To maintain our mobility, flexibility and strength we need to use the full range of movement of our spine. Yogasana practice - or physical yoga postures - gives us the opportunity to use 5 different movements (flexion, extension, rotation, lateral flexion and axial extension) of the spine, which increases fluidity of movement from our widely sedentary lifestyles. A flexible and strong spine is a healthy spine.
Asana is designed to move energy. By moving energy there is also blood flow, and where there is increased blood flow to the spine (or any part of the body) there is nourishment of fresh oxygen and removal of waste. During most asana (yoga postures) we are looking for length in the spine. If that length cannot be obtained then we need to locate the cause of the problem in order to remedy the poor alignment. For example, tight hamstrings in Uttanasana affect your lumbar spine by altering the tilt of your pelvis to move backwards (flexion), so instead of folding from the pelvis you would be incorrectly folding from the lumbar spine. To take the pressure off the ligaments and disks of the lumbar spine you would need to stretch the hamstrings. This is helping to raise awareness of spine health and alignment. Yoga works not only the spine for increased mobility, strength and flexibility, but also the surrounding muscles that can affect the health and alignment of the spine. It is almost like scanning over the whole body and sweeping out the rubbish.
Asana that strengthens the core is also commonly known to be beneficial to spinal health as it is providing extra support and stability.
Symptoms of Temporomandibular Joint (TMJ) dysfunction can be alleviated through some asana that stretch and relax the muscles in the neck (cervical spine) and jaw that hold tension and contribute to this condition.
The effects of osteoporosis can be slowed by asana that is weight bearing on the vertebrae.
Scoliosis can be somewhat corrected by stretching the side of the spine that is curving in on itself and strengthening the side of the spine that has been lengthened by the condition.
A student with thoracic hyperkyphosis (hump back) can ease their condition with asana that stretch the core and strengthen the spine and hamstrings. Whereas a student with hyperlordosis (sway back) can use asana that strengthen the core and stretch the spine to correct the alignment of the spine.
Mula bandha (root lock) engages the muscles fibres and fascia (connective tissue) of the pelvic floor to protect the lumbar spine during asana by stabilising the pelvis for any movements. It is also a means for channeling energy from the Muladhara (root) chakra and is designed to comb out brahma granthi (an energetic knot). Uddiyana bandha (flying lock) draws the navel towards the spine to protect the lumbar spine throughout the practice and give lightness to your movements by lengthening the torso and stabilising the spine. Jalandhara bandha (throat lock) allows the cervical spine to be long and protected throughout asana. Constant use of these bandha muscles would also increase their strength and blood flow to the area to encourage spinal health.
By Alyssa McLeod
The Daily Bandha: How Tight Hamstrings Affect Your Lumbar Spine. 2016. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.dailybandha.com/2011/01/tight-hamstrings-can-affect-your-lumbar.html. [Accessed 31 August 2016].
Moksha Academy of Yoga, 2014, Muscles of the Trunk, Spinal Column & Spinal Injury p.1-20