“Our spine is a collection of bones, ligaments, discs, joints, and muscles that all reside in the trunk,” explains physical therapist Diana Zotos-Florio, PT, CSCS, certified yoga teacher and co-founder of the Threes Physioga system of movement practices that incorporate the PT principles of yoga. combined with). “Their main role is to protect our vital spine, which is part of our nervous system. But its other role is to help absorb and spread the load of our daily lives. And they are responsible for directing the force or load that goes through our hips, through our core, and into our Moves to the arms so we can move the whole body.”
That’s a pretty big responsibility for a body part! So what exactly enables a spine to perform this function as energy absorber and movement coordinator?
A healthy spinal anatomy
A healthy spine has three components. The first is an “S” shape when viewed from the side (with a curve in the lower and upper back). According to Zotos-Florio, this curved shape helps it act like a spring. “If your spine is ‘S’ shaped, it will be able to absorb the load of each step, to jump, run, or whatever you’re doing, compress a little and then compress,” she explains.
Next: Full range of motion (or mobility). Each vertebra should be able to move. That way, when you do something like twisting or bending, the work is distributed evenly across the spine, so no part of it is working too hard, which can make you prone to injury.
Finally, your spine should have some room to breathe! “A healthy spine is one that has some space,” says Zotos-Florio. “If your spine is a slinky, and you’re opening it, you want the spine to have some opening, not fully compressed. So the more decompressed your spine is—and the more space there is between the bones—the easier it is for each bone to move.”
But repeatedly holding one pose too long puts all these factors—shape, mobility, and space—at risk. And unfortunately, sitting for long periods of time can compress our spine and even compromise the movement of some vertebrae. That’s why Zotos-Florio himself focused on his spine.
Below are spinal mobility exercises she practices throughout the day when she’s feeling cranky and tight, or first thing when she wakes up. Overall, Zotos-Florio recommends setting aside 10 minutes each day to keep that spine healthy.
7 Spinal Mobility Exercises to Promote a Healthy Spine
It’s an exercise that Zotos-Florio likes to do throughout the day, even while doing something like washing dishes, as a way to check in with her spine. stand up straight This means your weight is spread evenly across your legs, your spine is neutral (meaning your shoulders, hips and ankles are all in one line and your lower and upper back have a natural curve), and make sure your chin’t jutting forward. “It’s more like home base,” Zotos-Florio says of the pose. “You don’t have to live here, but it’s a great place to practice.”
Next, imagine a helium balloon sitting above your head. The string goes through your skull to your neck and spine. Let the helium balloon lift you up, without putting those ribs forward. “Feel how you’re two inches taller,” says Zotos-Florio.
2. Gate poses to create more space
This exercise lengthens your spine with a side stretch. From a high knee position, extend one leg straight out so that your foot rests flat on the floor, toes pointing forward. Now imagine again that the helium balloon is pulling you up (without your ribs flashing forward). Then, lift your kneeling leg above your head and bend it to the side of your extended leg. Hold for three to five rounds, then repeat on the other side.
3. To practice pelvic flexion and extension
To isolate the vertebrae and ensure that each has a full range of motion, you’ll practice going in and out of flexion (contracting) and extension (stretching). Stand in front of a surface like a bed or desk, place your hands on it, and lean forward from the hips with a soft bend in your knees. Alternate between tucking your tailbone down and tucking your butt without glue. Continue breathing for three to five rounds.
4. Thoracic: flexion and extension of the spine
You can practice the same principle of contracting and stretching for your upper back. Begin by kneeling on the floor or your bed and place your palms flat on the surface in front of you, slightly in front of the shoulders. Tuck your chin and round your upper back toward the ceiling, then reverse that motion to arch your back and lift your gaze to look into your hands. Continue breathing for three to five rounds.
5. Roll up and down
Keep the spinal movement of the lower back and thoracic spine together for a full back opening pose. Stand upright on that home base. Then tuck your chin and begin to fold forward as you try to touch your toes, starting at your shoulders, then up, middle, and down to the bottom. Pause at the bottom, then lower your tailbone and reverse the sequence to arch your spine back up until you’re tall. Let your head be the last thing to lift.
“It’s like someone is walking their fingers down your spine,” says Zotos-Florio. “When they touch each bone, you want to round that bone. So you’re really trying to score around a beach ball or a bowling ball, and every vertebra gets a chance to score on the way down.”
6. Axial rotation
Find a wall you can stand next to, then go into a runner’s lunge with your right foot forward and back knee down, so that your right hip and outer thigh touch the wall. Then straighten your right arm in front of you against the wall. Next straighten your left arm in front of you and then open it and place it behind your back so that your chest rotates to face away from the wall, extending your left arm back. Your upper body will basically be in a T shape. “Don’t start it with your arms open, start by rolling it behind the left ribcage,” advises Zotos-Florio. Hold for three to five breaths, then repeat on the other side.
7. Protect your neck
The neck is the highest part of the spine, so don’t forget it. This exercise stretches it and the shoulder because those muscles are interconnected. Slowly look left and right, up and down, then roll your shoulders back and forward. Repeat three to five more times.
As Zotos-Florio suggests, make these spinal movements part of your daily routine, and aim to do them for 10 minutes each day when you wake up or as a nice break from work. And if you want to further improve your spinal mobility, try Pilates.
You can start with this 15-minute, full-body workout that will help you increase your mobility from head to toe: