Spinal rolls must be one of my favorite movements in yoga. Probably because they feel so good on the whole body! Don’t believe me? You’ll just have to follow the steps in this post to try them for yourself.
One of the greatest things about spinal rolls is that they can be done from a variety of positions. Like all postures in yoga, this movement can be modified for those with varied range of motion, strength, and flexibility. And spinal rolls can also be intensified for those looking for a bit more sensation.
This post will outline how to spinal roll from two different variations. Both variations come with a video to provide a visual of how this movement might look. Plus, I’ll include written cues that will ensure your alignment is on point, and that you can stay safe in your movement. Lastly, I’ll leave you with 3 spinal roll tips that will help you to master these movements.
How To Spinal Roll In Yoga
If you follow me on Instagram, then you’ve probably seen me spinal roll already. In fact, this has become somewhat of a “signature Kayla move,” because I incorporate these movements in most videos and classes that I provide.
Spinal rolls are two postures blended together, rather than one static shape. The posture tends to be one that provides an opening of the chest (a backbend), and another posture that rounds the spine. Think about weaving together Cat and Cow into a more fluid, wave-like manner. This would be an example of a spinal roll.
Benefits of Spinal Roll In Yoga
Like I mentioned above, this is one of my favorite movements in yoga, because it feels amazing. However, beyond that yummy feel-good nature of spinal rolls, there are also many physical benefits of these movements, as well.
Incorporating spinal rolls into your daily practice is a great way to prepare your body for deeper backbends, build mobility in the wrists, and boost circulation throughout the body.
Spinal rolls are incredible preparatory movements for your backbend practice in yoga. Typically, spinal rolls involve opening the frontline of the body (a backbend), followed by a movement that opens the backline of the body. Both of these movements melt together into one fluid motion to make a wave with the entire body, by increasing movement in the spine.
Wrist Mobility and Flexibility
Most of us are typing away on a laptop all day (kinda like how I am now), and our wrists don’t exactly love us for that. While many activities don’t give the wrists a lot of love, yoga is a practice that emphasizes wrist and hand strength through many postures.
Since the hands are on the ground for most spinal roll techniques (unless, of course, you’re doing a standing spinal roll) this means the wrists have a chance to strengthen, open, and work on their range of motion.
Full Body Strength
If you read my post about backbends for all levels, then you know that backbending is a full body experience. Spinal rolls incorporate backbends into these movements, which mean these, too, require activation in the entire body in order to effectively practice fluidly.
When you try spinal rolls you can expect to:
- Open the chest
- Strengthen shoulders
- Increase mobility in wrists
- Lengthen hamstrings
- Enhance hip mobility
- Open inner thighs
- Strengthen muscles surrounding the spine
- Activate core
- Lengthen spine
How To Spinal Roll on Knees
When you’re brand new to spinal rolls, it’s best to start on the knees to get the hang of it. This variation provides a more grounded approach to spinal rolls, and helps you to maintain balance and control.
Trying first on the knees is recommended to those of you with less hip mobility, lower shoulder strength, and sensitive wrists. Start here to get used to the movement, build heat, and warm up before lifting the knees into the downward facing dog variation.
Step 1: Tucked Toes Child’s Pose
Connect to your breath here. Start in Child’s Pose with the knees as wide as the hips, and all 10 toes tucked underneath you. Extend your arms forward so that your elbows are lifted off of your mat. Keep the toes tucked the entire time.
Step 2: Roll Into Cat Pose
Inhale to Cat Pose, by slowly ripping forward until your shoulder lands over your wrists. Try to use the breath to exaggerate the puffing of your shoulder blades up and back. Hug your belly up and in, and dramatically scoop your hips underneath you.
Step 3: Slide Back To Cow
Exhale to Cow Pose while simultaneously sinking your hips towards your heels. Lean into the breath to maintain a clear arch of the spine, lifting the hips and gaze skyward as the hips settle back towards your heels. You’ll notice the weight of your hips helps to open the arches of your feet.
Step 4: Repeat Fluidly With The Breath
Continue to move through these poses with the breath, try to make the movements smooth, and the spine supple. Inhales pull you forward to Cat, and exhales slither you back to Cow with hips towards heels. Let the breath drive the postures and lubricate the spine.
How To Spinal Roll in Downward Facing Dog
Once you feel comfy with your spinal rolls on the knees, then you can take it up a notch by lifting into Downward Facing Dog. Here, you’ll go through similar motions, but you’ll find there’s more strength, balance, and mobility required.
The most important thing to remember in your spinal rolls (especially with knees lifted), is that the hips are the driving force of the posture. This means the more you exaggerate the tuck and tilt of the hips, the more accessible you’ll find the spinal roll motion to be.
Step 1: Start In Downdog
Connect to your breath first here. In Downdog, make sure your feet are as wide as your hips, or wider if you want more space in the low back and a greater surface area to balance from. Maintain a soft or deep bend in your knees. If you’re tighter in the hips and low back, knees will bend a lot. Keep the gaze back between your legs, and press evenly into your hands.
Step 2: Roll From Downdog To High Plank
Inhale to High Plank, thinking Cat Pose as you ripple forward. Press the ground away from you a lot to spread your shoulders up and back. Use the breath to squeeze your glutes and drag the hips underneath you, puffing up the back body even more.
Step 3: Slide From High Plank To Downdog
Exhale back to Downdog, making a Cow tilt of the spine and gaze to emphasize the backbend. The more the knees bend, the more accessible the tilt of the hips will be. At the bottom of the breath, gaze reaches back between the legs to neutralize the spine.
Step 4: Repeat Fluidly
Continue with the breath by inhaling forward to High Plank with a Cat-like back, and exhaling to Downdog with a Cow-like back. Remember to use the entire spine by adjusting the gaze while you move. Try to make the movement as fluid as possible. If it’s too much, you can always lower to your knees.
Spinal Roll Tips
Spinal rolls are relatively accessible to all level yogis, and can be modified to your body’s needs. Regardless of where you’re at, there are a few key tips to remember to help you master the ooey gooey goodness of these movements.
The Hips Drive The Movement
The number one tip I’d like you to remember from ALL of this is that the movement in the hips will drive the entire spinal roll motion. That means I want you to get dramatic with that tuck, scoop, and curl underneath you as you inhale. And also get dramatic with that tilt, lift, and arch as you exhale.
The more the hips are involved, the easier it will be for the rest of the spine to move and open.
Use The Entire Spine
When you inhale to Cat Pose or High Plank, you’ll look towards your belly button, or directly down. When you exhale to Cow Pose or Downdog, you’ll look up first, and then back between the legs at the bottom of the breath.
Your gaze is going to dictate the movement of your head. When your head is moving, this is ensuring that you get the cervical spine (the uppermost portion of the spine) involved. If you’re looking in the same spot the entire time, then the cervical spine won’t be as involved.
Many people can do the Cat-like scoop of the hips pretty well. But tightness in the back, hamstrings, and inner thighs can prevent the exaggerated tilt from happening- especially in the Downdog variation of spinal rolls.
If you’re feeling like the tilt is near impossible when you’re spinal rolling in Downdog, then bend your knees A LOT. The more the knees bend, the greater range of motion your hips will have. Remember, sometimes it just takes time for the body to warm up, and open. No need to push it.