by Jessica Young | Photography by Hannah Fehrman
What holds you together every day isnít your professionalism, your best friends or even your favorite pair of bootsóitís your spine! Your bodyís strength, stature and posture begin and end with a strong healthy back; care for your back and it will care for you. The wonderful yogis at Tula Yoga are back with a gentle but thorough workout to put your spine through its full range of motion.

When youíre working with your back, especially if you have a previous injury, TAKE YOUR TIME. If it doesnít feel good, donít do it! If youíre at all unsure of whether your body can handle these poses, consult with your health care professional, and if you feel pain, STOP! These poses are designed to build strength and flexibility, to encourage surrender, to cultivate relaxation, but not to cause pain.

The first pose in this series is an Urbaness favorite: Childís pose.
Balasana Say, ďBah-LAH-sa-nahĒ

Childís pose is absolutely wonderful. Itís one of those poses we all find ourselves in, even when weíre not doing yoga. Childís pose aids digestion, calms the nervous system, lengthens the spine and back muscles, and quiets the mind. Itís a great pose when youíre feeling overwhelmed or need a rest, whether in the middle of your practice, in the middle of a busy day, or at the end of the night before you turn in. Itís also a must whenever youíre practicing inversions, to give your body a bit of rest after you turn your world upside down. Try Balasana at the beginning of your yoga practice: spend a few minutes in contemplation, tuning in to your breath and focusing your mind, before you begin to move.

Come to your hands and knees on your mat. Bring your big toes to touching, the tops of your feet releasing into the mat, and spread your knees about hip-width apart (remember, thatís about the width of your two fists together). Inhale here and lengthen your spine.

As you exhale, use the strength of your arms and your abs to push and pull your hips back slowly. Nestle your sits bones back toward your heels and allow your spine to lengthen. Soften and relax into the pose. As you let your front body and torso drape over your thighs, take your inhales and exhales into your back body; feel your ribcage expanding with each inhale and contracting with each exhale. Let your neck relax, and rest your forehead on your mat or on a blanket or block.

To take this pose passively, you can either allow your forearms to drape along the mat, or you can rest your arms beside your thighs. Rest your head on the mat, or on a yoga block or blanket. Let your body rest in the pose. Drink each nourishing breath in, and notice that as your breath slows, your heart and your mind slow and quiet down.

To take the pose more actively, stretch your arms out strongly toward the front edge of your mat. Press your hands into the mat, and roll your shoulder blades toward your inner arms, in order to externally rotate your shoulders. Try lifting the palms of your hands and pressing your fingertips into the mat to activate your arms.

To come out of the pose, inhale and use the strength of your abs and arms to press you back up to your hands and knees. Alternatively, you could take your hands on the mat, underneath your shoulders and press into your hands and roll your spine up slowly, one vertebra at a time, until youíre sitting back on your heels, upright.

Although this is an absolutely delicious pose, there are lots of ways to adapt it to make it suit your needs. For instance, to stimulate your digestion, consider taking your legs together and laying your torso over your closed thighs. Take big belly breaths into your abdomen to massage your internal organs in this forward fold. If youíre having cramps, try taking a bolster or a few pillows between your thighs and cradling them with your arms, turning your head to one side. You can even try taking balasana on your back. Lie on your back, bend your knees and pull them into your chest. You can hold each leg below the knee on the back of your thigh or on your shin and, with an exhale, pull them into your chest.

Tula Yoga teacher Cassi Stuckman reminds us to be mindful about how wide to take your legs in balasana. Play with taking the legs wide or narrow, but remember to be kind to your lumbar (lower) spine and sacrum, the triangular bone at the base of your spine. If any movement feels uncomfortable, or especially painful, donít do it.