Spinal Spaciousness

Spinal Spaciousness

dancer pose


Some key indicators of spinal health include strong bones, durable yet flexible ligaments, supple discs, and strong supportive muscles.

Aside from nutrition, it’s not enough to say that movement in general is enough to nurture spinal health. We need to be active participants and intentional about the techniques we use in our movements to actually maintain a healthy spine.

Even when heart-opening postures are a part of our asana practice, we may not be as dialed in to the techniques required to foster spinal health and spaciousness: Promoting space between the vertebrae helps us avoid compression; developing patterns that don’t serve us over time can result in decreased spinal health and increased pain. In his most recent heart-opening workshop, Freedom of the Heart, Matt highlights how to maintain spinal spaciousness in Dancer Pose. Today, we’ll examine some key points to develop in this posture. 

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How can we dial into what’s required of us to reach our potential in our backbends? In the full class, Matt shares the very first step: tuning into the sensations in our bodies. Our bodies are intelligent; they respond in a way that both protects us and supports us in finding more depth in our backbends at the right time.  

For the most part, it may be easier to identify the areas where we feel more open, where we have increased mobility; however, tapping into the sensations of the restricted areas will help us open up overall. It’s in these restricted areas where we need to place our focus and effort, for example, by applying the technique of “bowing the spine.” Staying present in the physicality of the experience will unleash the ability to expand and create spinal spaciousness.




After sensational awareness comes the utilization of biomechanics and the application of anatomical knowledge. In preparation for Dancer, Matt demonstrates a drill at the wall to practice bowing the spine.

The key cues here include the following:

  1. Moving the ribs forward
  2. Sending the heart up
  3. Pushing the hips and buttocks back
  4. Pressing the hands isometrically downward to increase the lift of the heart

Next, he demonstrates Dancer Pose at the wall. This time, because we’re grabbing the foot, we’re layering on the sensational awareness of opposing forces: sending the knee back while pushing the foot into the hand, and of course, moving the chest forward by bowing the spine. If we were to just reach back without first lifting and opening the front body, there would be increased compression, therefore placing spinal health at more risk.

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One of the most important actions in the body for King Dancer is the movement of the elbow. The elbow comes in and then rotates to help us hold the foot or strap. This encourages the necessary amount of spinal extension for the posture.  

Placing emphasis and awareness on all of the moving parts leads to a more pleasing experience. It’s so important to adopt a systematic approach, knowing that we must first create the spinal extension before moving on to the next actions. Now, Matt continues to emphasize that the approach is not dogmatic, but that listening to the sensations in our bodies will indicate where we need to place our attention and work. This effort may be to relax or to engage a muscle. It may also provide clarity as to where more spinal mobility is required.

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If we repeatedly engage in actions that cause compression in the spine during backbends, we are only furthering damage and placing our spinal health at risk. Spinal spaciousness allows for better quality of movement. 

Finding such a lightness and spaciousness in the spine during backbends is not impossible. Often, it comes after a period of more effortfulness: In the process of achieving a heart opener like Dancer Pose, we are engaging the proper muscles and implementing the right techniques. The awareness and repetition of these actions makes us active participants and multiplies our potential.

Matt’s most recent workshop, Freedom of the Heart, delves into the explorations of multiple backbends. It’s in these explorations that we uncover more about what’s possible in our heart-opening practice.

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Article by Trish Curling

Video Extracted From: Freedom of the Heart Workshop 

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