Give your discs a drink - 4 easy ways to keep your spine supple & strong
Our spines are wondrous structures – the bony parts give us the strength to stand upright; the discs give us the suppleness to move; and the spinal cord acts as part of the central nervous system.
The spinal cord is an information super highway, with the brain sending motor messages to the body via the spinal cord, instigating movement, and the body sending messages to the brain about what we are touching and feeling. Amazingly, the spinal cord can also react to immediate threat (spinal reflexes) without sending a message to the brain.
In Yoga terms we visualise the spine as being the channel of energy linking our base instincts with our higher consciousness – energy rising from the base chakra of ‘hearth and home’ (Muladhara) right up to our highest level, the bliss centre (Sahasrara).
It is key that this energy channel remains open and free from obstruction, so the physical alignment of our spine is intrinsic to our spiritual alignment.
To maintain a healthy spine, there are four basic steps that we can take:
1. EAT a healthy diet
The bony vertebrae of our spines carry around 80% of our body weight when we are standing upright, so it makes sense to feed them well.
Osteoporosis affects post-menopausal women in particular, with about one third being ‘fast bone losers’ – checking that your dietary balance is correct for your particular stage in life is important. For example, post-menopausal women (51yrs on) require more calcium than men, but women and men at other ages require the same amount.
2. DRINK enough water
Between the vertebrae we have ‘cushions’, the intervertebral discs. These discs do not have their own blood supply, and rely on water and nutrients being ‘sucked’ in from surrounding tissues (the inner centre - nucleus pulposus - contains a gel that actively attracts water).
The European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) recommends a daily water intake of 1.6litres for women and 2.0 litres for men.
3. MOVE regularly
To maintain our healthy spine, we need to ensure that we move daily in the six directions – flexion, extension, lateral side bend left & right, twisting left & right – in order to keep enhancing our range of movement (ROM).
Practising the Dru Yoga Foundational Energy Block Release (EBR1) sequence on a daily basis takes the practitioner through each of these directional movements, allowing us to integrate these ROM exercises into our daily routine.
4. SLEEP well
During sleep, the discs are replenished with water – we ‘grow’ in our beds (we can grow up to 2.5cms) as the discs become newly plumped up by this intake of water & nutrients. A similar process takes place while we are in Relaxation after our Dru Yoga practice.
It is important to get enough sleep (7-8 hours is recommended), to allow this process to fully take place, as during the day compression forces create shrinkage.
WHY is a healthy spine so important?
A healthy spine, able to move freely in the six directions, will reduce our chances of injury in daily life.
In my role as a yoga therapist, I have seen clients for whom just a small slip, a seemingly insignificant movement, appeared to have caused a hugely painful reaction. But sometimes the small incident is actually the outcome of a long chain of actions accrued over many days, weeks, months.
I liken it to our bodies saying to us:
“Well, you didn’t listen to me when I was whispering to you, so now I’ve had to shout”.
By conscious movement of our bodies on a daily basis, we can listen to the whisper, and learn what our bodies need in order to joyfully support us as we move through life.
Michelle Helstrip – Dru Yoga Therapist
Founder of DRUVA – Yoga & Wellbeing
Sources & Further Information:
Spine function: ‘Yoga Body Anatomy: Insights to Muscular Movements’ (Dr. Shashirekha), Chakras: ‘The Seven Main Chakras’ project by Michelle Helstrip, Meditation: Dru Yoga Teacher Training Course Book 1 p.45, Spine structure: ‘Yoga & Anatomy’ course with Dr. Ruth Gilmore & Paul Fox, Calcium intake: https://www.acefitness.org/education-and-resources/lifestyle/blog/2461/do-men-and-women-have-different-nutritional-needs/, Disc rehydration: ‘Quantitative Analysis of Diurnal variation in Volume and Water Content of Lumbar Intervertebral Discs’ (Roberts N. et al) https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/9445091/,