When I'm asked, “What are the benefits of yoga?” I usually answer in one of two ways: a list or an in-depth explanation. Once while I was speaking at a women’s forum, someone asked me, “What personal benefits have you gained from practicing yoga?” No one had ever asked me about yoga in quite this way. Today I will share how I responded that day. My intent is to answer some questions and raise others, hopefully encouraging you to investigate and consider yoga as you journey towards healthy habits begins or continues.
Creating Space with Yoga
In earlier blogs, I've discussed joint pain, mobility and achy feet. Today, let's talk about yoga benefits for the spine. I would like to start with a personal stoy about creating space and growing taller. Years ago when I was asked, “How tall are you?” my answer was always, “I’m 5 feet 5 inches.” The truth is I was 5'4¾". I chose to say I was 5'5" because it was more efficient to round the number up. Fast-forward to a few years ago. I visited my doctor for a routine physical. The nurse stepped out of the back and summoned me to her station. I tucked the book I was reading into my large purse and made my way to the nurse’s station. She asked me medical-related questions to complete my entry forms and we slipped in personal updates and pleasantries. She moved my appointment along and began to take my vitals, temperature, blood pressure and pulse.
My weight was good—and, yes, the results are top secret. She extended the measuring bar and folded the top of it over, allowing it to rest on the top of my head. When she was satisfied with the measurement she announced “OK. You are 5’6".” I whipped my head around protesting, “No, no. I am 5’5"—well, really I am 5’4¾". It’s on my driver’s license and everything.” With a little too much demand in my voice, I requested, “Measure me again.” She glared at me exasperated, probably because I questioned her ability to take a simple height measurement. She appeased my request and took the measurement again. She looked at me then back at the measuring device and said, “Well, I am looking right at it, and it says that you are 5’6". Again!” Needless to say, I was stunned. I asked how I could have grown taller. She replied in an uninterested tone, “I have no idea.”
I left the appointment baffled but elated. I was like a kid that accomplished something impossible and huge. I shared with everyone that would listen that I grew taller. When folks would ask how I had no explanation. One day I took my bragging to a yoga class I was taking. The teacher asked me how long I had been practicing. I replied, a couple of years. She calmly responded, "Well, there you have it. Yoga has made you taller."
Here’s how it works…. Height is both genetic and biological. Our skeletons reach their maximum length during teen years for women and early young adulthood for men. Adult bones cannot be lengthened, nor do they grow. You can get shorter by not optimizing your space. Sitting for long periods of time rounds the spine, allowing the muscles and connective tissue to relax and stretch in all the wrong directions. Poor posture has the same effect as sitting for long periods of time and also compresses the spinal column.
So then how can yoga help you grow taller? Yoga corrects posture by sending energy to all parts of the body through toning, stretching, strengthening the core, and deep breathing. Yoga improves alignment by creating space between the vertebrae and increases the fluid around the disks of the spinal column, which strengthens the cartilage in the spinal column. A strong core keeps the body upright, and deep breathing relaxes the tension in the body and back, allowing lengthening to be possible.
A full yoga session is recommended as it incorporates spine-lengthening poses throughout the practice. If you would like to incorporate some spine lengthening poses into your workout, I have listed a few poses below. Always warm the body before starting spine-lengthening exercises, and have a conversation with your doctor before starting any new type of exercise.
Gentle Spine-Lengthening Poses:
- Standing Crescent Moon
- Easy Seated Legs Crossed
- Standing Forward Fold
- Mountain Pose
- Body Twist (lying down)
- Downward Facing Dog
Moderate to Intermediate Spine-Lengthening Poses:
- Wheel Pose
- Twisting Triangle
- Seated Body Twist
- Cobra Posture
- Sun Salutation
- Tree Pose
Note that if you spend a good amount of time sitting, it is beneficial to get up every hour or so and walk around. As little as two minutes can make a difference.
Wishing you wellness and lengthening.
I leave you with
Meaning peace for all…