This tutorial was previously published on March 21, 2016.
Joseph Pilates would say, “You are only as old as your spine is flexible.” Having full movement through all the vertebrae is necessary to achieve moves not only as a dancer or yogi, but as a healthy mobile being in the world. Practicing exercises that elongate and articulate the spine both increases our range of motion and strengthens the stabilizing muscles that help prevent injury.
Our spines are our bodies’ support system. If one section of the support system is not fully mobile, we are not only limited in our movement, but the imbalance causes damage to our bodies as we compensate in other sections of the spine. We must not forget that spinal flexibility is just as important as core strength in keeping the body free from injury and ailments.
Here are 4 spinal articulation exercises you can do at home to increase your back flexibility and strength.
1. Bridge pose– The most basic of the exercises to bring awareness to the spine. The head and feet are supported at all times so that you can focus on pelvic stability and ab control as you roll down one vertebrae at a time. Squeeze your gluteus to get your hips up, being careful not to arch the back for more height. Once your hips are up, roll down slow and controlled starting from your upper back to your lower back, making sure all parts of your spine touch the floor by the end. Breathe naturally.
2. Roll Up– Squeeze your inner thighs together as you lie down with your arms over your head. It’s really important here that your lower back is not arching off the ground so engage your abs to pull it down. You may also lift your arms to ear level to help prevent back arching. Inhale as you roll up using your abs and reach for your toes. You will get a nice stretch in the back of the legs here. The back stays rounded the entire time you roll up and the shoulders pulled down away from your ears. Exhale as you roll down one vertebra at a time, pulling the shoulder blades down your back and lengthening long on the mat back to the beginning.
3. Roll Over– This is an advanced exercise and should not be performed if you have any neck injuries. Start sitting upright with your legs together. Roll back with your legs going over your head but keep them parallel to the ground. Flex and separate the feet about hip distance apart and start rolling down one vertebrae at a time, making sure both sides of your torso are equal in length. The key here is to keep the legs as close to your face as possible. Once your tailbone hits the floor, lower your legs to 45 degrees, squeeze your inner thighs back together and start over. After 3 of these, reverse your legs and bring them over your head flexed and separated before squeezing them together as you roll down. For an added stretch, you can grab your legs at the roll down and pull them in towards your face as you lower the back down. It’s a hamstring stretch, ab workout and spinal massage all in one!
4. Neck Pull– Another advanced exercise that requires a lot of control and abdominal strength. Lie down with your legs hip distance apart, feet flexed and the inner thighs engaged so the knees face the sky. With one hand on top of the other behind your head, inhale bringing your chin to your chest. Scoop the abs in and exhale as you curl all the way up trying to get your head in between your upper inner thighs. Imagine there is a wall behind your back. Inhale as you roll up one vertebrae at a time, stacking your spine up tall against the imaginary wall. Dig your heels into the mat as you hinge back as far as you can with a flat back. From there, start rolling down as slow as possible one vertebrae at a time starting from your lower back all the way up to your neck. If you do not have enough ab strength in the beginning, you can do this with your arms extended out in front of you and work up to having the hands behind the head. You can also practice this with someone or something holding your feet down.
If we’re as old as our spines are flexible, let’s do these exercises and turn back the hands of time! 🙂
Also by Crystal: 4 Body Sculpting Foam Roller Exercises
More back exercises: Yoga for Opening the Back
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Video: Crystal Chin