You're born with a certain length to your spine and, technically, nothing can make it grow longer. However, lifestyle habits such as slumping in cushy chairs and carrying heavy purses or backpacks, can erode that length. Maintaining good posture and honoring your spine's natural length keeps your body healthy. Back pain and poor posture rarely occur because of a one-off event; it's usually years of poor habits that wear you down.
A regular yoga practice offers a non-invasive way to counter habits that break your back's structure down. Provided you don't have a congenital back condition, such as scoliosis, yoga can help you find and maintain the optimal length to your spine.
Your spine isn't actually straight. It's comprised of four curves that cushion impact and connect artfully to other joints, such as your hips and shoulders, to keep you mobile.
Your topmost curve is the cervical spine, found at your neck, and consists of seven vertebrae. Your thoracic curve comes next and consists of 12 vertebrae attached to the ribs. The low back, or lumbar, contain five vertebrae and are a common source of pain. Your sacrum is the bottommost curve; these fused vertebrae in the coccyx join the pelvis and support your pelvic bowl.
The cervical and lumbar spines curve concavely, or inwardly; the thoracic curve and sacrum are convex curves, rounding slightly outward. When any of these curves are exaggerated, your spine's length is distorted. Kyphosis, for example, describes when your thoracic spine's outward curve is too dramatic, giving you a hunchback. Yoga can help you train the muscles that support your spine to realign the curves to a more healthy level, or to simply maintain their optimal positions.
A Regular Practice
Your first step in lengthening your spine is adopting a regular yoga practice. A one-off class here and there can make you feel better mentally and physically, but it's not going to have the long-term impact that practicing three to four times per week will have.
Even if you can't commit to a studio-based class this often, regularly performing specific postures can help keep your spine's structure healthy. Postures that specifically target the spinal muscles, including the erector spinae, psoas and multifidus, are beneficial.
Do the following poses daily or every other day to train these postural muscles:
Do them in this order, as the first few poses warm up your spine, the middle poses present a strong stretch and strengthen and the final poses wind you down.
Going through the actions of a yoga practice isn't enough. You must consciously engage to benefit your spine. During every Warrior pose, think about standing tall, drawing your shoulder blades together and squaring your hips, for example.
For this reason, a class that goes into detail about position and form might be your best option. Iyengar-style classes spend time honing your position and use props, such as blocks and straps, to make up for anatomical deficiencies and muscular imbalances.
The consciousness you acquire through yoga practice will then carry on off the mat. Think about your posture as you drive, sit at your desk or stand in line at the grocery store. The way you sit and stand in daily life can contribute to spine degeneration or spine strength. Yoga can teach you better postural techniques, but you need to apply them day in and day out.