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Backbone.


It goes without saying that the spinal cord is one of the most important parts of the body. Fire and earth-type movements for the abs, lower back and neck will make it easy for the muscles to hold good posture without conscious help, and will help cushion the spine and protect it from injury. Spinal mobility is also very healthy and important, and can be increased in various ways by the water-type movements listed below. For more movements from the Element Training program, click on the figure at left.

Stretches for Flexibility


  Spinal Extensions  
Lay on your back and do a sit-up, then slowly lower your torso down, consciously placing one vertebra at a time against the floor. As each vertebra comes down, it will grip the floor with a rear side that is turned upward or extended by the rounding of the back. As the next vertebra comes down, the previous one will be straightened out and gently pull the whole vertebra into the extended position. You should end up with a subtle lengthening of the entire spine, and a back-lying pose that is great for some gentle breathing exercises.

  Slow Bridge Pose  
Lay on your back and bring your heels onto the floor close to your butt, with your knees pointing up. Exhale and slowly lift one vertebra at a time off the floor, then lower them back down, one at a time. This will help separate the vertebrae of the lumbar or lower spine, creating more mobility and flexibility in that area.

  Backward Bends  
Movements like the Cobra and Wheel poses will help the spine learn to bend backwards. Be sure to spread the rounding throughout the entire spine, not just the lower back.

  Forward Bends  
Movements like the Basic Forward Bend and Half Tortoise pose mainly develop flexibility in the hamstring and lower back muscles. The stretch should be aimed at the lower back, and the muscles there should kept strong to keep the back straight. Rounding the spine forward is theoretically useful if done as a stretch, but it is too often done unconsciously while seated, creating a cramped space for the lungs and internal organs to work within, and compressing nerves and vertebrae. When performing forward bends, it's better to keep a straight back than to reach farther forward by rounding the spine.

  Sideways Bends  
The Crescent Stretch and Half Moon poses help to stretch the obliques and lats, thus adding to lateral spinal mobility.

  Cross-Legged Twist  
Spinal twists are the final piece of the back mobility puzzle. When performing any twist, the spine should be kept in a neutral position, not bent forward or backward, and breathing should not be compromised. The head should be turned as well. Deepen the twist as you exhale, and check your spine's neutrality as you inhale. If your spine isn't neutral, relax the twist a bit to safely restore neutrality. For a cross-legged twist, simply sit cross-legged and place one hand on its opposite knee, then pull with your hand and twist your spine toward that knee. Without straining too much, see how far around the corner you can see.

  Twist from Hero Pose  
From the Hero Pose, place the back of one elbow against the opposite thigh. Put your palms together in a prayer pose with forearms parallel, then push with the anchored elbow to twist your whole spine. Try to keep your back straight.

  Supine Twist  
Lie on your back ("supine") and point one knee toward the ceiling. Now bring that knee to touch the floor on its opposite side, letting your back twist in the process. To complete the position, turn your head toward the shoulder that you're twisting away from, and press that shoulder to the floor if possible. For variations, bring both straight legs, both bent legs, or only one straight leg to the opposite side.

  Prone Twist  
Begin on your hand and knees, and lower your hips directly sideways onto the floor. Now lower your torso toward the floor, ending up with shoulders low and parallel to the floor, and hips perpendicular to the floor with legs pointing sideways. Increase the stretch by lifting the shoulder opposite your legs, pushing up with the matching hand to do so.

that's gross.