Mindfulness: Six Actions of the Spine

The six actions of the spine are a staple part of all yoga sequences, as our back is the center of our nervous system. Using the six actions to structure your own practice or using these actions on their own can improve mobility as well as support a healthy back. The six actions have many different variations however the following demonstrations are in a sitting position using a cushion to raise hips and take the pressure off the knees. You can perform the following in an easy sit position, whatever that means for your body. It is recommended that proper posture is used when performing these actions.

To ensure proper posture:

Find your sit bones by rocking side to side
Once you have found your sit bones, stack your spine on top of your sit bones
Bring your belly button back into your spine, engaging your abdominal muscles
Roll your shoulders back and down allowing them to melt into your ribcage

Front and Back

In our first two actions, we are focusing on the internal rounding of the spine and the external extension or backbend. Typical front and back yoga asanas will be a fluid movement through Cat and Cow. Cat is our front rounding of the spine and the Cow is the external backbend. In a sitting position, this can begin with bent arms outstretched to the sides as if you are a cactus.

Bring your elbows together in front of you
Round your spine without losing posture.
Reach for that space between your shoulder blades and allow your neck to hang down towards your chest

Transition to Cow
Open your arms and bring your head to the starting position
Slowly begin pinching your shoulder blades behind you
Raise your chest and your gaze above

Move through the two asanas a few times before transitioning to the next spinal action. To add breadth to the movement: Exhale into Cat, Inhale into cow

The Sides

Focusing on the left and right bend to the sides of our body helps to ensure that our back is warmed up for the last two actions and prevents injury. Side bends are also a way to create space between our vertebra and create length. This counteracts the negative effects of sitting for long periods of time. Transitioning to the side body, we will use the ground for support.

Left and Right Side Bends
Place one hand just outside of your hips
Raise the other hand up by your ear and reach up and away before bending towards the hand that is grounded
Stay in your side bend for a breath
Use your abdominal muscles to bring you back to a straight spine position
Reach your lifted hand up and away before allowing it to float to the ground and transition to the other side

To add breadth to the movement: As you reach up inhale as you bend to a side exhale. On the return upright inhale, exhale as your arm floats down.

The Spinal Twists

Finally, our left and right spinal twists will help to realign our spine and loosen the muscles that tend to tighten up around our vertebra. While performing a spinal twist, we want to be very careful as taking this twist too fast can cause tension in the neck and shoulders. Our spine is a staircase, when we walk up a staircase we start at the bottom. During this twist make sure that your chin stays in the middle of your chest until it is the last part to move.

Left and Right Seated Spinal Twist

Take one hand and place it just behind your hip
The other hand crosses the body and lands on your thigh, be careful to not pull on your knee
You will already be in a small twist after your hand placement
Continue the twist behind you, starting at the base and walking up until your neck is the last part to move
Once you are in the final twist position, take one deep breath
On the next inhale the gaze returns forward, exhale the body follows
Set yourself up to transition to the other side twist

To add breadth to this movement: Every inhale is an opportunity to lengthen through the crown of the head upwards, every exhale is an opportunity to twist deeper into the stretch.

About the Author: Jennifer Kneeland, LMHC, RYT-200 is the lead Expressive Art Therapist and Licensed Mental Health Counselor for Home Base. As an avid creative artist, Jennifer strives to encourage the healing power of creativity and imagination in her clinical work. She aspires to embody the principles of expressive arts therapy to strengthen internal growth both in clinical and personal experiences.