Spine 101


By Ece Ozkan

A strong spine is one of the most important aspects of a healthy body.

Our desk jobs require us to be practically “chained to a desk” all day. And that often results  in lower back pain, neck stiffness and fatigue.  Are you suffering from stiffness or back pain?  Then practicing yoga and stretching your spine regularly might be the first thing your doctor would suggest.

And there is a good reason behind that. Let’s talk a bit about the spine and how yoga helps strengthen it. 

Anatomy of the Spine

Image reference


The spine is an S shaped structure, which is made up of individual bones called vertebrae. The vertebrae are stacked one on top of another. They are grouped into four regions:

  • Cervical Spine – Your NECK  – Seven vertebrae
  • Thoracic – Your CHEST – Twelve vertebrae
  • Lumbar – Your LOWER BACK – Five vertebrae
  • Sacrum – Your PELVIC area – Five ish fused vertebrae

When you think about how the spine is shaped and how it “works”, it’s quite an amazing structure.

The vertebrae are separated from one another by soft pads, “intervertebral discs”.  These pads basically allow the spine to bend and flex.  They act as shock absorbers.

Practicing yoga is a great way to lubricate this area. Of course it needs to be done carefully – especially in the case of a known history of spinal issues.

Yoga Poses for the Spine

There are 5 major movements the spine makes:

  • Flexion – rounds the spine forward
  • Extension – rounds the spine back
  • Rotation – twists the spine
  • Side bending – lateral flexion of the spine
  • Axial extension – vertically elongates the spine

The good news is we practice all these 5 movements during any yoga class to build a strong spine. The bad news is in daily life we tend to forget that our spine needs all these moves to be flexible and healthy.

For instance, sitting all day in front of a computer can lead to lower back issues. Or there  “text neck” which happens with constant texting and not enough stretching.

To overcome some of these modern day challenges, let’s look at 5 poses and variations  you can easily do for spine health.

Flexion: Try child pose or cat pose as seen below. With the cat pose you can slowly move between cat-cow and lubricate the spine by flexion-extension.

Mandala Yoga Child's pose or Cat Cow

Extension: Cobra pose or cow pose would be 2 examples for extension of the spine. Chest opening is such a relaxing move, especially if you had to sit all day. 

Mandala Yoga Cobra or Cow Pose

Rotation: Simple twists are great for adding some rotation movement to your spine. Practice them carefully and slowly, and strengthen the spine first so that you can open up some space.

Mandala Yoga Spinal twists

Side Bend: The spine needs side movements to keep its flexibility. Standing side bend or triangle pose are great examples you can practice for that purpose.

Mandala Yoga Lateral movement of the spine

Axial Extension: Last but not least, one of the most rewarding movements for the spine is the axial extension. This movement gives the spine the ability to lengthen itself and lubricate the discs.

Mandala Yoga Spinal Extension

As you can see even during a short yoga class, or just practicing some sun salutations, you can cover all the movements a healthy and flexible spine needs.