It’s time for a little Yoga Anatomy 101. Our friends at Breathe Repeat break down spinal alignment and curvature. Alignment junkies will surely get a kick out of this.
One thing that sends shivers down my spine is hearing a yoga teacher cue students to “come up to a flat back”. It may stem from good intentions – to move students away from extreme curves in their back – but it’s a misleading direction…
It’s much more accurate to ask students to lengthen the natural curves of the spine. But, what the heck does that mean?
The natural curves of the spine are a gift of nature, not to be taken for granted. All of our spines have their own unique curves and stories. Our curves form and change over the course of our lifetime, and they are affected by our genetics as well as our postural habits.
Let’s take a look at the five components of the spine, and how they can be made more healthy through our yoga practice, shall we?
The Upper Back
I’m starting here, because the kyphotic curve of the thoracic spine is considered “The Primary Curve”.
I know what you’re thinking: what the heck do kyphotic and thoracic mean? Kyphotic comes from a Greek word meaning “hump.” And thoracic also comes from a Greek word meaning “related to the chest.” So this is the hump that forms the back of your chest. Simple enough, right? A little hump is good for everyone, a lot of hump – not so good.
It’s called the primary curve because it’s the curve of the fetal position and it forms in utero. The hump should peak in the middle of the curve, which would be around the 6th thoracic vertebrae. This bowing curve helps to create a cozy cavern for our heart and lungs.
Generally speaking, the thoracic spine doesn’t bend forward and back easily, but it is excellent at twisting. The kyphotic curve is often exaggerated in a position like cat pose or other forward bends. Therefore, it’s important to consciously extend the spine in forward bends to maintain the natural curves rather than exploit them.