A Healthy Spine For Life: The Tadasana Principle
When my Grandpa was ninety years old we had a birthday party for him. Most of his friends — others his age — had passed away, save one woman. She arrived, white hair perfectly set, wearing a lovely blouse and clean, crisp trousers… and bent nearly in half at the waist. She stooped so badly that her upper half faced the ground. Miraculously she walked, but leaned heavily on a cane and the arm of her caregiver to do so.
My mother gasped audibly, choked back a sob, then clutched at her husband and began to cry. Whether in sympathy, or fear for her own health, I’ll never know. But the experience left an indelible mark on me as a young woman. This is somewhere I never want to go.
Health in any longevity requires awareness and dedication. Entropy will always win; we cannot get younger as we pass years on Earth, but we can slow the process of aging, or at least age more gracefully.
At the core of the body, elemental in its importance, is the spine. If we understand it, and actively work to keep it healthy we will have freedom into old age, with the power and dignity to stand up straight.
Curvy is Correct
When you stand up straight your spine has natural curves. The low back (lumbar spine) and neck (cervical spine) curve forward toward the front of your body in what is called lordosis. The middle/upper back (thoracic spine) and pelvic area (sacrum) curves towards the posterior in what’s called kyphosis.
Gone are the days of the 80’s when the aerobics and jazzercise craze taught to flatten the back to the floor when doing abdominal work. (When doing crunches, your back may flatten towards the floor as you curl your head and shoulders off the ground, but you aren’t trying to flatten it.)
You aren’t trying to create curves that aren’t there. Instead, you want to maintain the optimal blueprint of curves you already have. You need these curves to support your intervertebral discs, your spinal column and your nerves. Curvy protects you from a slipped or herniated disc and also reduces pain, specifically around your low back.
Try finding your optimal blueprint with the help of a wall (or the floor) so you feel what a neutral, curvy spine feels like. This is Tadasana, or Mountain pose in yoga, an it’s an ideal posture for standing.
- Stand with your back against a wall. Your heels will not be touching the wall, but your bum should be.
- Broaden your chest and roll your shoulders back until they touch the wall.
- Lift your chin a little and lean your head back to the wall, or as close to it as possible.
- Note: If your head and shoulders don’t easily make it to the wall, do this lying on the ground. (Just make sure to keep your legs parallel and active, as if you were standing.)
- Notice how your low back and neck are not against the wall; they shouldn’t be, so don’t flatten them!
- Now, step away from the wall and see if you can maintain this optimal alignment.
The Tadasana Principle
Once you learn the curvy, correct blueprint for your spine (and it may take some dedicated stretching and deeper transformation to get there) carry it into everything you do. I call this the Tadasana Principle.
Whether you’re brushing your teeth or practicing Virabhadrasana 2, do what you can to keep the curves in your spine, your shoulders rolled back and your heart open.
Keep It Safe In Forward Folds
Practicing the Tadasana Principle while standing is relatively straightforward, and is the foundation for a safe and healthy spine. It gets more complicated in other positions, for instance folding forward. Next week we’ll cover that position, specifically to learn how to forward bend and protect the low back. Check back in a week for part two!