Yoga for back care: 6 directions of the spine

I teach a yoga workshop series called Yoga for Back Care. It’s comprised of four 90 minute classes. We meet once a week for four weeks. I created this workshop because I meet people all the time who tell me that they’re doing yoga to help manage or prevent back pain. But in my experience, back care precautions and modifications aren’t offered in most drop-in yoga classes. At best, students aren’t getting the help they need to work with their back pain. At worst, they’re risking further injury.

It’s also important to me that the workshop not be a one-off class. By creating a four week series, students have the opportunity to build back care home practices. Each week I introduce a different focus and send students home with a handout illustrating 6-8 poses that they can play with on their own. Each class begins with a short debrief, where students can ask questions and share experiences (or not!). The feedback I’ve received has been very encouraging. Many students experience noticeable benefits over the course of just four weeks!

There are so many wonderful yoga poses to support back care, but I always like to begin with the six directions of the spine.*

The six directions of the spine:

Your spine can move in six directions: forward bend, backward bend, right side stretch, left side stretch, right twist, and left twist. Not only can it move in six direction, it needs to move in all six directions every day for optimal health. Most of us experience a forward bend every day (putting on our shoes, for example), and possibly a left twist (shoulder checking while driving, for example), but how often do you find yourself doing a side stretch? Or a backward bend? There aren’t many opportunities outside of a fitness class or stretching routine to do those, so make a point to build them into your day.

Forward & backward bending: Cat/cow pose

Inhale slowly as you lift the head and tail into cow pose (backward bend). Exhale slowly as you round forward into cat pose (forward bend). Repeat 6-10x.

Side stretching:

Inhale slowly as you reach one arm overhead into your side stretch. Exhale slowly as you return that hand to the floor beside you. Repeat on the other side. Repeat each side 5-8x.side-stretches-a


Inhale slowly as you face center. Exhale slowly as you gently twist to one side. Repeat on the other side. Repeat each side 5-8x.


*Remember, if you have a back injury or other health concerns, talk to your doctor before starting a new exercise routine.

Images © 2016 Erin Bidlake

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