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The Critical but Forgotten 2

Think about the elderly people in your life. Are they getting taller or shorter? We used to tease my grandmother about “growing up and settling down” because most of us shrink and get shorter as we age.

Typically, we become less physically active, our bones lose density, our circulation is not as good and these things all impact our spine. There is a saying, “Old age is not for sissies.”

But, there is an alternative to this depressing scenario. We do not have to shrink. My (aging) yoga teacher in Atlanta actually grew three inches from practicing yoga, in particular Viniyoga with its emphasis on the spine.

Our spine is the structural core of our body and an essential link to our ability to stay mobile and physically active for life. We need to move our spine in all directions on a regular basis to keep it healthy and prevent its shrinking.

The spine has 5 directions of movement. It can bend forward, twist, bend backward, bend laterally (side), and extend axially.triangle__1401213594_24.9.232.76

This week we will experience the last 2 – lateral bends and axial extension. I call them the forgotten 2 because they are not part of most adult’s daily movement patterns.


In lateral bends as we bend to the side, one side shortens and the other side lengthens. Our bodies do not go very far to the side. Think, for example, of the difference in the range of motion when doing a forward bend versus a lateral bend.


The primary intention and benefit of lateral bending is to stretch your torso from shoulder to hip joint, something we rarely do in daily activity. This movement builds strength and mobility in the spinal muscles, rib cage, shoulder girdle and pelvis.

Since it is an asymmetrical movement, it also helps our concentration, alertness and mental focus because it increases the connection between the two brain hemispheres. Check out Yoga Changes the Brain to learn more about improving your brain’s functioning.

Technique: Viniyoga Style

You move into a lateral bend during exhale and come out on inhale. Sounds simple, but lateral bends are tricky to execute. Since the ability of the spine to do a pure side bend is limited, we are tempted to roll the shoulders too far forward or to rotate the hips forward or to push the hips out to the side in an attempt to bend farther.

The key is to initiate the exhale from your belly as you bend to the side. This prevents excessive hip movement. Also, pretend that your body is between two sheets of glass. You will need to keep your shoulders stacked to prevent breaking the glass. If you feel the posture in your back instead of your side, you are doing a forward bend not a lateral bend.


Lateral bending can be stressful for the sacroiliac joint, hips and knees. Be sure to get clearance from you medical professional if you have issues in those areas.

Please do not begin your yoga practice with a standing lateral bend. It is really important to warm up your spine first with forward bends.



Axial extension is found in all yoga postures: forward bends, twists, backbends, and lateral bends. This movement creates length in your spine and space between your vertebra. It is the main reason my yoga teacher got 3 inches taller.

Technique: Viniyoga Style

In Viniyoga postures, the inhale originates in your chest. As you inhale, your chest and rib cage expand and lift away from your navel. This action causes your spine to lengthen and space to be created between your vertebra. Be sure to keep your shoulders relaxed during inhale. Raising your shoulders up toward your ears just creates tension.

Keep a slight contraction in your lower abdomen with each inhale to increase the lift of your rib cage. This helps further lengthen your spine. As you exhale, maintain the length in your spine that was created during inhalation.


Axial extension improves posture and the structural alignment of our body. This, in turn, reduces muscle and joint stress and improves digestion, respiration and circulation. Of course, these benefits are found in all yoga postures.

Lengthening your spine during inhale also allows you to go more deeply into a posture.

How tall are you right now? It is possible to keep that height even as you age.

Enjoy and Breathe Easy

Joanne Thompson

Joanne Thompson

Founder/Owner at Yoga for Self

Health is a precious gift and my goal is to help you live a healthier, happier life through yoga. Every private session is uniquely designed just for you. For a free telephone consultation call me at 303.818.4181. Discover whether personalized, private yoga instruction is right for you.
Joanne Thompson

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