I celebrate a birthday this month. One of the big ones, as they say. Quite frankly, I don’t mind telling you that when I was young and foolish, I never intentionally planned to live beyond 29 (another story, another time!). Now that I am older and hopefully wiser, 40 is looking – and feeling – pretty damn good!
In yogic philosophy, our age isn’t contingent on the amount of years we’ve gathered but rather, our age is determined by the health and flexibility of our spine. A thorough yoga practice, whether done in a class or sequenced on your own at home should take the spine in all six directions: folding forward, bending backward, moving laterally to the right and left, and rotating or twisting to the right and left. These six simple movements are like giving your spine a shot of WD-40.
Our spines tend to compress after about 20 minutes of sitting. The next time you get in your car after a long, stressful day at work, see if you don’t find yourself adjusting your rearview mirror. Have you shrunk? Yes, in fact you have! We do indeed get shorter as the day goes by. Having said that, if you find yourself in a chair most of the day it’s of utmost importance to make time to move your spine!
Wherever you are right now reading this, pause and take a deep breath in. Notice how your spine grows tall out of your pelvis; observe how the side ribs lift away from the hipbones. See if you can breathe in to your back ribs. Often the thoracic spine gets ‘stuck’ to the ribs. This is one of the first places in our spine to loose movement, elasticity and fluidity. With every breath we take we have an opportunity to lube our spines.
Here’s a simple 3-minute sequence you can do while you’re sitting at work, in the car (if you’re the passenger) or at a tediously long graduation ceremony:
- Sit tall with your hands on your knees, breathe deeply into your lungs slightly arching your back taking your chest and belly forward; exhale while rounding your back, rolling your shoulders forward and bringing your chin to your chest. There you go; a forward and backward bend! Do these moves a couple more times.
- Next, inhale and sit up tall with your right hand on the right edge of your chair and left hand on your left leg. Exhale and fold your torso to the right, being mindful not to schlump or drop in a heap to the right. Inhale and sit upright, exhale and fold your torso to the left. You can keep your hands down, or lift the arm of the side you’re stretching over your head. Nice lateral movement!! Your spine wants you to do this a couple more times as well.
- Ok, we’ve just completed 4 out of 6 moves towards keeping a healthy and youthful spine. Come back to sitting up straight and tall as you breathe in. As you breathe out, turn your torso to the right bringing your right hand to the back of your chair and your left hand to the outside of your right thigh. Always inhale to untwist; so breathe in and bring yourself back to center. Exhale and turn your torso to the left taking the left hand behind you and the right hand to the left leg. No schlumping! Continue to lift your upper body tall even as you turn from side to side. You’re spine is juicy with gratitude right now. Just imagine how good you’d feel if you moved the rest of your body too!!
I frequently hear from students who lament that they wish they’d discovered yoga when they were in their 20’s. Not to worry! One can begin a yoga practice at any age. I have read that the Queen of Belgium began doing headstands when she was 86. Whether you’re practicing headstands or simple lateral bends, keep moving that spine. Motion is lotion!!
Lisa Bracken owns and teaches at The Yoga Barn at The Canebrake (www.TheCanebrake.com) as well as at NSU in Tahlequah. She encourages all to pause for the 3-minute ‘spinal quick lube’ everyday.