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In terms of our anatomy, the spinal column is an engineering work of art. Getting up on two legs – evolving from bipeds to quadrupeds – allowed us humans to see further and freed up our hands to carry tools and perform other tasks. It also conserved energy. Comparisons have shown that humans walking on two legs consume only a quarter of the energy that chimpanzees use while knuckle-walking on all fours.

The changes in the spine’s relationship to gravity did, however, come at a cost. Because the spine developed into a weight-bearing column from the ‘suspension bridge’ design of our distant ancestors, it is a structure that can become stressed more easily.

In yoga when we do forward bends, we need to be respectful of the natural curves of the back and be especially aware when, as more than not, our backs don’t conform to those natural curves. Some yoga practitioners may be over-flexible and need to develop back strength; others need more suppleness.

I, for one, have a mostly straight back. It’s been the envy of many – probably all those who were told to ‘sit up straight’ at school and the dinner table. In actual fact, I have to work at simulating the neck, upper back, lower back and sacrum curves that ought to be there.
Whatever curves your back expresses or doesn’t, treat your spine with care when performing the seated forward bends. Roger Cole, in an article from the American Yoga Journal, gives some tips and information on how best to work into forward bending.
Here’s a sequence of Forward Bends and Twists for you to follow if you like a challenging program:

Sitting: 5 min.

Warm-up

Supta padangusthasana 1

Virasana, with arms o/head

Dynamic

Adho mukha virasana/Adho mukha svanasana x 5

Salutes:

1. Tadasana/Urdhva hastansa/Uttanasana x5

2. Tadasana/Utkatasana/Uttanasana x5

3. Tadasana/Utkatasana/Uttanasana/Urdhva Prasarita ekapadasana – both sides

Prasarita Padottanasana

Sirsasana or Adho mukha Vrskasana & Pincha Mayurasana

Seated:

1. Dandasana/Paschimottanasana/Navasana x3

2. Dandasana/Paschimottanasana/Ubhaya padangusthasana x 3

3. Dandasana/Paschimottanasana/Malasana x 3

4. Dandasana/Paschimottanasana/Urdhva Mukha Paschimottanasana

Upavistha Konasana 1 & 2

Quietening

Dandasana

Janu Sirsasana

Trianga Mukhaikapada Paschimottanasana

Ardha Baddha Padma Paschimottanasana

Marichyasana 1

Baddha Konasana

Twists:

Bharadavajasana 1 & 2

Marichyasana 3

Ardha Matsyendrasana 1

Paschimottanasana

Sarvangasana, Halasana

Jatara Parvartanasana

Savasana