twist)

Now, we’ve covered forward and backwards, left and right. It’s time to twist! A spinal twist will rotate our spine. Start in your seat either cross-legged or in a chair with your feet on the floor. Keeping your legs facing forward, take your right arm towards the outside of your left knee and rotate your left arm towards the back of the room. Try to keep your hips facing forward while rotating your chest and shoulders towards the back of the room. Only rotate as far as is comfortable for you, even if you’re barely rotating.

Final notes:

  • Remember to inhale to lift your body and exhale when moving deeper into the stretches.
  • These can be done in variations. If it’s better for you, try these sitting, standing, or laying down.
  • Start small before diving too deep. Our spines are complex and sensitive and we should ease into new movements with mindfulness.