“The spine is the source of all human energy in life.” – Bishnu Charan Ghosh

The spine is the focus of every posture we do in Bikram Yoga because the health of the entire body depends on the health of the spine. In our 90-minute class, we stretch the spine to restore space between the vertebrae, take pressure off the discs between the vertebrae, and strengthen and develop the back muscles. A spine that can stretch and lengthen well benefits the internal organs, spinal cord, and nervous system.

As a starting point to stretch the spine effectively, we need to know how to use the legs and arms to help the process.

You can try these simple exercises for yourself using the steps below:

First, the legs. The legs are your foundation and the foundation of spine stretching.

standing exercise

Legs exercise:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  • Stand up straight, and be proud!
  • Now: chest up. Lean back a little to bring weight into the heels. Do you notice that your thighs are starting to get active?
  • Feet flat on the floor. Notice your feet. As you try to stand up straight more, the more your feet try to push down into the floor.
  • Keep pushing your feet down.
  • Buttocks forward, thighs back, stomach back.
  • Actively stand like this for a minute, then relax.

Now the arms. Have you ever noticed how a big cat walks? Think of a leopard, and imagine its front legs. As the leopard walks, the shoulder blade/scapula of each front leg propels it forward. We can learn to use our arms in the same way.

arms exercise

Arms exercise:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  • Hold both arms in front of you, parallel to the floor (like Awkward posture in the Bikram class)
  • Rotate your arms so that your palms face the ceiling.
  • Very slowly, bring your arms out to the side, still in a straight position.
  • Very slowly, without changing anything, bring your arms up to touch your ears, palms facing each other.
  • Notice that your shoulder blades come with you. You are not lifting from the top of the shoulder (near the neck, also called the inner shoulder.) The lift is propelled from underneath the shoulder blade.
  • Keep stretching up from the shoulder blade. Don’t do anything intentionally with the spine, but notice how it comes with you, the rib cage lifting up with the arms.
  • To come out, slowly and precisely reverse the steps you made to get into the posture. (Come out exactly the opposite of the way you went in.)


(Incidentally, this exercise is also wonderful therapy if you have shoulder pain.)

Now you can put it all together to stretch the spine.

integrated exercise

Legs, arms, and spine exercise:

  • Stand with feet hip-width apart.
  • Bring your arms over your head sideways (exactly as in the arms exercise, go slowly)
  • Thighs back, stomach back, buttocks forward.
  • Push your feet down into the floor. Rise up through your active thighs.
  • Chest up.
  • Keep the inner shoulders relaxed, and stretch your arms up towards the ceiling.

Keep pushing your feet down. Try to touch the ceiling! Keep doing, and notice how you stretch up out of the waist. You are stretching up and down in opposite directions, tractioning the spine.  

These steps are the basis of all postures which stretch the spine. And, as you already know, that is all of them in Bikram Yoga. It may not be obvious how these steps work in every posture, but you can start with the Half-Moon pose and keep investigating from there. As you listen to and practice the Bikram Yoga dialogue in each posture in class, you will start to recognize and be able to apply these techniques for maximum benefit.

Take it slowly, concentrate, meditate and enjoy the exploration.

“If you have a strong, healthy spine, the world is yours.” – Bikram Choudhury