Functional Yin Yoga – Spine

The majority of the extension observed in a backbend occurs in the lumbar spine. The degree of backward bending is influenced by the individual’s vertebral structure, specifically the shape of the spinous processes.

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The spine is made up of 33 individual vertebrae

Cervical spine – connects the skull to thoracic spine = 7 vertebrae, C1-C7.
Thoracic spine = 12 vertebrae T1-T12 & also connect to the ribcage.
Lumbar = 5 vertebrae L1-L5 & connect to the pelvis.
Sacrum bone = 5 bones, connects to the 4 coccyx vertebrae (tailbone).

The Cervical Spine

functional yin yoga

The cervical spine, located in the neck, has an approximate range of motion as follows:

80° to 90° of flexion/forward bending

70° of extension/back bending

20° to 45° of lateral flexion/side bend

80° of rotation to both sides/twist.

However, it’s important to note that individual variations in the range of motion can exist among students. Factors such as tightness, tension, & individual vertebrae shapes can affect movement ability in the cervical spine.

The Thoracic Spine

yin yoga and the spine

The thoracic spine is characterized by a relatively restricted range of motion (ROM) compared to the cervical & lumbar spine. This limited mobility is primarily attributed to its unique bone structure, which will be discussed in more detail. Additionally, the presence of the rib cage further contributes to the constriction of movement within the thoracic area.

The Lumbar Spine

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functional yin yoga - the spine

The lumbar spine plays a pivotal role in facilitating movement throughout your body. Its flexibility enables your trunk to engage in various motions, including forward & backward bending (flexion and extension), side bending (lateral movement), & twisting (rotation).

Notably, most of this movement is attributed to the last two lumbar vertebrae, L4 & L5.

Compared to the thoracic spine, the lumbar region exhibits greater mobility.

The Spinous processes

functional yin yoga

functional yin yoga - the spine

The Spinous processes play a crucial role in back-bending movements.

Located along the spine, the spinous process is a wing-like bone projection extending outward from each vertebra. It serves as an attachment point for the back muscles, ligaments, & fascia, providing stability & support to the spine.

Notably, the spinous process is visible in certain individuals, particularly when they bend forward, as the prominent part of the spine becomes visible.

Back-bending in Yoga

The lumbar spine plays a significant role in back bending due to the natural shape of the spine. The extent of extension in a backbend is influenced by the individual shape of the vertebrae & the space between the spinous processes.

The gaps between spinous processes can vary greatly among individuals. Some may have larger spaces, while others have minimal space, with the spinous processes almost touching even before attempting a backbend.

Even if you work on lengthening & releasing tension in the sides & front of your body, the natural shape of your vertebrae & the proximity of the spinous processes will determine your back bending ability. In some cases, the spinous processes may touch even with minimal movement, limiting the range of motion & the ability to extend the spine fully.

To illustrate these differences, you can refer to the provided pictures, courtesy of Paul Grilley, which exemplify the variations in spinous process alignment.

functional yin yoga

In backbends like Seal pose, understanding the variations in the spaces between the vertebrae’s spinous processes can change our perspective on the depth of extension we can achieve. Despite mindful efforts to release tension, we may still encounter compression, where bone meets bone, limiting further extension.

With this awareness of skeletal variations, a functional Yin yoga approach minimizes alignment cues. Rather than dictating specific arm or hand positions, we may offer variations that reduce compression or increase stress, depending on individual bone shapes & reaching their edge or sweet spot. Embracing our unique differences, we focus less on aesthetic alignment & more on how the pose feels.

Functional Yin Yoga alignment acknowledges the variability of our skeletal anatomy, including the spinous processes. Therefore, it is common for teachers to provide different pose variations targeting the same area of focus. Each person’s body alignment in a class will naturally differ, allowing them to align their body according to the pose’s intention, which targets specific physical areas, stimulates meridians, & promotes emotional balance & overall wellness.

What truly matters is how the pose functionally serves each individual, how it feels physically as we hold it, & how we honor the messages our bodies communicate.

As we embrace this perspective & trust the Yin Yoga process, it becomes a powerful tool for releasing tightness & tension, improving flexibility & joint mobility, promoting the flow of Chi by releasing stagnant energy, & fostering a sense of balance in our overall well-being.

Dive DEEPER into this anatomy & expand your understanding of how to apply functional yoga principles to the practice of Yin Yoga

If you’re drawn to learning more about Functional Yoga Anatomy, together with the depths of Yin Yoga with fundamental Chinese Medicine principles and philosophy, and looking for a Bali Yin Yoga Accredited Teacher Training, that offers more than just stretching, OUR Bali courses await. It’s not just a training program; it’s an invitation to transform, discover the surprising curriculum that Yin Yoga has to offer, and embark on a journey that will forever change how you practice and teach yoga.

Ready to explore the essence of Yin Yoga in Bali with us? Dive deep into the practice, embrace the unique skeletal and functional aspects of yoga, and unfold the layers of your potential. It’s more than a course; it’s a journey to the heart of Yin Yoga, and it starts here, with us.

Our Trainings

We offer a comprehensive 25 day/night Yoga Alliance Accredited 200-hour Vinyasa and Yin Yoga Teacher Training experience, as well as specialized 7 and 12 day 50/100-hour programs that explore the integration of Yin Yoga with Chinese Medicine principles. For those seeking flexibility in their learning journey, we also provide customizable online options. Situated in the heart of Bali, our training captures the true spirit of Yin Yoga, marrying the ancient wisdom of traditional teachings with the restorative energy of the island.

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