It should come as no surprise that your spine health is directly correlated to your overall health. From a Chinese medical point of view, the spine is the path of one of the deepest and most powerful energy channels, the Du Mai. A flexible spine means that the yang energy of the Du Mai can ascend freely to give you a clear mind and steady energy. When the Du energy is blocked, it can be hard to think, feel engaged with the world and greet life with joy.
To help keep the path of the yang energy clear and free, the spine must be kept in good order. A series of simple exercises can ensure a healthier spine:
1. Right and Left lateral twists
Begin by slowly rotating the body back and forth. This initial movement should be subtle- all the better to wake up the small connective muscles and tissue of the vertebra. Notice where there is pain. Let those areas slowly work themselves out.
As you warm up, increase the range of motion. Include the twist of the neck and hips into rotation. You are warming up the larger muscles that connect to the spine. Allow a slight swing of the arms as the motion increases. Allow the slight vertical bob as you stretch out these muscles.
2. Right and Left lateral bends
Raise your arms above your head and lean over to one side. Imagine your body is held between two walls. You can only bend to the side. There is no twist of the upper shoulder to the ground. Breath into this position. Let your ribs expand and stretched. You are stretching out an often neglected aspect of the Gall Bladder channel. Repeat on the other side.
3. Bend forward
Drawing yourself to an upright position, gently lean forward. Ideally, you will touch your palms to the floor, but let this be a goal rather than a requirement. Be gentle with yourself in this position. You are stretching out not only the Du Mai but the Bladder channel; fear can tighten the muscles along this pathway. Breath into where you feel the stretch, especially if you feel it along the sacrum.
4. Bend backwards
From an upright position, lean gently backwards. Be careful of your balance. This stretch also opens up the chest and the throat. Notice where you are holding tension in the front of the body. This is a good time to move the jaw and stretch some of the fascia which connects it to the front of body.
5. Extend upwards
Do you remember being told to stand like you have a thread from the top of your head? And how you seemed to gain a few inches when you remembered? This is the movement of extension of the spine. Ideally, there would be no change, since this is your default posture.
6. Mix it up
Dance. Shimmy. Shake. Sway. Your spine has an infinite number of movements within these six categories. Explore some.
If you can do these or practice some variation of them every day, that is the best. If not, it's good to remember that these movements can help brighten a day or bring clarity of thought. Searching for 'The Six Movements of the Spine' on youtube or google can bring up several pre-made routines or more anatomical explanations.