Spinal Movements (Part 7): How to do Safe and Effective Side-bending (Lateral Spinal Flexion) Movement

Bianca Machliss in Baddha Urdhva Prasarita Eka Padasana (Inverted side-bending lateral spinal lengthening one-legged standing posture)

This video is Part 7 of a YogaSynergy Spinal Movements Sequence taught by physiotherapist and Director of Yoga Synergy, Simon Borg-Olivier, which he teaches in person in courses throughout the world as well as Online in courses at RMIT University  and Online in courses at YogaSynergy called Yoga Fundamentals and Applied Anatomy and Physiology of Yoga.

Video Transcript (with notes):

“This next movement is a side spine movement, a lateral flexion of the spine. It’s important when you do a lateral extension of the spine that you are not doing a backward extension as well (as that combination can cause back pain in many people especially if they extend their spine from its weakest most flexible part).

(Side bending to the right side)

As I bring my arms up I consciously flex (bend forward) the spine slightly because whenever the arms come up there is an associated spinal extension (bend backwards).

As I bring the arms up I flex the spine, as the arms come up that starts to extend the spine and the combination will give you a straight spine.

To make a side spine flexion, I push the right sitting bone forward and up, the left armpit forward and up. (It is also important to note that every vertebrae has to also move to make an effective side bend and that in most positions exception for the inverted postures it is generally better to move the lower spine first then the middle spine the top spine last. This sequential movement of one vertebrae at a time help in the mechanical transfer of power through the spine and it also helps in the movement of blood through the valves veins around the spine.)

The hips and the shoulders (can) control (but ideally supplement) the movements of the spine and this also gives me firmness (a type of ‘core stabilisation’ created by muscle activity in the trunk caused by active spinal movement rather than drawing the navel to the spine as in a complete abdominal exhalation).

The right side of my abdomen becomes firm (right side trunk muscle activity), while the left side is still relaxed. Right side firmness causes reciprocal relaxation of the muscles on the left side of the spine. (The reciprocal reflex is an important spinal reflex giving a practical physiological principle that essentially says that if you activate (tense) one muscle group it will reciprocally inhibit or relax the opposing muscle group on the other side of that joint complex.)

Breathing into the abdomen (diaphragmatic breathing), using the muscles of (abdominal) inhalation, (reciprocally) relaxes the muscles of (abdominal) exhalation that often cause tension in the (lower trunk and around the) spine.

Then I move the hips (to the left side and downwards) and, because the outer hips are connected so intimately with the spine, stretching the hips also (lengthens and) releases the spine.

I push outwards with my feet and that activates outer hip muscles which reflexly activates (via the stretch reflex) the outer spine muscles. (The ‘stretch’ reflex is an important spinal reflex giving a practical physiological principle that essentially says that if you lengthen (‘stretch’) or activate (tense) one muscle group it will cause a ‘stretch’ reflex activation (tensing) of the muscle groups adjacent to it.)

To come back up I move from the hips (to the right side).

(Side bending to the left side)

(First), I lengthen the back of the body, (Second) lengthen the right side of the body (by pushing the right sitting bone down and forward, the spine one vertebra at a time to the right side and up, and the right armpit forward and up) and (Third) I bring the left side left sitting bone forward and up firms the left side. (Therefore) left side firm and right side relaxed (via) reciprocal relaxation of the spine. Breathing into the abdomen, diaphragmatic breathing, gives a different type of reciprocal relaxation, softening the muscles of exhalation (that can stiffen the trunk and prevent movement of the spine and the internal organs).

Then I move from the hips (to the right side and downward) still pushing the left sitting bone forward and the up right armpit forward and up. To come back up I push the hips to the left.”

It is important to note that principles applied here for side-bending of the spine in simple standing posture can be applied in all the side bending postures such as the lateral standing posture called Utthita Parsvakonasana in Sri B.K.S. Iyengar’s classic book ‘Light on Yoga’

Bianca Machliss in Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side-bending lateral spinal lengthening standing posture)

Bianca Machliss in Utthita Parsvakonasana (Side-bending lateral spinal lengthening standing posture)

You can see a demonstration of the the entire sequence by clicking here

You can see Part 6 of the instructional videos of this sequence by clicking here

This video was one of a series filmed by David Samulenok of RMIT University for the course entitled Applied Eastern Anatomy.This is a low resolution version of video, higher resolution versions are available in the online courses.





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