Yoga Poses For a Healthy Spine

This post explores some of the ways in which Iyengar yoga can help to improve the health of your spine. It also highlights how yoga can be used as a preventative measure against common problems associated with the spine. Regular yoga practice can help to prevent the pain and stiffness that is often seen as an unavoidable aspect of ageing. Maintaining freedom of movement is a great starting point when considering the health of your spine. The poses presented in this sequence will help to cultivate this mobility whilst also helping to build strength, and boost energy levels.

The spine is a complex structure where bones, ligaments, tendons, muscles, nerves and nerve roots are woven together. It simultaneously performs multiple functions:

  • It provides strength and structure to the body, allowing us to stand upright.
  • It allows flexibility, enabling us to move in a variety of positions.
  • It performs the role of a shock absorber taking in the associated stress that results from this movement.
  • It also serves as a protective mechanism for the vital nerves and nerve roots that pass through it.

It is common to only discover the benefits of yoga once a problem has already arisen with these functions of the spine. Although yoga is effective in treating existing problems, it can be just as effective in preventing them from arising in the first place. The following poses are intended to help improve and optimise the functioning of the spine. They can be easily incorporated into a home yoga practice, and require minimal specialist equipment.

This post accompanies the video Weekly Advanced Class 55, which can be found on yogaselection.com in the weekly classes section. It also compliments the Iyengar Yoga Poses For Lower Back Pain article which can be found in the yogaselection.com blog.

Adho Mukha Virasana (With Chair Support)

Adho mukha virasana

When correctly aligned this version of adho mukha virasana is capable of producing a healthy traction in the shoulder region initially, and the whole spine eventually. The traction comes as a result of your fingers clasping the top of the chair, and your hips moving back and down towards your heels.

  • Come to kneeling with your big toes together and your knees apart. The distance between your knees should be the width of your ribcage.
  • Position the chair in front of you. The front legs of the chair will be roughly a yoga blocks distance from your knees.
  • Place your chin on the edge of the seat of the chair and reach with your hands to take hold of the back frame of the chair.
  • Gradually walk your hands up the frame of the chair. Ideally the hands will come directly to the top of the chair with your index fingers touching.
  • Grip firmly the frame of the chair with the last knuckles of the fingers.
  • Maintaining this grip, draw your pelvis back and down towards your heels.
  • Ensure that your navel sits back towards the spine.
  • Keep your tailbone moving down towards your toes.

Adho Mukha Virasana (with chair Support II)

Adho mukha virasana

Improving your shoulder mobility can be beneficial for you thoracic spice. This variation helps to integrate your upper back and shoulders. In addition to this your lower back simultaneously lengthens and broadens.

  • Push the chair further away from your knees so that you can position the palms of your hands on the cross bar of your chair. If your chair does not have a cross bar then upright yoga blocks can be substituted.
  • Place the index finger knuckle of each hand securely on the cross bar. Have your palms facing down with your fingers spreading.
  • Adjust the chair position so that your pelvis can reach your heels with your arms straight.
  • Press your hands down into the cross bar.
  • Lift your elbows upwards.
  • Broaden your shoulder sockets outwards.
  • Turn your outer armpits downwards.
  • Move your chest forwards.
  • Lengthen the sides of your waist forwards.
  • Keep your thighbones anchored back and down.

Parivrtta Adho Mukha Virasana (With Chair Support)

parsva adho mukha virasana

The previous pose helps to lengthen your spine. Maintaining this length you now add a twisting action.

  • Keeping your legs as they were for the previous pose, slide your left hand across to the right side of the cross bar.
  • Remove your right hand from the chair and place it to the floor beside your right knee.
  • Pressing your left hand down into the cross bar, turn your left chest and left waist towards the floor.
  • As your torso turns keep your left elbow lifting.
  • Resist your left side ribs towards your spine so that you make as straight a line as possible between your left hip and left wrist.
  • Turn your abdomen from the left towards the right.
  • Broaden your right side ribs away from your spine.
  • As a consequence of your spine turning you will find your gaze is directed to the right.

Parsva Adho Mukha Virasana

This pose continues the work from the previous pose. The torso is brought out to the side without the spine making a crescent shape. Seen from above, your spine will ideally make a straight line from the tailbone to the base of your neck. Both sides of your waist will be even in length.

  • Keeping your legs in the same position as the previous pose, push the chair approximately 30° across to the right.
  • Bring both hands back onto the cross bar of the chair.
  • Place your hands on the cross bar with your palms facing down and your fingers spreading.
  • Straighten and lift your elbows. Your triceps muscles will be firm and moving towards the bone.
  • Lengthen the left side of your torso without shortening the right side of your torso.
  • Turn your chest so that it faces directly down at the floor.
  • Keep your back ribs facing directly up at the ceiling.
  • Resist your left side ribs towards your spine.
  • Broaden your right side ribs away from your spine.

Half Uttanasana

half dog pose

Lengthening your hamstrings is one of the best things you can do for your spine. Tight hamstrings are a really common contributing factor to lower back pain. This pose allows you to stretch your hamstrings without putting strain on your back.

  • Place your chair on your mat to ensure that it will not slide out of position.
  • Position your hands on the top frame of the chair. Have your hands shoulder width apart with your fingers spreading.
  • Press firmly down with your hands and straighten your elbows.
  • Step your feet back so that your ankles are positioned directly underneath your hips.
  • Make as straight a line as possible, and as long a line as possible between your hands and your pelvis.
  • Ensure that the region of your spine between your shoulder blades is contained and straight.
  • Grip your kneecaps and lift them up and off your shinbones.
  • Press your heels firmly down into the floor.

Half Uttanasana (hands lower)

ardha uttanasana

This pose develops the previous pose and will challenge students who may be working with a greater range of movement. For stiffer bodies it is often relatively easy to create a stretching sensation in the hamstrings. For more flexible bodies this may not necessarily be the case. Bringing your hands down lower to the seat of the chair should help to focus the emphasis of the pose towards your hamstrings.

  • Bring your palms from the top of the chair to the seat of the chair.
  • Ensure that your hands are still shoulder width apart, with your fingers spreading.
  • Make a straight continuous line from your hands, up through your arms, up through your torso all the way to your hips.
  • Press the soles of your feet evenly down into the floor.
  • Lift your kneecaps and front thighs up.
  • Lengthen from your pubic bone to your navel.
  • Lengthen from your navel to your sternum bone.
  • Move your sternum bone away from your navel.

Sirsasana Preparation

sirsasana preparation

This pose can help the arms and upper back to move independently of one another. In stiffer bodies these areas can feel as if they are fused together. Whilst in the pose as you body weight is supported by your elbows, you may find that the trapezius muscle in your upper back starts to release and soften. In this way the pose is able to release your upper back whilst improving your shoulder mobility.

  • Position your elbows near the edge of the seat of the chair.
  • Ensure that each elbow is close to the edge but secure in its placement.
  • Check that your elbows are shoulder width apart.
  • Bring your palms together to a prayer position with your fingers pointing directly upwards.
  • Initially your forehead can rest on the edge of the chair.
  • Eventually your head can hang down between the upper arms.
  • Start to walk your knees back more directly under your hips.
  • Turn your outer armpits downwards towards the floor.
  • To avoid dipping in your lower back your navel should lift a little towards your spine, and your tailbone should lengthen away from your spine.

Ustrasana (using a chair)

chair ustrasana

In this pose you are concentrating on opening your upper back whilst maintaining length and space through your lower back. The emphasis of the pose will initially be felt at the fronts of your shoulders, but eventually this pose can help to correct poor postural habits in the upper torso, and improve mobility in the thoracic spine.

  • Come to kneeling facing away from your chair.
  • Walk your knees back so that your lower legs come underneath the seat of the chair.
  • At this point you buttocks will lightly touch the edge of the chair.
  • Press your shins firmly down.
  • Keep your hips forwards.
  • Reach back with your hands and catch hold of the frame of the chair. Your thumbs will point downwards towards the floor as you grip the frame.
  • Incrementally start to walk your hands higher up the chair.
  • As your hands walk up the chair, ensure that your side ribs and sternum bone lift upwards.
  • Move the region of your spine between your shoulder blades deep into the body.
  • Allow your navel to soften towards your spine.

Trikonasana

trikonasana

This version of trikonasana can help to correct imbalances in your spine. Priority is given to lengthening your spine straight out to the side, and keeping both sides of the torso even in length.

  • Position a chair out to your right side. Ensure that the back of the chair is facing you, with the top of the chair frame within your reach.
  • Briefly come to your regular trikonasana with your right hand to the floor/ankle/shin.
  • Now bring your right hand to the top of the chair with your palm facing down.
  • Press your hand firmly into the chair and use this action as leverage to improve the length of your right waist.
  • Pressing your right hand down into the chair, lengthen and straighten the line from your right hand to your right hip.
  • Resist your left side ribs towards your spine.
  • Lengthen your right side ribs away from your pelvis.
  • Turn your chest and abdomen upwards towards the ceiling.

Parsvottanasana

parsvottanasana

This version of pasrvottanasana increases your ability to lengthen all sides of your spine evenly. Often in this pose the anterior spine (front) tends to shorten, Whilst the posterior spine (back) lengthens. The front leg side of the spine tends to shorten, whilst the back leg side of the spine lengthens. In this adapted version of the pose you are able to challenge your front leg hamstring whilst keeping your spine straight and supported.

  • Position the chair again out to the right side but rotate the chair so that the front of the chair is facing you.
  • The front legs of the chair will this time be on your mat.
  • Align your right toes level to the front legs of the chair.
  • Place your hands to the top of the chair and fine tune the position of your feet relative to the chair.
  • Ensure that both knees and both elbows are straight.
  • Press the inside of your right foot down, and draw your right thigh crease up and back.
  • Turn your left buttock away from your right buttock.
  • Lengthen your left waist and turn it downwards towards the floor.
  • Turn your abdomen from the left towards the right.
  • Resist your left side ribs towards your spine.
  • Release your right side ribs away from your spine.
  • Turn your front ribs so that they face directly down.
  • Turn your back ribs so that they face directly up.
  • Make the line from left wrist to left hip the same length as the line from right wrist to right hip.

Parsvottanasana (hands lower)

parsvottanasana with chair

This variation is a natural extension of the previous pose. It gives you the opportunity to take the forward bending aspect of the pose further, whilst still using the leverage of the chair to keep your spine straight. If you are practicing with tighter hamstrings it may be best to consolidate the previous version of this pose.

  • Bring your hands off the seat of the chair and grip the frame of the chair with both hands.
  • Start to walk your hands down the frame of the chair.
  • Walk your hands down the frame of the chair without your upper back rounding or your chest collapsing.
  • Grip the frame of the chair firmly, as you would the handle bars of a bike, to straighten and lengthen your spine.
  • Maintain as straight a line as possible from your wrists to your hips.
  • Keep both sides of the torso even in terms of length.

Parivrtta Trikonasana (with chair support)

parivrtta trikonasana

This pose helps to improve the spines range of motion in terms of rotation.

  • Keeping the same foot position that was used for the previous pose, bring the chair to the side of your right leg.
  • Position the front of the chair so that it lightly touches the outside of your right leg.
  • Place your left elbow and forearm onto the seat of the chair with your palm facing down.
  • With your right hand take hold of the top of the chair. Have your right elbow bent and lifting upwards.
  • Look down at the floor and position your head so that your nose is directly above the inside of your right foot.
  • Keeping your head in this position, start to turn your left shoulder downwards and your right shoulder upwards.
  • Keeping your hips level, turn your left buttock away from your right buttock.
  • Lengthen your left waist and turn it downwards towards the floor.
  • Turn your left back ribs away from your spine.
  • Pressing your left forearm down, Move your left shoulder blade deep into the body.
  • Lift your right collar bone upwards.
  • Keeping your head in the centre of the pose, turn your head to look upwards towards the ceiling above.

Paschimottanasana (with chair support)

paschimottanasana

It is common in paschimottanasana for your upper back to round, and for your spine to be uncomfortably pulled back towards the pelvis. This variation of the classical pose uses a chair to maximise your ability to keep your spine straight, and helps you to lengthen the whole of your spine away from your pelvis. Although the person in this image is sitting directly on the floor, it may be necessary to elevate your pelvis by sitting on folded blankets. This addition will help people with tighter hamstrings to feel more comfortable and supported in their lower backs.

  • Sit on the floor with your legs straight out in front of you in dandasana.
  • Position the chair over the top of your legs with the front of the chair facing you.
  • Before bending forwards ensure that you are able to lift and contain your lower back. Sit on as many folded blankets as may be necessary to eliminate rounding or dropping in your lower back.
  • Bend forwards from your hips keeping your spine as straight as possible.
  • Catch hold of the chair frame and walk your hands as high as possible up the frame of the chair. Ideally your hands will come all the way to the top of the chair.
  • Clasp the top of the chair firmly with the tops of your fingers.
  • Incrementally push the chair further away until a sense of traction is felt through your shoulders and the whole length of your spine.
  • Maintaining this firm hand grip on the chair, press your thighbones down towards the floor.
  • Utilise this position to maximise the length at the front of your spine.

Parivrtta Paschimottanasana (With Chair Support)

This pose follows on directly from the previous position but introduces a twisting action.

  • Ensure you are in the paschimottanasana position described in the previous section.
  • Remove your right hand from the top of the chair and place it to the floor beside your right hip.
  • Slide your left hand across to the right hand side of the chair.
  • Pressing your right hand to the floor, and pressing your left hand against the chair frame, turn the left side of your spine towards the chair, and the right side of your spine away from the chair.
  • Keep as straight a line as possible from your left hip socket to your left hand.
  • Broaden your left back waist away from your spine.
  • Turn your navel towards the right waist.
  • Turn your right front ribs away from the centre line of the torso.
  • Your gaze will now have turned to the right, but as a consequence of your spine turning not your neck.

Chair Bharadvajasana

chair bharadvajasana

This chair twist allows you to focus on turning your spine without your hamstrings being challenged. This can be a great position for allowing your spine to release tension. The placement of your hands can also bring a shoulder opening element to the twist.

  • Sit through the chair (the opposite direction to how you would normally sit). If you do not have a specific yoga chair you can sit straddling the back rest of a regular chair.
  • Place your left forearm on the top of the chair frame.
  • Reach behind your back with your right hand and grip the part of the chair directly behind your tailbone.
  • Your fingers will hook underneath the seat of the chair.
  • Roll your right shoulder back, and tuck your right shoulder blade in, and turn your head to look over your right shoulder.
  • To come further into the twist, start to walk your right hand further around the seat of the chair. Eventually it may reach all the way to the left side of the chair.
  • Assess whether you are able to come further with the twist.
  • If so, walk your right hand up the frame of the chair. Ensure that your thumb points upwards as the hand comes higher.
  • Press your left heel firmly to the floor.
  • Draw your left thighbone back into your hip socket.
  • Lift your left waist as it turns.
  • Spread your left back ribs away from your spine.
  • lift the left side of your chest up as it turns.
  • Move your trapezius down, and lift the back of your skull up as you turn.

Savasana

savasana

This version of savasana uses two blocks placed directly under the shoulder blade region of the upper back. It supports the ribs and upper back, and has a gentle, corrective effect on any imbalances that may be present in this area.

  • Lay two blocks down on your mat beside one another. The blocks are placed flat to the floor with the long edges of the blocks parallel to one another. Ensure that there is a gap between the blocks of approximately 5cm (2 inches). This gap should be sufficient for the outside edges of the blocks to sit level with your side ribs as you lie back over the blocks.
  • Have ready a relatively high head support. Most people will need at least two folded blankets. The head support should be higher than the blocks.
  • Lie yourself back over the blocks carefully, ensuring that your spine sits evenly in the gap between the blocks.
  • Each shoulder blade should sit evenly on top of each block.
  • The blocks should not come too low down your back. Ideally they will sit just underneath your shoulder blades.
  • The other end of the blocks will come roughly level to the tops of your shoulders.
  • Lay your arms comfortably out by your sides, with your palms facing upwards.
  • Arrange your legs straight out on the floor with your feet hip width apart.
  • Shut your eyes, and allow your whole body to release and relax.

Conclusion

This post highlights ways in which Iyengar yoga can improve the health of your spine. In addition to the therapeutic benefits that it can offer to existing injuries, Iyengar yoga can play an important role in preventing future injuries. Regular practice of Iyengar yoga poses such as the ones described in this article can help to improve the strength and flexibility of your spine. This can positively contribute towards improved overall health and wellbeing.

Learn Iyengar yoga online with expert guidance.

 

Stream unlimited Yoga Selection classes and build a home practice that gets results.

Try it free for 14 days. Cancel anytime.

 

Submit a Comment

Flexible membership options. Unlimited learning.

Our two membership options offer incredible value for money. For less than the cost of a single studio class per month, you get access to everything you need to get your home yoga practice up and running. Joining is easy and you can cancel at any time.

 

Select a yoga plan for your 14 day free trial!

ANNUAL

AUD $120 / year

***BEST VALUE***

 
Discount of AUD $24.00

First two weeks free

Unlimited learning from all classes and courses

Unlimited yoga sequence downloads

New content added weekly

Watch on your computer, phone or tablet

Personalised support available

Cancel any time

Select

MONTHLY

AUD $12 / month

***

First two weeks free

Unlimited learning from all classes and courses

Unlimited yoga sequence downloads

New content added weekly

Watch on your computer, phone or tablet

Personalised support available

Cancel any time

Select

Follow us on Instagram and Facebook

Join our community on Instagram and Facebook for the latest news, inspiration and expert guidance.

Subscribe to the Yoga Selection newsletter

Each week, we’ll send you new sequences, articles, special offers and more, direct to your inbox.