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Yoga for a healthy back: run long and strong with a supple spine

Maintaining a strong and healthy back will help you run pain and injury-free

yoga pose

A healthy spine is key to overall health and moving (and running) well. The spine may be the most important part of your well-being–it houses the central nervous system, responsible for controlling and coordinating movement. Here’s how (and why) you should try some simple yoga for your spine.

In her book Yoga for RunnersChristine Felstead shares that the spine is connected to a large and complex group of muscles, enabling it to support the body in stillness and allowing the torso to move in many directions. “Running is a weight-bearing sport and involves repetitive stress for periods of time,” Felstead says. “While it’s easy to blame running for lower-back pain, sitting all day is the more-likely culprit.”

Yoga can help balance the effects of sitting for hours and improve running performance by strengthening the muscles and ligaments supporting the spine. Get started with a couple of simple poses.

Cat-cow stretch

Start by kneeling (place some extra padding under your knees if this bothers them) on a mat or the floor with your hands on the floor in front of you. Hands should be under your shoulders, knees under hips–spread fingers wide and press them into the floor.

Take a deep breath in while curving your lower back, dropping your belly and bringing your head up, tilting your pelvis up (like a cow). Exhale deeply and bring your abdomen in, arching your back and dropping your chin and head down to move into cat pose.

Repeat several times, using your breath to guide you. Move as slowly as you can to really feel the stretch in both directions, and feel free to pause in either direction to go deeper.

Supine twist

This pose feels lovely and is perfect to do after a tiring day or a long run. Try it just before bed to feel extra-relaxed and mellow.

Lay on your back, bend your knees, and bring your thighs into your chest, wrapping your arms around them and giving them a squeeze.

Extend your arms out to the side at shoulder height, palms down. Squeeze your knees together, and then roll your knees toward your left elbow and allow them to fall toward the floor.Turn your head and gaze to the right to deepen the stretch. Really reach through the right arm, working to keep the shoulder grounded with only the hips moving.

Take a few deep breaths here, closing your eyes if you’d like, and repeat on the other side when you’re ready.