Rolling up from a standing forward bend can be damaging!
What happens to your lumbar spine when instructed to “round or roll up” from a standing forward bend?
The lumbar spine curves in to accommodate the weight of the structures above it (cervical and thoracic spine; ribcage, head and their contents). Between the bony vertebral bodies are spinal discs. The nucleus of the disc acts as a shock absorber, absorbing the impact of the body’s daily activities and keeping the two vertebrae separated. The disc is like a jelly doughnut: the strong outer layer (annulus fibrosis) is similar to the dough and the gel-like center (nucleus pulposis) is the jelly. For example, if one presses down on the front of the doughnut the jelly moves posteriorly (to the back).
In a yoga class, the discs get slightly squeezed from different angles depending on the position of the spine. This is actually a good thing because it keeps them nourished and healthy.The problems arise when we put too much pressure on the disc.
Think about rolling up (see image). You are asking the lumbar discs to bear the weight of the head (heavy), cervical/thoracic spine (heavy), ribcage (heavy) plus brain, organs, etc. That’s a lot of work! Because of the body’s position in relation to gravity, the core musculature cannot help much. So now the lumbar discs are being squished by the vertebrae at the front and the nucleus (jelly center) is being pushed back with force generated by the weight of the upper body.
Here is the bottom line: rolling up into standing position can create anterior disc compression and it doesn’t matter how loose or tight the hamstrings are. This is one of those things that probably won’t show up after one yoga class, or may be even 10 classes, but it can create disc problems down the line. Why risk it? The risk here far outweighs the potential benefit.
If we don’t roll up, then how do we come up into the standing position?
We do it by leading with the chest and strengthening the core. Bend the knees slightly, engage the core, lead with the chest, move the upper body up until you return to the neutral lumbar curve (about parallel to the ground). Continue to move up with the upper body. The pelvis is moving as a unit now to maintain the neutral curve in the lower back. Lifting up in this way will strengthen the back.