Stabilize and Strengthen the Spine
Our Top 10 Poses and Moves to get your back feeling strong and happy :)
Have you been following our Happy Backs posts? Go back and read our 'Top 10 Relax the Back Poses' and our 'Top 10 Mobility Moves for a Happy Back'.
Our practice is all about balance. Relax, Move, Strengthen, and Lengthen. Our Happy Backs classes work to find this balance in your practice and in your body. Always listen to your body and move how it feels good to you. Now that you have relaxed the back and done the mobility work to get things moving, lets work to stabilize and strengthen the spine.
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We are adding on to our Diaphragmatic Breath. Today we are activating the lower abdominal muscles and pelvic floor with the breath.
To begin start in a comfortable position. You can sit stand or lay down. What ever suits you today. Place your hands on the bottom of your ribs and begin to focus your breath hear. Feeling the expansion on the inhales and the natural contraction on the exhales. Once this feels easy and smooth add in engagement on the exhales. As you exhale and bring the ribs in also bring the belly button towards the spine. Think of emptying the lungs of all breath before beginning your inhale. Begin to exhale out of the mouth as you do this breath.
Now for the pelvic floor - image as you exhale the muscles between the sit bones coming towards each other. As they meet at the end of your exhale, visualize these muscles coming in and then up. As you inhale let these muscles relax. Now visualize the muscles between the front of the pelvic bone and the tailbone coming in and up at the end of the exhale. Relax as you inhale. Once this all feels easy visualize all four corners coming together as you exhale. In and up at the end of the exhale; inhale relax.
Now let's add this breath to our practice below.
1. Bird Dog
To Begin - start in your table top position and find your alignment (hips over knees, shoulders over wrists). Find your Diaphragmatic breath. (You can go back to our previous articles to practice our DB - diaphragmatic breath, first). On an inhale lift and extend your right leg by engaging your right glute muscle and hamstring. Lift from the heel; toes towards your mat. On your exhale engage your core. Draw your belly button in, rib cage in. On your next inhale come back to table top. Pause on your exhale and repeat on the second side.
Repeat 2-3 times each side
Your hips and shoulders should stay squared to the mat as you perform this movement. Once you feel stable here add in the opposite arm. Inhale lift and extend your right leg and left arm. Turn the thumb towards the ceiling to engage your upper back and shoulder. Your shoulder should be hugged in to your joint; shoulder blade towards spine to find engagement. (if your ear is by your shoulder you are reaching too much and not hugging into your shoulder joint.)
Repeat both sides again 2-3 times.
Once this feels strong and stable try holding the pose for 2-3 breaths on each side.
2. Plank (plus variations)
To Practice - no matter which variation of plank you are practicing check that your shoulders hips and heels are all in one line. In every variation of plank your core is engaged. As you are starting out you may want to use your exhale to find your engagement and then release to your knees on your inhale (you may also choose to rest in child's pose here). Only hold your plank as long as you are can be active in the core. As soon as you loose engagement take a break! Use your active DB to find your engagement in your core and your inhales to lift and lengthen.
How do I know if I'm engaged in plank pose? - Your hip flexor muscles will easily take over if you let them. To keep your abdominal muscles engaged imagine a candle underneath your belly button and hold yourself high enough not to get burned. If your shoulders are fatiguing it means your hips are too high. That's right it's all about balance.
3. Side Plank (plus variations)
We are doing a supported side plank here. If side plank is in your practice, go for it and add in that second leg. But keep in mind that when we are doing a healing practice. It's not about going really big its about technique and the breath.
Start in your table top and take your right leg towards the back of your mat. Turn on to the inside edge of your right foot. Bring your weight into your left arm and lift your right hip towards the ceiling. You can start with your hand on your hip until you feel balance. Try extending your fingers to the ceiling now or lifting your extended leg (no higher than your hip). The goal is to stack your right shoulder/hip on top of your left. Think about lifting your right side rather than sinking into your left. Use your exhales to focus on the engagement and the inhales to focus on the lift. Hold as long as you can maintain this breath and your form (start with 2-3 breaths and work up to more).
4. Dynamic Bridge
Set up for bridge. Lay on your back, feet hips width apart and parallel, knees bent to the ceiling. Find your active DB. On your exhale focus on the engagement first and then add in the lift of the hips. Engage the gluten and hamstrings as you lift your hips and lengthen your sit bones towards the backs of your knees. On your inhale begin to soften and lower back to the floor. Let your core relax as your hips touch the floor. Repeat 3-6 times with your active DB.
5. Dynamic Seated Twist
If you have a hard time sitting on the floor keep a neutral pelvis, sit on the edge of a chair with your feet flat, or sit on a block or cushion. Feel both sit bones beneath you and lift through your spine. Shoulders over hips, ears over shoulders. Find your active DB. On your inhale lift your arms over your head, keeping your rib cage down. On your exhale feel the ribs come in as you begin to engage your core. Use this activation to gently turn to the right. Your arms will come down as you exhale but keep your spine tall and lift into your chest. Don't worry so much about where your hands go, focus the twist in the engagement of your core muscles and breath. On your inhale raise your arms back up and come back to centre. Exhale to the left.
Repeat 2-3 times each side.
6. Cobra Hands-free
Lay in a prone position on your mat. Feet are hips width apart, press the top of your feet firmly into the floor. Hands come under the shoulders. With your Active DB engage your core on your exhale, maintain a mild activation in your core as you inhale to lift the chest and invite your shoulder blades towards the spine. Keep the back of the neck long. Hands are just off the floor so you are using the strength of your upper back to lift and extend. Don't spend too much time worrying about how high you can get. Rather focus your energy on lengthening.
Inhale to lift, exhale to lower - Repeat 3 times Challenge - hold for 3 breaths
7. Locust and variations
Set up is the same as our cobra. This time bring your hands back by your hips, palms to the floor. Which ever variation you are doing the rest of the body is the same as our cobra pose. Anchor the feet first engage the core with your breath, inhale to lift and lengthen.
Inhale to lift, exhale to lower - 3 times with breath
Challenge - hold for 3 breaths
8.Hollow (hold & dynamic)
Laying on your back establish your Active DB. As you exhale and engage your core, gently press your back into your mat as you lift your head and shoulders (if you are experience discomfort or pain in your neck or shoulders you can keep them on the floor). Bring one leg off the floor as you exhale and hollow the front body. Make sure your lower back stays in contact with the floor. If you feel the lower back arching you are loosing your core engagement and need to restart or choose a different hollow variation.
Exhale lift, inhale lower - 3 times each leg
Challenge - hold for 3 breaths
9. Reverse Table Top/ Reverse Plank
Sit on your mat with your feet flat and hips width apart. Hands are slightly behind your hips and thumbs are pointing forwards (as your shoulders and upper back become more open after practice try turning your fingers forward). On your exhale get active and lift your hips (similar in sensation to our dynamic bridge pose) Keep your head neutral or look towards your knees to protect your neck). Inhale to release and lower.
Repeat 3 times
Challenge - extend the legs for reverse planks (reach your toes to the floor)
Cat/Cow is our everything move! It can be used to relax moving slowly with the breath. It can be more dynamic warming up the spine as mobility work. It can be strengthening as we add our Active DB and it can also lengthen the spine when we focus on the gently back extension in cat.
Today focus on the exhales and engaging the core. Start in your table top. shoulders over wrists, hips over knees. Inhale to open the ribs and relax the abdomen and pelvic floor. Exhale draw everything in and up as you lift the spine to the ceiling. Inhale to release.
Repeat 3-5 times.
Give yourself time to sit in quiet meditation or relax in Savasana.
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May your inner beauty, grace and strength reflect in your outer body.