Curvature of the Spine: How to Remove Quasimodo's Hunch

Yoga can help keep you from looking like the hunchback of notredam

My job as a writer requires me to sit at a computer for most of the day, and it can really take a toll on my back. I often joke that I am going to have a hunched spine by the time I am 30 years old, but, in all actuality, it is not a funny thought at all.

Because Quasimodo never did do it for me, I did a bit of research on yoga poses that can help common back pain, and I came across this workout from Yoga as Medicine: The Yogic Prescription for Health and Healing, a Yoga Journal book by Dr. Timothy McCall.

I purchased this book a little while ago, and I have been thoroughly enjoying the information that it has to offer. It really is a fantastic resource.

According to the book, “Though physicians tend to take a one-size-fits-all approach to low back strain, from a yogic perspective this doesn’t make a lot of sense. There are dozens of possible causes of back pain other than sciatica. Ligaments can be strained. Arthritis can develop in the small facet joints that link one vertebra to the next... Given all the possibilities, it’s extremely unlikely that the same set of exercises, the same medications, or the same operations will help everyone.”

This routine was designed by yoga teacher Judith Hanson Lasater, author of Relax and Renew: Restful Yoga for Stressful Times. This is just a sampling of the full routine that Judith provides in the book, but these are a few of my favorites:

  • Exercise #1 — Do cat/cow ten to twenty times. Start by kneeling on all fours, with your spine in neutral position, your knees directly beneath your hips, and your hands beneath your shoulders. Exhale and gently arch your spine for cow, then inhale and round your back for cat. Move slowly between the two positions, coordinating the movements with your breath.
  • Exercise #2 — Cobra variation, with arms at the sides, three times. Lie face down on your mat. Keeping your legs on the floor at least hips’ width apart and your knees turned inward and toward each other, raise your hands slightly and lift your upper body into a slight backward arch as you exhale. Upper body should be similar to picture at right, but legs should remain on the floor. Hold for several breaths and then lower yourself down as you exhale. Turn your head to one side and rest. This is strengthening for the lower-back muscles and mobilizes the middle back area, which often becomes stiff from sitting and bending forward at a desk for hours. Try this three times if it feels good, alternating the direction in which you turn your head when you come down.
  • Exercise #3 — Triangle pose (Trikonasana), three to five breaths on each side, twice. Stand with your feet three-and-a-half feet to four feet apart. Turn your right foot out 90 degrees and your left foot in 15 to 30 degrees. Raise your arms to your sides with the palms down. On an exhalation, bend at the hips and bring your right arm down onto a block placed outside and just beneath your foot (I do not have a block, so I improvised with a non-wobbly stack of books). Lasater suggests allowing the top of your pelvis in the back to slightly rotate forward to stretch the rotators on your back hip. Slightly rotate the chest up toward the ceiling. Be sure to allow a normal inward curve in your lower back. In other words—don’t tuck your pelvis. Hold for three to five breaths and come up on an exhalation. Repeat on the other side, and then do both sides again.
  • Exercise #4 — Child's pose (Balasana) This one feels so good! Sit with your toes together and your knees separated at comfortable degree. Then, fold forward between your knees and stretch your arms out behind you, palms up, and along your sides. Place your forehead on the floor, and keep your lower back rounded. Stay in the pose for thirty seconds to two minutes if it feels good (it does!). Keep your breathing soft.

This routine is so quick, and it really does help to take a quick break and be good to your back.

Sorry, Quasimodo, I love ya, but not that much.

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Caroline Shannon has been a journalist for six years, working for several publications, including Ideal Bite, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, First30Days, Maniac magazine and The Glass Hammer. She is a certified Pilates instructor and takes a long, hard run just as seriously as she does several Hint ‘O Mint Newman-O’s. She can be reached at www.carolineshannon.com.

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