How to look after your spine

Why bother with breath?

You are breathing, so what is there to bother about?

Perhaps it’s not that straightforward.

Why look after your spine?

Why is good posture important?

What about the food you eat?

Fuel for your body or more than that?

Anne is a yoga teacher, teaching across a wide range of styles; from ashtanga yoga to stretch and tone for the older and less-mobile and has designed specialist sessions for MS sufferers.

She is also a Sports Massage therapist and Reflexologist.

Each month Anne will look at different aspects of our bodily wellbeing

If I have a hobbyhorse and it’s about a part of our body that we tend to take for granted, yet we have so much to gain, by considering it ever day.

I am sitting at the computer as I write this. Most of us sit at a computer at some point in our day, either for work, pleasure or both. How often though, do you think about how you are sitting, and the effect it has on the body, specifically your spine? Probably not at all, or at least, not consciously. You may still find yourself trying to stretch though in order to relieve some of the stiffness that often accumulates, when you sit too long at a computer.

As it says in my introduction, I am a yoga teacher and a massage therapist. In both, one of the things that I find myself coming back to, time and time again, is how we misuse our spine.

In the course of a lifetime, we spend a significant amount of time hunched over computers and steering wheels or doing other things that result in the head and shoulders dropping forward and the chest caving in, resulting in a rounding in the upper back. It does not show quite often until we are in our 50’s by which time we think of it as being just something that inevitably happens when you get to that age. It does not just impact on the spine and the muscles in the back. We compress the chest and so we do not breathe freely, therefore the blood is poorly oxygenated and we develop all sorts of health problems. In fact poor posture can affect all the systems of the body adversely.

Yoga has at its centre, maintaining the health and integrity of the spine. It can help at any age; it is rarely too late. Even now, older people with whom I work have told me that they are benefiting from being more aware of how they hold themselves. Yoga teaches you how to decrease the roundness in the back by learning how to open up the front of the body. It teaches you how to sit or stand without slouching. Quite often this can feel very strange at first and difficult to hold but good habits can become habitual in the same way bad ones do, given enough time and practice.

As you are reading this, think about how you are sitting. Now slouch forward as much as you can and see what affect that has on the breath. You are closing down the front of the body, making it more difficult to breathe, making it more difficult for the blood to circulate in the area of the organs and the lymphatic system to move waste products from that area. Not a great way to treat your body.

Now move the other way and experience how that feels. Encourage the chest to move forward and tilt it up slightly, think Flavia from Strictly Come Dancing. Push the shoulders back until you can feel your shoulder blades coming together and then take a couple of big breaths in and out through the nose. It doesn’t take a heart and chest specialist to work out which is better for you.

At work, if you are employee, you should have received a workstation assessment to check out that you are sitting in the best position for the body. If you are self-employed you can easily go onto the Health and Safety Executive website which gives you information on the height of your chair relative to your desk and your monitor and other useful information, to help with posture.

However it is not just when we are at work we need to think about our posture, it should be of interest to us at every moment of the day. It is very easy to slouch in the area of the lower back and pelvis. To give you a good idea of how to sit properly, use a straight back chair, preferably without padding and sit. We should be sitting on our sitting bones, shoulders relaxed away from the ears and rolling back, hips into the back of the chair but the rest of the back should not be leaning into the chair back. Feet are hip width apart and under the knees. Rest your hands on your legs and close your eyes and breathe through your nose. Focus on extending from the sitting bones right up to the top of your head. As you sit here, concentrate on pushing your shoulder blades back and then down into the back ribs. Be aware of how it opens up the chest and the front of the body.

If you like this feeling and want to take it further, do your spine a favour and find yourself a yoga class. If you keep your spine healthy you can help to reverse the ageing process and allow yourself to feel fit into old age. I am working very hard at it as we speak!

Namaste

Anne x

 

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