Here are a few simple stretches that will help lengthen your spine and bring you into alignment. You will notice a difference almost immediately. If you do them everyday, you will notice your tension melt away as your energy levels increase. The back is a feedback mechanism for our subconscious emotions. Often times we may not feel stressed but have back tension. Subtle stress can manifest through our nervous system and be held in the back and neck. These stretches can help release that tension allowing you to lead a more pain free and positive life. They are safe and gentle and good for athletes, seniors, and both flexible and inflexible people. No matter what your flexibility, the stretches will help you because we each have a personal edge that can be reached.
Before doing these stretches, I recommend two important things. First, you should take deep breaths through your nose while you stretch. This helps to calm your nervous system, reducing tension and allowing your muscles to let go. Secondly, do not feel like you need to stretch to the point that it hurts. These stretches are meant to be gentle and allow gravity to bring you back into alignment while you bring fresh oxygen to the muscle tissue and allow the connective tissue to un-clench. If you have any injuries or have recently had surgery, are pregnant or have just given birth, please consult with your doctor before trying these poses. Once you are done with these stretches, you will have moved the spine in all directions. Keeping the spine mobile is the secret to having more energy and keeping unnecessary tightness out of the surrounding muscle groups. Remember if you do exercises to strengthen the spine, you are less likely to have a disk slip out of place. Both strengthening and stretching are important in reducing back pain.
You can begin by standing with your feet hip distance apart and swaying your arms from side to side. Gently allow your neck to follow your torso as you turn left and right. This is just a way to warm up the muscles around the spine. You never want to stretch without warming up just a little. Do this for 20-30 seconds and you will start to feel your body temperature increase just a little. Warm muscles stretch easier than cold muscles.
The first pose is called Seated Forward Fold.
Sit on the floor with your legs out in front of you so your toes are pointing back towards your face. Sit with a tall spine and then reach toward your toes. Then allow your spine to curve over. It is ok if you have a slight bend in your legs. This pose is not about how deep you stretch but more about holding it for 1-3 minutes while breathing deeply. The deep breathing will allow your intercostal muscles on your back ribs to relax. This position creates space in between the vertebra in your spine. This helps counteract jarring activities and prolonged sitting and standing which compress the spine. If you feel you are falling backwards, try putting a blanket underneath your hips. You may allow want to place a blanket or pillow on your knees to allow your forehead to rest on. This will allow your neck to relax as you are in this stretch.
The second pose is called Cat-Cow.
This is a common pose in yoga that helps to wake the spine muscles up. Start in a table top position with your shoulders stacked over your wrists and your hips stacked over your knees. As you breathe in, drop your belly button towards the floor and point your tailbone towards the sky. Allow your neck to stay neutral and avoid dropping your head or cranking your neck back. Keep your gaze slightly forward. Slightly bend your elbows and allow your sternum to move forward and up. This is called cow pose. Your back is in a slight arch. As you breathe out you will move into cat pose. Curve your spine up towards the sky creating a hump in your back. The tailbone points down and your shoulder blades move away from each other on your back. This is cat pose. Using your inhales and exhales move slowly between these two stretches to continue to warm up your spine.
The next pose is called Rag Doll.
This is done by standing with your feet hip distance apart and folding forward towards your toes. You can bend your knees as much as you need to get your stomach and upper thighs to connect. Grab onto opposite elbows and sway your torso carefully from one side to the other. Move with your breath. Breath in as you sway to the right and breath out as you sway to the left or visa versa. Hold this pose for no more than 45 seconds as your blood will begin to rush to your head. Stand up slowly so you do not get a head rush. As you stand, stack one vertebra at a time as you roll up. This will help bring your spine into alignment. While you are in rag doll, make sure to let your head hang heavy like a bowling ball so your neck muscles are not tensed.
The next pose is called Gentle Supine Twist.
Lay on your back and hug your right knee into your chest. Pull your knee across your body so you are resting on your left hip. Spread your arms out in a ‘T’ shape to your body. Allow your gaze to fall to the right while your legs are falling to the left. Take a few deep breaths and repeat this on the left side. It is important to do this stretch on the right side first as it stimulates your digestive tract and you want to keep things moving in the right direction. Your ascending colon is on the right and your descending is on the left. Hold each pose for 30 seconds to 1 minute.
If you have a very sensitive back this next pose is safe and easy. Child’s pose is done by kneeling on your shins. Bring your big toes to touch and your knees a comfortable distance apart. Depending on your hip and knee flexibility, for some people you will feel better with your knees touching and for some people you will feel better with your knees wider than your hips. You can then either reach your arms out in front of you placing your forehead on the ground and palms on the ground or you can place your forehead on the ground and allow your arms to come next to you with your palms face up next to your hips. Take a few deep breaths in this pose. It helps align your spine and takes pressure off of your lower back.
The next pose is good for athletes and people that have some flexibility. Stand with your feet 3-4 feet apart and fold forward so your hands come to the ground. You will feel a stretch in the back of your legs. Bring weight into the balls of your feet by moving your hips forward. Any forward fold is calming to your nervous system and helps reduce stress that can be held in the neck and back. Forward folding stretches are helpful to do before going to bed to calm your body and allow you to sleep more soundly. Only stay in this wide legged forward fold for 4-5 breaths as your blood will be rushing to your head. It is very good to get your head below your heart. This is called an inversion. It allows fresh oxygenated blood to flow into your head and improves your cognitive functions. This pose also aids digestion.
Reclined Butterfly Pose
One final stretch that will help bring your back into alignment is called reclined butterfly pose. Begin by sitting up and bring the soles of your feet together. Lie on your back keeping the soles of your feet together. If you like, you can place a blanket underneath your spine and neck to support you. This position helps bring your spine into alignment and allows your hip flexors to release. It is important to stretch the large muscle groups that pull on the back. The largest joints are the shoulders and hips. Stretching your shoulders and hips can greatly reduce chronic back pain.
If you are experiencing back pain, know there are many options that are natural that can usually help without having to have painful surgery. Chronic back pain can often times be cured without surgery through a combination of stretching, strengthening, relaxing, and eating foods that reduce inflammation. These stretches, when done on a regular basis can help counteract the hunching that most of us do throughout the day while driving and sitting at the computer. For more stretches you can look up restorative yoga poses for the spine online. Restorative yoga is also called yin yoga, so you may find some listed under this category. There are many instructional videos on you tube about yin yoga as well as pictures of these poses. Chronic back pain is a mystery to many western doctors but remember the symptoms are often stress related and caused by lack of movement in the spine, and inflammation from processed foods causing the intestines to swell and push on the back. Through these simple gentle stretches you will begin to feel empowered and experience the body’s remarkable ability to self heal. Remember when we skin our knee we do not worry about it healing, the body heals itself. When we hurt our back, let’s practice trusting it will heal, instead of telling yourself you are going to have a lifelong injury. UCLA’s department of psychoneuroimmunology, founded by the late Dr. Norman Cousins, has done remarkable research on the affect of the mind on healing. For more information please visit: http://www.semel.ucla.edu/cousins