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Yoga Anatomy: Lumbar Spine

Lumbar Spine

Baby the Five Vertebrae of Your Lower Back for Long-Term Health.

Students of yoga can benefit from a deeper understanding of the inner workings of their own anatomy. Maintaining a safe yoga practice and a healthy spine is reliant upon a yoga student’s ability to observe the Yama Ahimsa within his or her own practice.

The Lumbar Spine

The center portion of the spinal column, the five lumbar vertebrae connect at L1 with the thoracic spine and at L5 with the fused bones of the pelvis.

The Lumbar Curve is formed throughout childhood from the toddler years until the full curve is expressed at age 6 or so. This is the curve essential to walking upright.

The lumbar portion of the spine has greater range of motion through flexion to extension than the thoracic region, thanks to the larger intervertebral disc space. The lumbar spine can flex freely up to 55 degrees and extends to around 30 degrees. Lateral flexion of the lumbar spine is around 30 degrees. Rotation of the lumbar spine is very limited, giving the base of the spinal column greater stability.

Lumbar Vertebrae

When viewing the human spine from the side, a straight line from the crown of the head to the ankles and heels will show the weight distribution along the spine. While the thoracic spine supports the weight of the ribcage and thorax, the weight of the head and torso rest securely on the broad, thick lumbar vertebrae of the lower back.

  • L1 – L4 – The largest of the spine’s vertebrae, the lumbar vertebrae are designed with thick bodies and sturdy processes for vertical weight-bearing and limited flexibility.
  • L5 – Differs slightly in structure from the other lumbar vertebrae because it connects with the fused bones of the sacrum.

Protecting your Lumbar Spine during Yoga

We can derive yoga-safety precautions from what we know about the lumbar spine: that it is barely able to rotate at all, and that it is meant primarily to bear weight.

That the lumbar spine does not rotate means that twists do not happen in the lower back. Over-twisting only strains the lower thoracic vertebrae.

When you swan-dive forward into an Uttanasana, or Forward Fold, and your yoga instructor reminds you to keep your head up the whole time until you reach the pose, there is method to her madness. When weight-lifters keep their heads up before hefting hundreds of pounds into the air, there is sense in this.

What is it?

Your Head is Really Heavy.

Your lower back is the part of the body designed to support the weight of that bowling-ball rolling around on its atlas and axis vertebrae.

When you keep your head up, you alleviate pressure from your lower back, you relieve your lower spine of some overtime it would otherwise have to put in.