Friday Flow: 5 Movements of the Spine

Did you know that the human spine can move in five different ways?

In the Krishnamacharya-Desikachar lineage, we categorize an asana, or pose, beginning with one of these spinal movements. Moving the spine in these five different ways can help individuals improve their overall spinal health and general aches and pains in the back. The benefits of this practice comes from the entirety of asana-s, or poses, that can move and stretch our inherently flexible spines into five distinct ways, and even help those who have lost some strength and stability in the spine.


Music Credit: Surya Namaskar (Sun Salutation) - Michael Mandrell and Benjy Wertheimer

5 Movements of the Spine

Let’s give you a short brief of each of the asana-s, or poses, using Sanskrit and Anatomical terms, and then get you to explore some of these basic movements in a simple and short flow.


  1. Samasthiti or axial extension is a vertical, straight back posture of an upright body.

  2. Paschimatana or flexion is a forward folded spine posture which stretches the posterior body.

  3. Purvatana or extension is called a back bend or arch. These are exactly the opposite to a flexion. Extending the spine backward, or arching the back body stretches the anterior body.

  4. Parsva or lateral bends are side bends to the right side of the body. It’s not always a common movement our spine goes into unless we naturally stretch with our arms up over to one side creating a banana shape with the body.

  5. Parivritti or twisting is a movement we tend to unconsciously do in various activities like rotating to look behind while reversing your car out or to talk to a person seated beside you.

Additional Classification of Spinal Movement

  1. Viparita or inversion is a any when the head is positioned below the heart. This can include a variety of the above movements of the spine. Now can you think of the last time your spine was inverted?

3 Sections of the Spine

Image source:

Image source:


Many of these movements of the spine can be combined in various yoga asana-s. Variations of these asana-s can help to target the three different sections or areas of the spine: cervical (neck), thoracic (upper back), and lumbar (lower back). Below the lumbar spine is the sacrum and coccyx, which are typically seen as also a part of the pelvis.

The three different sections of the spine have varying degrees of movement. The lumbar spine (lower back) and cervical spine (neck) have more capacity for range of movement then the thoracic spine (upper back).

Why do you think this might be? The ribs and other physical structures, like many of your major digestive organs, are fussed to this area of the spine or interwoven into the connective tissue here at the thoracic section.

Guided Flow

The flow serves as a simple guide you can follow to get your spine moving in all 5 positions:

Samasthiti - Standing at Attention; straight spine and feet grounded

Inhale, stand tall with spine straight. Exhale, feel the feet press into the earth.

Parsva Tadasana - Side Bend Mountain Pose; lateral bend

Inhale, lift arms overhead, bring palms to touch. Exhale side bend. Inhale, straighten the spine. Exhale, side bend to opposite side. Inhale, straighten the spine.

Uttanasana- Forward Fold; flexion

Exhale, forward fold, bend the knees as need to reach the floor with your hands.

Anjaneyasana- Low Lunge; back arch

Inhale, step one foot behind you, and drop the back knee to the mat. Press the front foot and back shine into the mat. Inhale, lift your arms up and overhead, palms touch.

Parivritti Anjaneyasana- Twisted Low Lunge; spinal twist

Exhale, bring the elbow to opposite knee, twisting at the navel. Inhale, stay in the pose. Exhale, untwist the spine and bring your palms to the mat. Inhale, stay in the pose.

Adho Mukha Svanasana- Downward Facing Dog; combination of back arch and flexion

Exhale, step the front foot back and lift the hips toward the sky. Press the chest toward the thighs, feeling the heels ground toward the mat.

Virabhadrasana II - Warrior 2; combination of twist and axial extension

Inhale, lift the leg. Exhale, step the same foot forward, and turn the back heel down to about 45 degrees. Press the feet down, Inhale, stand up, and lift your arms up and open to a T shape. Exhale, stay in the pose.

Utthita Parsvakonasana - Extended Side Angle Pose; twist and lateral bend

Inhale, reach the front arm forward, keep the hips in one line. Exhale, reach the front arm to the inside of the front shine. Lift the opposite arm high. Inhale, press the feet down and lift up to Virabhadrasana II. Inhale to stay, Exhale, circle the arms down to the mat and step the front foot back to Downward Facing Dog. Inhale, look forward.

Chaturanga Dandasana - Four-Limbed Staff Pose (Low Plank); axial extension

Exhale, draw the chest over the wrists and drop the hips. Engage your core. Inhale, press up between the shoulderblades. Exhale, hug the elbows in toward the body and bend into your elbows.

Urdhva Mukha Svanasana - Upward Facing Dog; back arch

Inhale, flip the toes as you straighten your arms and pull the chest forward through the shoulders. Keep the hips and knees lifted. Gaze toward the sky.

Adho Mukha Svanasana - Downward Facing Dog; back arch and flexion

Exhale, flip the toes back under, lift the hips up and toward the sky for Downward Facing Dog.

Uttanasana- Forward Fold; flexion

Inhale, look forward. Exhale, forward fold, bend the knees as need to reach the floor with your hands.

Samasthiti - Standing at Attention; straight spine and feet grounded

Inhale, stand tall with spine straight, lift the arms overhead. Exhale, lower the arms, feel the feet press into the earth.

Repeat on the opposite side.

End in Samasthiti.


Happy Friday - Have Fun Flowing!

Screenshot (5).png