Spinal Flexion and Extension

Spinal Flexion and Extension

Spinal Flexion and Extension 

Special placement of the body cannot be the determining factor of flexion or extension when it comes to the back. One must have an understanding of the basic structure of the spine as well as physical limitations.

In the womb we have but one curve, our primary curve which is still present in the thoracic spine. Then as a baby, we began to lift our head and form the lordotic cervical curve. As we began to get stronger and prepare for walking the lordotic lumbar curve was formed which is what enables us to walk upright on two feet.

So the special placement of the body cannot be the only determining factor as to whether you are in spinal extension or spinal flexion. The restrictions are mostly muscular and with time they can open up and go further into a backbend. Occasionally they present with a pretty severe case of Kyphosis and they will never be able to safely go into a backbend. This is the result of poor posture and too much rounding of the back. The muscular tension and pull on the spine over time creates a shift in the structure of the spinal column and care must be taken to educate and modify. Further practicing of spinal flexion should be avoided and support offered when doing asanas while lying on the back.

In a forward fold, one can maintain spinal extension simply by hinging at the hips and maintaining the natural lordotic curves of the neck and low back to avoid increasing the kyphotic curve of the upper back. Keeping your gaze forward to the wall will also prevent from rounding the back, as each of the effects of the primary and secondary curve the other.  The idea is not to round the back but to flex the hips and lengthen the hamstrings.  It may mean your head is not going to be as close to the floor, but as that is not the intended action and function of the asana, who cares.

As you maintain the curve in the neck, the low back maintains a neutral lordotic positioning, if you exaggerate the primary arch of the mid-back the secondary curves of the neck and low back shorten and the tail bone tucks under. This is important to recognize in their practice and additional modifications and supports may need to be utilized.

Knowing the intention and the action as well as being mindful and watchful of limitation, there are so many different variations to help receive the benefits of the asana without actually having to express it by the book.  Bringing in props such as balls, straps, chairs, block, and even the wall can help create the action of the asana to allow for a safe progression.  It also builds confidence to have other options as opposed to standing there avoiding the pose altogether.

Art of Compassionate Touch

Touch!  I call this The Art of Compassionate Touch. The confident guided touch of a yoga educator has more than just a temporary effect in the practitioner's body.  It is often associated with what I like to call this “Aha moment”.  I am then able to process and understand the action of the asana as well as what is taking place in my body while in the asana with a deeper awareness.

I am a practitioner of Integrative Therapeutic Stretching; love to use it while I practice.  It is a fantastic way to help find the extended extension, the deeper twist.  This allows for a greater release in the asanas and greater ease.  I am not a fan of forced adjustments.  The intention of my touch is not to move your body into what I think looks right but to help become aware and hopefully understand the dynamics of the asana in Action with regards to the dynamics of their body.  To free themselves up to begin to explore the asana further safely and effectively for their body.

Each time I do an asana, I must fall back on the lessons of the previous practices, being mindful not to repeat any action that does not work for my body.  If I felt the echoes of a previous practice I need to be mindful and learn from the pain or discomfort I created.  Your practice is essentially a trial and error process where you see what works for you today based on what did not work for you yesterday or because of what worked for you yesterday.  This then becomes “wise action” and you will find the effort decreases as you begin to move the body in the correct direction.

I used to be hung up on the correct form. I was so convinced because it worked in my body and I had been taught that, so yes it must be the correct way. It is so important to get in touch with our bodies beyond the repetitive linear movement of our chosen sport.
Why then do some instructors feel the need to control?  A Lack of knowledge, awareness, and understanding of what yoga is.

“When wise action comes, you no longer feel the effort as effort – you feel the effort as joy.”

SHIVA

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