Yoga for Your Back: Nourish and Heal
In between the back bones, the vertebrae, are intervertebral discs. They’re the shock absorbers of your spine. As we age, they begin to degrade, drying up and falling apart. Sometimes they “slip” as they get weak and cause pain by bumping up against a nerve root.
The discs are thirsty little creatures, and they need to drink to be happy and healthy. They get their nutrients by a process called “imbibation,” a word that essentially means to imbibe, like drinking. There’s no direct blood supply to them. They have to suck up nutrients from the surrounding environment which does have blood vessels coursing through it.
How do they imbibe? They collapse and expand when you bend one way and then the other. When you bend forward, the front part of your disc gets squished. Then when you bend the other way, the squished part opens up, sucking in nutrients along with fluid. When you twist, say as in ardha matsyendrasana, you wring the disc like a sponge, then suck up the good stuff when you straighten back around.
Picture a wire strung with wooden blocks and with little sponges in between the blocks. Now picture yourself in waist deep water in a swimming pool holding onto the wire with it held beneath the surface. Bend the wire one direction, say towards you, into a tight circle. The parts of the blocks on the inside of the circle, and the sponges between them, will be scrunched together. Those on the outside of the circle will be farther apart. If you straighten the wire and bend it the other direction into a circle, say away from you, you will see the opposite effect. Bend it to the left and then to the right into a circle, and you see the effect again, just with different “halves” of the blocks and sponges.
The wooden blocks are like the vertebrae, the back bones. The sponges in between are like the discs, and they get squished on the inside of the circle. Then that half of the disc is able to “drink” when the vertebral column is straightened back up or bent in the other direction. It will expand and suck up nutrients.
Movement of the back, bending and twisting, helps to keep the discs happy and healthy. Choose Yoga for your back - it’s good preventative medicine.