Understanding spinal mechanics and compensation patterns throughout the body is essential for yoga teachers, trainers and anyone looking to effectively train and strengthen their body while working safely to prevent injury.
If we look at the design and orientation of the structures within our body, we will understand their intended functions and limitations. For example, if we look at the design of the lumbar vertebrae (lower back) we will see that long transverse processes allow for limited rotation/side-bending so flexion and extension are their preferred movement. The thoracic spine (base of the neck to middle back) is designed predominantly for rotational/ side-bending movement. The thoracic vertebrae even have hook like spinous processes and rib articulations to prevent excessive backward bending, which is in part to protect the organ field within the thorax. Understanding how the body moves is essential. With each structure articulating in perfect alignment with the surrounding structures, full range of movement is available.
So why would a perfectly executed dead lift be dangerous for one client yet beneficial for another? Or why would one yoga student suffer with back pain after a well-taught yoga class yet everyone else feels balanced?
The problem is there is often a ‘kink’ in your pretzel! If one structure is out of alignment, it can affect all the surrounding structures. If the lower segments in our lumbar region prefer flexion and therefore have limited extension, performing a backward bend in yoga class will be difficult. The extension will have to come from the remaining lumbars that are able to extend, or from the thoracic region which is not designed to extend at all. This exaggerated movement will push all of these segments way past their limits, causing strain on muscles, ligaments, nerves and other soft tissue. This may cause short term pain and could lead to permanent damage to surrounding tissue over time.
Just as understanding your body’s limitations are essential, so is working to alleviate any restrictions or compensation patterns that may be occurring. Make sure to take the necessary steps to get the kink out of your pretzel!