Don’t go to Thoracic Park!
Since I travel to teach, I’m out there in your classrooms and studios a lot, and I see some common areas of misalignment that we could all do with addressing, before our spines fly out of our bodies like sticks paying “fetch.”
Thankfully, we have the study of anatomy to tell us how the body moves more effectively, and just as importantly, how it doesn’t, so no matter what style of yoga you study, you can use the following tools to increase the safety and benefits of your poses.
Now, back bends are like black licorice–mostly people either love them or hate them. These poses might be deliciously easy for you because you have a flexible lower back, or they are the bane of your existence for one of many reasons: tight quads or psoas, a lumbar spine with limited range of motion, arm weakness or something else.
Whether you could audition for Cirque du Soleil, or if you, like me, have a lumbar curve that more closely resembles a telephone pole, you can approach the heart-opening poses like Up Dog, Camel, Dancer’s Pose, Rockstar Pose, Bound-Ankle, Half-Moon, Bridge, Wheel, and others, from a more mindfully core-connected root.
This will make your poses more stable and also bring a healthier length and support to your lumbar arch. As you’re transitioning into your back bends (not once you’re already in full expression–it’s too late to fully re-align then), do the following five steps, in order, and no matter how high or low your poses have to be to accommodate your needs, you’ll be rocking them from the inside out:
1. Ground down into your foundation: Whatever’s on the floor, align it and press it down strongly.
2. Pull your top, front pelvic crests into the body and upward, as if to touch the inside of your ribs: This is the beginning of your Iliopsoas activation & will lengthen your tailbone and lower back.
3. Draw your front low back spine into the body and up: This action completes the activation of the Psoas, which shores up your spine from the front so the lumbar doesn’t over-curve and compress.
4. Keep your ribs drawing toward your spine, not jutting forward: Otherwise, you’re not doing a back-bend, you’re doing a “front-jut,” or as I call it, “going to thoracic park,” a trip which can wreak havoc on your spine, shearing pressure into your low and mid back.
5. Slide the skull back and up naturally in line with the inner body curve you created, as if you have a palm on the neck and back of your head and you’re pressing into it as it lifts your head longer: Send all the length and energy of your containment out the top of your head, not jutting the face forward nor throwing your head back and crushing the back of your neck.
Your back bends should move from root to crown through the inner body, not out in front of you. Move inside to go deeper and you’ll be amazed at how much farther you can get into these postures without pain.
Editor: Kate Bartolotta