By Dr. Rita Khanna
What is the connection between a healthy spine and Yoga? You are as young or healthy as your spine. ‘Keep the spine erect,’ you will often hear the teacher calling the instruction in a class of Yogasanas. The human being has the most erect spine in the animal kingdom. Let us see the implications of this instruction. In Kundalini Yoga, it has a significance of its own, as far as the Nadis and Chakras are concerned; but in this article, we shall consider only from the anatomical point of view.
The Spinal Curves Through Life
A healthy spine and a Yoga lifestyle are connected at an early age. Upon entering the world, a newborn baby’s spine is flexed (bent forward) at the beginning. Later, when the infant turns on its tummy and starts to raise its head, it develops the first backward curve of the spine, in the cervical (neck) region. Still later, when the young child first stands on its own feet in the erect position, it develops another backward curve in the lumbar (lower) region. These curves will continue to develop as growing continues.
Backward Lumbar Curvature of the Spine
While standing erect, the lumbar spine has to bear the weight of the upper half of the body. Due to this, and also due to strides of the legs in upright walking, the spine develops this backward curvature which pre-disposes man alone, amongst all the animals, to a new range of evolutionary spinal diseases, including low back pain, slipped disc, sciatica, scoliosis, and spondylitis.
In addition, various disturbances of digestion, menstruation, and reproduction disturbances arise due to congestion and irritation of emerging spinal nerves in the lumbar region. Another disadvantage of the erect posture is the increased likelihood of developing piles (hemorrhoids) and varicose veins because the column of venous blood from the legs and rectum has to travel further upward against gravity to reach the heart.
The Structure of Individual Vertebra
The spine is like the trunk of a tree, supporting the entire body structure. Atop this trunk sits the bony, enclosed cranium or box of the skull, containing the most important human organs – the brain – which not only controls the human body but gives a real purpose to its existence.
Of course, the top-most vertebra is called the atlas because it supports the round head like the Greek mythical figure Atlas, who supported the earth upon his shoulders.
The second vertebra is the peg-like axis, so named because the atlas and skull rotate upon it. Thus, the head moves both independently of the movement of the neck and with the neck as well. Of the 33 vertebrae of the column, these are the only two named. All the others bear only numbers. A healthy spine and Yoga training have a symbiotic relationship.
In the thoracic region, the spine supports the expansive rib cage, composed of bones (ribs), muscles, and cartilage. The rib cage surrounds the lungs and the heart, which are next in importance to the brain. The lungs purify the blood, while the heart circulates it to the entire body, supplying the cells and tissues with all their nutrient requirements, and taking away their waste products.
In the lumbar or abdominal region, the spinal column is an anchor for the muscles, which hold the gastro-intestinal organs in place: stomach and intestines, liver, spleen, and pancreas, and also, the kidneys and urinary system. These are held suspended, as if in a cloth handbag, with the spine forming the handle.
At the lower (sacral) end of the spine is the pelvis, which is like a bony basket or cavity cradling the excretory and reproductive organs. Here the fertilized human egg is nurtured in the mother’s womb, like a bird’s egg in its nest.
Like the main branches of this tree, the upper and the lower limbs shoot out from this central trunk, with the nearer joints (the shoulder and the hip) having a full range of movements in all three planes, like a ball and socket. In contrast, the distal joints (the elbow and the knee) can move in only one plane, like a door on a hinge.
Thus, we find that the spine is not erect in the true sense of the word but has four distinct curvatures.
The cervical curvature in the neck has seven vertebrae. The dorsal in the chest has twelve and the lumbar in the lower back has five. Like a stack of coins, these bear the progressively increasing weight of the column above. Thus, each vertebra is slightly larger than the one above, as we descend from the neck to the buttocks. The atlas is only ¼ as large or heavy as the last lumbar vertebra. In Sirshasana, (headstand posture) one should bear the weight of the entire body on the triangle formed by the head and the two elbows. If too much weight falls onto the cervical vertebrae alone, they will suffer damage, as they are meant to carry the weight of the head only, and not that of the whole body.
The sacral vertebrae (five in number) are fused to form a single bone at the back of the pelvis. These are smaller as they have no weight-bearing function and take no part in the movements of the spine described above. The coccyx is the vestige of the tail. Animals use the tail for warding off troubling insects, for holding onto a branch, and for balance while jumping. A man can perform these functions with his upper limbs. It is also used for expressing emotions like anger and fright. Humans have changed their ways of expressing feelings, and lost their tails during evolution.
The Human Spine
The human spine is not a single bone, nor is it like a bamboo. It is like a string of beads, but instead of the string holding the beads together, as in a Japa Mala, it is the beads (the vertebrae) that protect the string (the spinal cord) inside. The spine is made this way because it has to perform so many movements. It bends forward and backward and sideways and also twists up on itself – hence, the string of beads. There is a degenerative condition called bamboo spine (ankylosing spondylitis), where the spine really becomes like a bamboo (and looks like one on X-ray). Just imagine the miseries of that person – stiff like bamboo.
Between two beads, there is a resilient disc, or pad, to absorb shocks while walking, running, jumping, or even while standing and sitting. Thus, wear and tear on the bones is lessened and the brain and internal organs are cushioned. The delicate string of the spinal cord runs through the central vertebral canal, and numerous nerve branches emerge from it and pass through the gaps between the vertebrae.
Role of Yoga for a Healthy Spine
Now, let us see what afflictions the spine can have and the role of a healthy spine and Yoga in prevention and cure of some of these problems. At the outset, it should be clear that where the bone tissue of the vertebrae itself is seriously diseased or has been destroyed by a disease, like tuberculosis, cancer, or a severe injury, the lost bony structures cannot be restored by Yoga.
Yoga helps maintain and restore the auxiliary structures, like the ligaments which hold the vertebrae together, the joints the shock-absorbers in between, and the para-vertebral muscles on either side of the vertebrae.
Yoga also helps in aligning the curvatures of the spine, maintaining the full range of spinal movements and flexibility, and relieving pressure on the nerves emerging between two vertebrae.
All the Yogasanas have some action on the spine in addition to their other individual actions and applications. The backward bending, forward bending, and sideward bending Asanas have obvious actions on the spine. Even the balancing Asanas, and sitting postures, help to maintain the para-vertebral musculature.
Matsyendrasana, and its variation Ardha-matsyendrasana, are the only two Asanas that give a complete rotatory movement to the entire vertebral column; the locked position of the leg, and the arm, acts as a fulcrum for the twist.
Conditions in the Neck
A healthy spine and Yoga practice can work together despite the inherent problems of the body. The spine’s natural curvature in the neck region is backward, but most of our time is spent working with our heads bent forward. Hence we get degenerative diseases like cervical spondylolysis. These spinal diseases are prevented and also cured by giving extension to the neck.
The orthopedic surgeons manage it by supplying a supporting collar or by confining the patient to a bed and applying traction on the neck, like a man being hanged. Yoga effectively arrests and alleviates the condition by simple postures, including Pawanmuktasana, Bhujangasana, Vajrasana, Shashankasana, Dwikonasana, Ardha- Matsyendrasana, and allied backward bending Asanas.
The second malady in this region, relieved by Yoga, is tension headache. Due to mental and postural tensions, the muscles at the back of the head and neck become tightened and spasmed (they can be felt as hard cords and knots). This causes an ache at the back of the head. Asanas, such as flexibility and neck exercises, involving free movements of the neck, release the tension load in the neck muscles.
Tension in the Mind
At the same time, Yoga-nidra and Shavasana reduce the levels of psychic and mental tensions. This double-pronged attack on the disease, using somatopsychic and psychosomatic techniques, proves most effective. Tensions in the mind and spasms in the muscles disappear reciprocally. Just as mental tensions lead to muscle spasms, so also by lessening the spasms in the muscles, one can relieve the mind of some of its tensions.
In the thoracic (chest) region, the spine is bent forward; if it is excessively bent, congestion of the thoracic nerves and crowding of the rib cage result. This reduces the space in which the lungs can expand, and respiratory efficiency diminishes. Stooped shoulders and hunched back occur in asthma and chronic bronchitis. These deformities can be removed by practicing Dhanurasana, Chakrasana, Bhujangasana, Matsyasana, and the like. At the same time, the efficiency of the respiratory system increases and the symptoms of the respiratory disease diminish.
A healthy spine and Yoga have a valuable relationship in areas of high risk. The most troublesome area of the spine is the lumbar (lower back) region. Its problems are manifold. The para-vertebral muscles become stiff and painful with the build-up of emotional, sexual, and menstrual tensions. They sprain by uncoordinated actions while lifting, bending, or driving. Spinal ligaments are torn by hard pulls or blows received during sports, etc. The muscles are imbalanced if the body weight is not equally divided between both legs due to some disease in the lower limbs.
In slipped disc, the cartilaginous ring of one of the shock-absorbing spinal discs ruptures, due to wear and tear, and its nucleus pulpous (the jelly-like substance in the middle of the spinal disc) may pop out and press on a nerve-root, leading to sciatic pain in one or both legs. The most common cause of low back pain is bad posture. We are not able to stand or sit properly, due to weakened muscles, lack of exercise, and sedentary life.
One also suffers from causes in front, when the abdomen becomes obese, flabby, and distended. A healthy spine and a Yoga lifestyle must work together to reduce, eliminate, or prevent this condition. The lumbar spine acts like the handle of a bag holding the contents of the abdomen. In obesity, the contents of the bag become heavy, due to the deposition of extra fat in the mesentery of the intestines. Mesentery is the supporting structure that straps the intestines to the spine. In an obese person, the mesentery is one of the significant extra fat depots.
The abdominal muscles support the contents in the bag from in front. If they are weak and flabby, the intestines fall forward, causing a pull on the vertebrae behind. This also leads to backache. Excess fat deposition in the abdominal wall also causes a pull on the lumbar vertebrae. In women, if the uterus is not placed correctly (retroversion), or if it has adhesions, low back pain may result. Pelvic infections are another cause.
Major organic diseases of the bones of the vertebral column, such as tuberculosis, cancer, and osteomyelitis are rare causes of spinal pain. There are many other common causes of pain in the spine, which can be successfully managed and corrected by Yoga techniques. The forward, backward, and sideward bending Asanas, mobilize the inter-vertebral joints, develop the supporting musculature of the spine, strengthen the ligaments, and massage the nerves and blood vessels.
These are essential if proper spinal health is to be maintained, especially in middle and later life. Since this development and maintenance occurs equally on each side, the possibility of unequal tensions on the spine is reduced. In the so-called ‘slipped disc syndrome’, including sciatica, the backward bending Asanas of the lower spine, e.g. Shalabhasana, Ushtrasana, Dhanurasana, and Bhujangasana are akin to the extension exercises given by the physiotherapist.
Relaxing Into Less Strain
Shavasana relaxes the entire musculature. Tadasana stretches the spinal ligaments, relieves pressure on the inter-vertebral discs, and lessens wear and tear. Similarly, the inverted Asanas (Sirshasana, Sarvangasana, Vipareet Karani mudra) change the pressure points, where the body weight is brought to bear on the lumbar vertebrae. This reduces strain on the lower back. Bhastrika pranayama, Uddiyana bandha, Agnisar, and Nauli Kriya develop the abdominal musculature, remove obesity, and resulting spinal strain.
Relax by Standing with a Correctly Aligned Posture
1. Bring the feet a few inches apart (10 cm) and parallel to each other. Then bring the awareness into the soles of the feet, and gently rock backward and forward, coming up onto the toes and back onto the heels.
2. Return to a standstill position and feel the contact with the floor through both feet. The body sways, and the weight moves forward, back, left, and right quite naturally. Be grounded through the feet, and allow them to take the weight evenly.
3. Ensure the knees are unlocked and pull up the kneecaps. If they point towards the center, rotate the thighs outward, and tighten the buttocks.
Exercise for Sitting posture.
1. Now, tilt the pelvis backward and forward, finding balance so the spine can grow comfortably upwards out of the hips.
2. Bring the shoulders up and back, and let them go wide, with the arms hanging loosely.
3. Hold the head and neck upright so that the ears are above the tops of the shoulders and the head feels lightly balanced on top of the neck.
4. Imagine that a string is attached to the top of the head and that someone is lifting the head up and out of the shoulders. Feel how your posture alters when you ‘let go’ of this imaginary string.
Over 80% of all cases of backache can be prevented or alleviated by the correct application of simple Yogic methods.
Courtesy: Dr. Rita Khanna’s Yogashaastra Studio.
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Dr. Rita Khanna
Dr. Rita Khanna is a well-known name in Yoga and Naturopathy. She was initiated into this discipline over 25 years ago by world famous Swami Adyatmananda of Sivananda Ashram in Rishikesh (India).
Dr. Rita Khanna firmly believes that Yoga is a scientific process which helps us to lead a healthy and disease-free life. She is also actively involved in practicing alternative medicines like Naturopathy. Over the years, she has successfully practiced these therapies and providing succor to several chronic and terminally ill patients through Yoga, Diet, and Naturopathy. She is also imparting Yoga Teachers Training.
Dr. Rita Khanna is currently running a Yoga Studio in Secunderabad (Hyderabad, India).
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About a Healthy Spine and Yoga
By Sangeetha Saran and Faye Martins
Do you suffer from back pain and other spinal issues? Or maybe you just want to improve your posture, flexibility and overall health. If so, yoga could be the answer! Yoga is an ancient practice that helps people build strength, improve balance and increase mobility. It has many benefits, especially for those with spinal issues. Let’s explore how regular yoga can help keep your spine healthy and strong. We will discuss different spine-focused poses that can help alleviate pain, as well as the potential risks involved in doing such exercises.
How do Yoga Poses Influence Spinal Alignment?
There are many different types of yoga poses, each with its benefits. Regarding spinal alignment, some yoga poses are better than others. Listed below are three yoga poses that can help improve your spinal alignment.
1. Cat-Cow Pose: This pose is excellent for stretching the spine and relieving back pain. To do this pose, start on your hands and knees. The hands are shoulder-width apart, while the knees are directly under your hips. As you inhale, drop your belly towards the mat and lift your gaze to the sky. As you exhale, round your back towards the ceiling and tuck your chin to your chest. Repeat this sequence for four rounds.
2. Cobra Pose: This pose helps to strengthen the muscles around the spine and improve flexibility in the lower back. To do this pose, lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you and place your hands palm-down on either side of your head. As you inhale, lift your head and chest off the ground and look up toward the sky. Hold this position for a few breaths before returning to starting position. Repeat this sequence for four rounds.
3. Downward Facing Dog Pose: This pose is a great way to stretch the entire back body while strengthening the arms and legs. To do this pose, start on all fours with your hands shoulder-width apart and knees hip-width apart. As you exhale, lift your hips toward the sky so that your body.
How Does Yoga Help the Back?
Yoga is an excellent way to improve back health. The stretches and positions help to lengthen and strengthen the muscles in the back, which can improve posture and prevent pain. In addition, yoga helps to increase flexibility and range of motion in the back, which can help to reduce stiffness and pain.
Safest Way to Practice Yoga Poses for Back Pain
It is common knowledge that yoga can be an extremely beneficial exercise for those suffering from back pain. By lengthening and stretching the muscles in the back and improving flexibility and range of motion, yoga can help to alleviate many common causes of back pain. However, it is essential to practice yoga poses safely to avoid further injury.
For starters, always warm up before attempting yoga poses, especially if you are new to the practice. A simple way to do this is to take a few minutes to walk around your mat or space before you begin. This will help to increase your heart rate and loosen up your muscles.
When it comes to specific poses, there are a few that are particularly helpful for back pain relief. These include child’s pose, cat-cow pose, and downward-facing dog. Remember to move slowly and mindfully when transitioning between poses, paying attention to how your body feels. If at any point you feel pain or discomfort, stop and rest in the child’s pose until the sensation subsides.
As with any exercise program, be sure to listen to your body and talk with your doctor before starting a yoga practice if you have any concerns about whether it is right for you.
Posturing for Daily Back Care
When we consider posture, we often think of how we sit or stand. However, posture also refers to the position we hold our bodies in while lying down. At the same time, proper posture during the day can make a big difference when it comes to back care.
The first thing to remember is that when you’re lying down, your spine should be in a neutral position. This means that your head, shoulders, and hips should align with each other. You can achieve this by lying on your back on a firm surface with a pillow under your head and knees. If you need additional support, you can also place a pillow under your lower back.
Once you’re in this position, you can do a few things to improve your posture further. First, try to avoid sleeping on your stomach if possible. This puts unnecessary strain on your spine and can lead to pain over time. Second, if you must sleep on your side, keep a pillow between your knees to maintain alignment and prevent pain in the hips or legs. Thirdly prevent sleep on your back all night. Finally, consider using a body pillow or placing pillows around you to avoid rolling on your back at night.
With these tips in mind, you can help ensure that you wake up feeling refreshed and without any pain or discomfort. Taking care of your spine is an essential part of quality life.
Yoga Poses for Preventative Spinal Health
Regarding spinal health, preventive measures are always better than cure. What better way to prevent back pain and other spine-related problems than through yoga?
Yoga poses for preventive spinal health include:
1. Child’s pose: This resting pose helps stretch the back and lengthen the spine. It also relaxes the mind and body, providing relief from stress.
2. Cat-cow pose: This pose gently massages the spine and increases flexibility in the neck and shoulders. It also helps relieve tension headaches.
3. Cobra pose: This pose strengthens the muscles in the back and promotes healthy posture. It can also help relieve lower back pain.
4. Bridge pose: This pose strengthens the muscles around the spine and improves circulation in the back. It can also help relieve sciatica pain.
5. Camel pose: This deep backbend helps increase flexibility in the spine and opens up the chest for deeper breathing.
Why You Should Get Your Doctor’s Approval Before Practicing Yoga Poses
Before you start your yoga practice, getting the all-clear from your doctor is important, especially if you have any health concerns. Here’s why:
Yoga is generally a safe form of exercise, but some poses may not be suitable for specific medical conditions. For example, if you have high blood pressure, some inversions (where your head is below your heart) could make it worse.
Your physical therapist or doctor can help you modify poses or choose different ones that will be more appropriate for your health situation. In addition, many yoga teachers are not trained medical professionals, so they may not be aware of your particular needs.
Getting the okay from your doctor before starting yoga will help ensure that you stay safe and healthy while enjoying the benefits of this beautiful practice.
Yoga Poses for Back Care
1. Child’s pose: This pose is perfect for lengthening the spine and releasing tension in the back.
2. Table Pose: This all-fours pose is a great way to get your spine into a neutral position, relax back muscles, and prepare them for more activity.
3. Half Downward Facing Dog: This modification of the classic yoga pose is excellent for lengthening the spine and strengthening the muscles along the back. The knees are on the ground in this version.
4. Baby Cobra Pose: This pose helps to open up the chest and shoulders, which can help alleviate pain in the upper back.
5. Half Camel Pose: This backbend is excellent for stretching tight back muscles and increasing flexibility.
6. Bridge pose: This pose strengthens the muscles along the entire spine length while also increasing flexibility in the back.
7. Seated spinal twist: This twist is lovely for giving your spine a good stretch while massaging your internal organs and aiding digestion. It’s beneficial if you sit at a desk all day long.
8. Puppy Pose: This gentle forward bend is perfect for elongating the spine and relieving shoulder and neck tension.
Medical Research About Yoga for Back Care
The benefits of yoga for back care have been well-documented in medical research. Yoga can help to improve back function and reduce pain. Several studies have shown that yoga is an effective treatment for chronic low back pain.
Yoga is a safe and effective way to improve back function and reduce pain. If you have chronic low back pain or scoliosis, talk to your doctor about whether yoga might be suitable for you.
Daily Tips for a Healthy Spine
1. Always maintain good posture when sitting, standing, and walking.
2. Exercise regularly to keep your spine healthy and strong.
3. Always warm up before participating in any physical activity.
4. If you experience any pain or discomfort in your spine, see a doctor or chiropractor for an evaluation.
5. When lifting anything heavy, use proper form to avoid injuring your spine.
Posturing for Life
When we consider yoga for spinal health, the images often come to mind are of long-backed poses. While yoga can be beneficial for spine health, it’s only one part of a comprehensive approach to healthy spines.
The Relationship Between the Spine and Yoga
The spine is the central column of the human body. It supports the head, neck, and trunk and provides a passage for the spinal cord. The spinal cord is a bundle of nerves that transmits signals between the brain and the rest of the body.
Yoga is an ancient Indian practice that involves physical, mental, and spiritual disciplines. Yoga can help to improve flexibility, strength, and balance. It can also help to reduce stress and promote relaxation.
There is a strong relationship between the spine and yoga. Yoga can help to keep the spine healthy by improving flexibility and strength and by promoting balance. A healthy spine is essential for a healthy body and mind.
The Benefits of Yoga for a Healthy Spine
The spine is the central support structure of the human body. It comprises vertebrae (bones) that are on top of each other and separated by spongy discs. The spinal cord is like a highway located through the center of the spinal structure and is protected by the vertebrae.
The bones, muscles, ligaments, and tendons of the spine work together to provide support and flexibility. However, this complex system can be easily disrupted by injury or disease. When the spine is not functioning properly, it can cause pain and disability.
Yoga is a form of exercise that can help to maintain a healthy spine. Posturing promotes flexibility and strength in the muscles and tissues surrounding the spine. This can help to prevent injuries and relieve pain. Yoga also helps improve posture and alignment, reducing strain on the spine.
Different Types of Yoga Poses for a Healthy Spine
1. Cat-Cow Pose: This pose is excellent for stretching and toning the spine. It also helps to relieve back pain.
2. Cobra Pose: This pose helps to strengthen the back muscles and improve flexibility in the spine.
3. Camel Pose: This pose helps to open up the chest and stretch the front of the body. It also helps to lengthen the spine and improve posture.
4. Child’s Pose: This pose is a restful position that can help to relieve back pain and fatigue. It also helps to lengthen the spine and increase flexibility in the hips and shoulders.
5. Sphinx Pose: This pose helps to strengthen the back muscles and increase flexibility in the spine. It is also helpful for relieving stress and tension headaches.
Practicing yoga is a great way to develop strength and flexibility in the spine. It also helps to improve posture, balance, coordination, and overall mobility. With regular practice of restorative spine-focused poses, one can experience not only physical benefits but mental ones as well. Yoga is an excellent way to stay connected with your body while positively affecting your mind. Whether you are new to yoga or a seasoned practitioner, it is important to remember that proper alignment is key for injury prevention and effective spinal movements. Finally, ensure that you get plenty of rest after each session so your body can recover from any stress it may have endured during practice – this will benefit your physical and psychological well-being.
© Copyright – Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
15 thoughts on “Healthy Spine and Yoga”
Dear Dr Khanna,
This was a great article and very helpful. I have no medical background, but on a medical website I read that nerves link various limbs of our body to various different sections of the spinal cord. Readers may benefit from a further article expalining this relationship and how yogasanas affect it. Possibly this can lead to a scientific understanding of kundalini and chakras?
Look forward to your response, and possible an article on this subject.
I am a regular reader of your articles in this foum and appreciate your valuable contribution to health awareness for benefit of humanity. I have been yoga yoga regulary for about 15 years and at the age of 68 I am physically fit. Your articles have been very helpful to make me concious of things which are good or bad from health point of view.
I am keen to join yoga teachers training program, if being conducted at your studio/ashram so I can also become helpful to the people in mainting their health.
Will look forward for your reply
Thanks and regards,
Syed Ajaz Ahmed
Dear Dr Khanna,
Thank you for your great article on “The Healthy Spine and Yoga”. I am also looking forward to know from you a scientific understanding of Kundalini and Chakras.
Thank you so much for an excellent article.
Its great indeed.
Am trying to reach it to many IT field youngsters.
Once again with love regards,
Dr. SN iyer
Dear Dr Ritu,
A wonderful article. While going through the article, one can visualise the entire spine in a great way with your simple comparisons of a tree, handle of a bag etc., which make a common man understand the efficiency of yoga. I love going through each of your articles. Thank you.
Thanks again for a great article. I will post it in the class room to help many enjoy the benefits of your expertise. Your explanations are digestible by novices. Keep up the great works. All the seeds you plant are so important to growth.
Dear Dr.Rita Khannaji,
As usual this time also I am inspired, being a regular reader of your articles.
Once again thanks for the unparellel article on the anotomy of human spine with indepth detailing in a very simple language suitable for any common man with a basic knowledge of English. This is an article worth storing for one’s lifetime.
This is a great work done by you. Thanks a lot.
Great article. Clear, quick and precise and easy to understand and apply.
Great post! Been reading a lot about spine health recently. Great info here! Thanks!
Yoga helps in aligning the curvatures of the spine, maintaining the full range of spinal movements and flexibility, Its really a good post.
I found it a bit challenging,I’m having pain in my upper back doing your poses.But totally worth it! I feel better and helped so much. thank u ^_^