Warming up the spine is crucial to safe yoga practice. Every yoga practice should begin by stretching the spine in six directions. You may not have realized, but if you recall any yoga class you have attended or Youtube video you have followed, the teacher probably began by leading you through some spinal stretches such as the popular cat-cow sequence. Even if you do not practice yoga, stretching the spine is important to spinal health in general, so stretching the spine in 6 directions every day, particularly at the start of the day, is a good idea.
The Six Directions
Your spine can move in six directions:
1) Spinal Extension – Lengthening the spine and opening the chest. These movements are often described as “backbends”, but I think it is more beneficial and safer to think of them as “heart openers”.
2) Spinal Flexion – Stretching the back by bending forward.
3 & 4) Lateral Flexion – Bending to the right and left, lengthening the sides of your body.
5 & 6) Rotation – Twisting to the right and left.
By stretching the spine in six directions, we maintain spinal mobility and release tension in the spine, create room for the lungs and massage the organs in our abdominal cavity.
How to Spine Stretch in Six Directions
Below is a graphic of how I like to do spine stretch in 6 directions, either from a seated or standing position. I like to keep it simple, no yoga pose knowledge or experience is needed.
In stretching the spine, focus on finding length rather than the trying to achieve a deep bend. This will help you gain mobility without putting undue pressure on your lower back. Move to where you are comfortable. Feel free to wiggle a bit to loosen up, but do not forcefully bounce or jerk yourself into a position that is not comfortable. Remember to breathe. Generally, inhale to lengthen and exhale to bend. This is meant to be the beginning of a yoga practice or something you do first thing in the morning when you roll out of bed, so be gentle!
Note: Yoga stick figures are in the style/notation of Eva-Lotta Lamm’s Yoga Notes. I am working my way through her wonderful workbook.