Yoga Benefit #4: Yoga Keeps the Spine Strong

by Tari Prinster. Excerpt from ‘Yoga for Cancer: A Guide to Managing Side Effects, Boosting Immunity, and Improving Recovery for Cancer Survivors’.  Pre-Order at Amazon.

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My spine was the reason I ‘found’ yoga. And the primary driver was vanity. About 15 years ago, I worried about developing the curve associated with age – like my mother had developed – and heard that yoga was good at preventing.  And it worked. Also I witnessed and learned that having correct spine posture goes beyond vanity; it keeps me healthy day in and day out. It ensures all my systems are functioning properly. Its vital to be being young as well as looking young.

Here’s why: Posture is the position in which we stack the bones of the spine (vertebrae) and use muscles to keep them in place. When we properly align the body, the spine takes on a beautiful, natural ‘S’ curve. When we let the body slump, we change the spine’s shape and restrict body systems like digestion, respiratory and cardiovascular, causing us to look and feel unhealthy. Bad posture limits and crowds the space necessary for lungs, stomach, intestines, and even the heart to function. We need oxygen to feed our cells, and we need our gastrointestinal system to be unrestricted so it can remove potential carcinogens from foods we have consumed. With good posture, adequate space exists for all the organs to work together. And in this way, good posture aids detoxification.

Yoga teaches us to align the bones of our spine to create good posture in every pose and movement. We also learn to use the breath to make the spine strong as well as the rest of the musculoskeletal system. The first step, however, is to take an honest look at your posture, like I did. This will help you determine what your ‘S’ curve is.*

In the y4c method, we seek to create proper alignment and good posture. We refine the techniques of movement through five natural and healthy directions in which to move the whole spine and keep it strong. They are: lengthening upward and downward, bending forward, bending backward, bending sideways, and twisting around the spinal column.

A recent Norwegian study confirms the benefits of yoga on vertebral fractures and osteoporosis. But the research warns that too aggressive a practice could be harmful, leading to compression of the spine. The study recommended “mild spinal flexion and extension” and “moderate weight-bearing.” This is why y4c methodology focuses on supported poses and deliberate alignment to ensure that the spine is not put under too much stress. For example, we encourage a Supported Forward Bend with blocks in order to protect lower vertebrae while enabling a student to gain the benefits of a forward bend.

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Finally, developing back strength for correct posture is essential for breast cancer survivors after axillary node surgeries (which I had) or breast reconstruction surgery (which I passed up). These procedures leave women (and some men) with significant scar tissue, reducing strength on both sides of the torso. Women who have undergone reconstructive surgery can face months of rehabilitation, pain and restricted movement. After my surgeries, my arm movement was restricted and I regained range of motion and strength with my yoga practice. Because breast cancer is the most newly diagnosed cancer in women at 29% of all cancer incidence, a yoga practice should look to improve flexibility, regain range of motion and reduce scar tissue for the upper body. Without careful focus on and consistent maintenance of abdominal and back muscles, the spine can become compromised, thus impacting other functions such as balance, breathing capacity, circulation of blood and lymph fluid, and proper digestion.

Sources:

  • American Cancer Society, ©2012 Surveillance Research
  • E.N. Smith and A. Boser. “Yoga, Vertebral Fractures, and Osteoporosis: Research and Recommendations.” International Journal of Yoga Therapy 23 (2013):17–23. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/24016820