Is Your Spine Happy? 5 Ways To Move Your Spine, Right At Your Desk.
How does your spine feel right now, in this moment? Does your spine feel tall and easeful? Are you holding your head high and breathing well? Or maybe you're a bit slouched or feel tension in your neck and shoulders?
If your spine feels less than optimal, know that you're not alone. Back pain runs rampant, especially at the office. The good news is that with a little bit of knowledge about how your spine moves, you can empower yourself to improve the health of your spine.
The first step to improving your spine health is simply pausing to observe how you feel. If you've made it this far into the post, you've already completed step one. Congrats!
Step two is understanding a few basic anatomical principles of how your spine moves. Your spine has 5 basic directions of mobility: flexion, extension, lateral flexion/extension, rotation, and axial extension/compression. Here's a quick breakdown of each:
Flexion When you flex your spine, you round your back forward like a cat. Most of us spend a lot of time in spinal flexion while we sit or drive. Flexion is not inherently bad, but too much creates poor postural, weak back muscles, and fatigue. Problems like tech neck, poor breathing habits, and disk herniations are often a result of too much flexion.
Extension When you extend your spine, you arch your back backwards. If you're sitting in a chair, a great way to achieve spinal extension is to place your hands behind your head, lean back into your chair, and look up at the ceiling. Most of us need more spinal extension in our lives. It strengthens the back muscles, energizes the mind, and opens up the chest and shoulders.
Lateral Flexion + Extension When you move your spine laterally, you lean from side to side to stretch the sides of your waist. When you lean to your right, your right is flexing laterally and your left side is extending laterally. The opposite happens when you go the other way. Lateral movements open up the sides of your lungs and lengthen the torso. They usually feel surprisingly lovely because we do them so infrequently. Folks report feeling like they can breathe better and sit taller.
Rotation When you rotate your spine, you simply twist to the left and then to the right. Many of us habitually twist one way more than the other and it's common to feel tighter on one size verses the other. Twisting can improve digestion and reduces tension along the whole spine. The neck and upper back have more capacity to twist than the lower back, so it's important to twist mindfully from the shoulders while keeping a tall spine, which leads us to our last range of motion ... axial extension.
Axial Extension + Compression When you hear the phrase "lengthen your spine" or "lift the crown of your head", this is axial extension in the making. Imagine your spine like a big coiled spring. When you create axial compression, you're making that spring more compact. When you create axial extension, you're expanding or lengthening that spring upwards. Most of us need more axial extension, which can be tricky to actually feel in the body. Mindful movement is an excellent tool to build your capacity to feel axial extension.
Now that you understand the five key directions of spinal mobility, let's put them into practice. Every class we teach here at Unfold begins with some variation of what we call The Happy Spine Sequence. Its lovingly named the Happy Spine Sequence because when your spine moves in all of its ranges of motion - it's happy!
There are endless combinations and opportunities for creative sequencing using spinal mobility principles. Poses can can be held statically or linked dynamically with the breath. You can combine different ranges for motion together for a full body experience, or focus on one specific segment of the spine. You can layer in standing yoga poses to highlight specific sensations, or keep it really simply just sitting in your chair. However you choose to move, the most important thing is to start - and we'er here to help.
We've created a totally free 10-Minute Tune-Up: Happy Spine, that shows you three different ways to to practice The Happy Spine Sequence (video above). Keep in mind this is only the tip of the iceberg when it comes to spinal health, but a little goes a long way. You'll be surprised what a big difference a quick 10-minute practice makes.
If you enjoyed this class, please subscribe to our newsletter to receive weekly 10-Minute Tune-Ups and wellbeing inspiration. These classes are quick office-friendly chair yoga and meditation breaks to get you moving, breathing, and de-stressed - no change of clothing or equipment needed. Happy moving. :)
Katie Rowe Mitchell