Nov 2011

Greetings yoga friends -

If I am more flexible, I'm less likely to suffer from back pain. Right? Sounds like the motivation that brings lots of people to try yoga midlife.

Well, current research suggests the reality might be more nuanced. My colleague Brad Farra shared this video of one of his mentors, Dr Stuart McGill. He's up in Canada, with that cool accent to boot, so he must be smart.

Now, of course you can't dumb this stuff down too much. So I will.

Hips, Legs & Shoulder flexibility - good
Spine flexibility - hmmm, well, let's talk. 

Really we want a pliant stability for the spine. Neither locked nor overly mobile.

The spine does best when it finds it's natural curves, rising like the yogic image of the Kundalini snake. Forward toward the navel, back away from the heart, forward toward the throat. From the root chakra to the base of the skull, they create a functional spring to absorb the stresses of life. In our culture, we have a couple chronic bad actors who tend to flatten those curves. That would be Couch Potato flattening the low back, and Forward Head flattening the neck.

That's where the Hips, Shoulders etc come riding to the rescue. A good range of motion through our ancillary joints enables us to more easily preserve those curves through the spine. Think sitting. If you are flexible through hamstrings, you are less pulled into sitting back into your pelvis and that Couch Potato. Think reaching with the arms. If you have full movement of the shoulders, you are less twisting and arching your spine to reach for that remote. (Even better, put the remote down, get outside and play, no-one needs to get hurt...)

Flexibility through hips and shoulders. Stability through spine and core. 

What does this mean for yoga poses? 

I have been finding myself, in the last few months, returning again and again to this phrase in my yoga teaching. Once we Gain the Freedom of the Hips, we will Liberate the Spine. I am reflecting that this liberation is not so much about pushing toward more extreme twists or backbends - or at least not for my own stage of healing six months out from a spinal injury. Perhaps this liberation is a more subtle energetic movement, ascending through the central channel of the body, that line of chakras which encompass the spine and yet are more than the bony vertebra or nervous cord alone. The success of our asana practice is to keep that option open, not just in the poses on the mat, but in our movement and sitting throughout the day.

Namaste - Eugene