Lengthen Your Spine With This Axial Extension-Focused Yoga Practice

Warrior lll, much like Bird Dog Pose is a great pose for lengthening.

In our modern world, we all spend much time slouched forward. Whether we’re staring at a computer screen at work, texting on our smaller screens at home, or relaxing on the couch after a long day (also often in front of another screen!), it’s probably safe to say that a lot of us spend a lot of time with our spines rounded forward in flexion. 

Now, this isn’t necessarily a bad thing! Spinal flexion is a normal, healthy movement pattern that should be explored on a daily basis. But it’s not the only movement pattern of the spine. Most people tend to neglect the other movement capabilities of the back body.

Moving through all ranges of motion is extremely helpful and beneficial to all joints in the body—including those in the spine. So, countering typical daily spinal flexion with spinal extension, lateral flexion, and rotation is helpful.

But there is also another movement pattern of the spine that is less often discussed: axial extension. Axial extension is when the spine lengthens skyward to give you the sensation of growing taller in your body. This movement pattern helps to create more space within the joints to allow for a change in pressure, which draws in nutrients and increases lubrication. 

Practice This Yoga Sequence to Focus Axial Extension in Your Spine

This practice focuses on creating length in your spine while emphasizing axial extension. You may wish to have a yoga block or thick book to help you find more axial extension in some postures.

Seated Meditation

Seated Mediation for finding length in the spine.

Start by finding axial extension in a simple seat. 

  1. Start seated in a comfortable cross-legged position on your mat. 
  2. Create a slight anterior tilt of your pelvis by reaching the front rim of your pelvis toward the top of your mat. Imagine you’re trying to spill the contents of your pelvic bowl forward. You may want to elevate your hips by sitting on your block to help you find this pelvic title more easily. 
  3. Once you find this pelvic tilt, root down firmly into your sitting bones to feel the rebound of the floor or your prop against your seat. 
  4. Use this rebound to create even more length in your spine as you reach the crown of your head toward the sky. 
  5. Allow your lower body to become heavy, and then feel the contrast in the buoyancy of your spine and upper body. 
  6. Ever so slightly, engage your core by cinching in around your waistline and hugging your navel toward your spine. Notice how this subtle activation may help you lengthen your spine a little more. 
  7. Option to close your eyes as you draw your awareness to your breath. Observe how your breath flows effortlessly when you give your breathing organs and muscles the space they need to take full, deep breaths. 
  8. Hold for a few moments before moving on to the next pose. 

Revolved Easy Pose (Parvrtta Sukhasana)

With a seated twist it's best to grow tall and then gently twist.

See if you can maintain your axial extension as you move your spine in other directions.  

  1. Keeping all of the activation and length you created in your Seated Meditation, inhale to reach your arms toward the sky. Notice how this extra reach allows your spine to lengthen even more. 
  2. Maintain this length as you exhale and turn your torso toward the right side of your mat, allowing the right side of your pelvis to scoot back a bit. Release your right fingertips behind you and rest your left hand on your right knee. 
  3. With every inhalation, grow slightly taller in your spine as you create even more axial extension. 
  4. With every exhalation, gently firm around your center to twist a little bit further toward the right. 
  5. Hold several full, deep breaths, then unwind your twist, rotating your pelvis back to the center. Reach your arms back up toward the sky as you lengthen your spine. 
  6. Exhale and twist to the opposite side. 
  7. Continue to flow through these twists for a few deep breaths before moving on to the next pose. 

Bird Dog Pose (Parsva Balasana)

Bird Dog Pose is a great pose for finding length through the spine and the entire body in axial extension.

Find axial extension to help you balance in Bird Dog Pose. 

  1. Roll forward onto all fours into Tabletop Pose (Bharmanasana). Align your shoulders over your wrists and your hips over your knees. 
  2. Lengthen your tailbone toward the back of your mat and reach the crown of your head toward the top of your mat to create space between the joints in your spine.
  3. Stretch and extend your right leg toward the back of your mat and kick out through your right heel.
  4. Subtly engage your core, and when you feel stable, float your right leg off the floor and lift it to about the height of your hip. 
  5. Shift your weight into your right hand and become light on your left hand. When you feel stable, float your left hand off the floor and extend it straight toward the top of your mat, framing your face. 
  6. Kick back strongly through your right foot and reach forward with equal and opposite energy through your left arm. Allow this push and pull of your limbs to create even more space across your whole back body. 
  7. Hold for a few deep breaths before slowly releasing and switching sides. 

Revolved Low Lunge Pose (Parvrtta Anjaneyasana)

In Revolved Low Lunge, practice finding length in the spine and then a gentle twist.

Again, strive to maintain your axial extension as you twist your spine and change your leg positioning. 

  1. Return to Tabletop Pose and step your right foot forward next to your right thumb. 
  2. Option to slide your left knee further down the mat to widen your lunging stance.
  3. Energetically squeeze your legs toward each other. 
  4. Raise your torso to an upright position and float your arms up toward the sky. 
  5. Sink the weight of your hips toward the floor as you stretch the crown of your head upward to lengthen your whole back body. 
  6. Keep this length as you draw your palms to meet in front of your heart.
  7. Inhale, grow even taller. Exhale, turn your torso toward the right—option to hook your left elbow over your right thigh. 
  8. Maintain the length in your spine as you stretch the crown of your head forward. 
  9. Hold for a few deep breaths before moving on to the next pose. 

High Crescent Lunge (Anjaneyasana)

Crescent Lunge Pose with arms expended up in the air.

Find more space in your spine as you balance. 

  1. Return back to your Low Lunge position with your arms reaching toward the sky. 
  2. Tuck your back toes under and root firmly into your front foot to float your back knee off the floor. 
  3. Soften the weight of your tailbone toward the mat to lengthen across your lower back. Keep this as you stretch the crown of your head toward the sky and reach up through your arms. 
  4. Ever so slightly, engage your core and hug your lower ribs and your pelvis toward each other. 
  5. Focus on maintaining this length in your back body as you breathe deeply. 
  6. Hold for a few long breaths, and then move on to the next pose. 

Warrior III Pose (Virabhadrasana III)

Warrior lll, much like Bird Dog Pose is a great pose for lengthening and axial extension.

Maintain axial extension as you challenge your balance even further. 

  1. Maintain your axial extension from your High Lunge Pose and lean your torso forward to hover just above your front thigh. 
  2. Focus your eyes on one non-moving point on the floor and keep your gaze locked there.
  3. Lean the weight of your torso forward until your back leg becomes light and naturally lifts from the floor. 
  4. Immediately, kick back strongly through your back heel and simultaneously reach forward with your arms to find the counterbalance of your weight over your standing leg. 
  5. As you reach in opposite directions with your limbs, allow this action to lengthen your spine even more to further establish your axial extension. 
  6. Hold a few long, deep breaths before slowly releasing into the next pose.  

Downward Facing Dog Pose (Adho Mukha Svanasana)

Downward Dog Pose and Axial Extension in yoga practice.

Create space in your back body in this super common pose. 

  1. Release your back leg to the floor and bend your knees to ground your hands to the mat roughly shoulders-distance apart. 
  2. Step your front foot back to meet your other foot at the back of your mat roughly hips-distance apart. 
  3. Pause for a moment in a Plank Pose (Phalakasana). Then, lift your hips toward the sky as you lengthen your back body. 
  4. Root firmly into both hands and lift your weight from your shoulders. 
  5. Stretch your sitting bones toward the sky and, again, find a subtle anterior tilt of your pelvis as you lift your tailbone skyward and lengthen across your lower back. 
  6. Soften the weight of your heels toward the floor—option to bend your knees as much as you’d like. Focus on creating axial extension here now more than a leg stretch.
  7. Hold for a few long, deep breaths before repeating your sequence on the opposite side. 

Enjoy Axial Extension and Other Spinal Movement Patterns 

Because this article focuses on axial extension, it’s easy to assume that it is the best or healthiest movement pattern. But remember that all movement patterns are healthy and beneficial. So, use this extension practice and other forms of spinal movements to keep your spinal joints as healthy and happy as possible!

Leah Sugerman, E-RYT 500, YACEP, yoga writer

Leah Sugerman is a yoga teacher, writer, and passionate world traveler. An eternally grateful student, she has trained in countless schools and traditions of the practice. She teaches a fusion of the styles she has studied with a strong emphasis on breath, alignment, and anatomical integrity. Leah teaches workshops, retreats, and trainings, both internationally and online. For more information, visit www.leahsugerman.com.

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