During my time as a structural engineer, I analyzed dozens of "failures" -- basically, stuff falling apart -- buildings, bridges, towers, etc. And whether a failure was caused by old age, a construction error, or a design flaw, I repeatedly observed that failures were most often at a joint or intersection. Rarely did we determine that a beam itself wasn't strong enough, but rather, it was a connection at the ends of the beam or column that failed. I think this is true in our bodies -- our knees, low backs, necks, wrists, etc -- these are all intersections in our bodies. For example, chronic pain in our backs typically isn't because the bone themselves are weak or stressed, but it's in the spaces between our vertebrae where we run into problems like pinching, instability, and tightness.
The spine, in particular, has a mix of types of connections. For example, our low back and sacrum are made up of thicker, wider vertebrae and in this region, the spine has limited mobility in order to provide the sturdiness we need to support our torso, maintain being upright on our feet, and connect the movements of the upper and lower body. To complement that, our neck, which is made up of tinier, more delicate bones, may not be as sturdy, but its finer structure allows us to have more mobility to move the head to see around us. In optimal movement patterns, we have a healthy balance between mobility and strength. And because the body is literally connected from head to toe, freeing up the places we are tight and building strength in the places we are weak can help uncover that harmonious balance along the entire spine.
In yoga, what can we do to cultivate health at these connections, the joints, and the intersections? In my upcoming Back Health workshop, "Baby Got Back (Health) with Nina", we will spend a fun and informative afternoon:
- Learning about optimal movement patterns in our hips, neck, shoulders and low back in and out of yoga postures
- Practicing a progression of poses that allows for any student to practice healthy backbends, twists, and forward folds to cultivate spine suppleness
- Uncovering habits in our own yoga practices that may be contributing to back pain or soreness
- Building an awareness of both the stiff and overly-mobile places in our bodies
A yoga practice that supports a healthy and supple spine can be a great contribution towards feeling vibrant in our bodies, having upright postures, and being able to do the activities we enjoy every day.