Yoga Journal

Spine Support

DECADES AGO, KEVIN GARDINER, one of my Iyengar teachers, brought out short wooden dowels as props for Salamba Sirsasana (Supported Headstand). That immediately sparked my interest in this tool and how it might be used in other ways in class. I bought a dozen five-foot wooden broom handles—and later bought shorter and longer versions—to experiment with.

Dowels, small-diameter rods of any length—made of wood, metal, or plastic—have become some of my favorite props because they’re so versatile. They provide alignment feedback, gentle leverage, and traction (stretching your spine) to relieve pressure and help you lengthen muscles and release joints. And they can be a point of resistance, a tool for core work, an aid to balance, and more. Dowels can support sound posture and be used creatively to allow you to experience poses in novel ways.

If you experience back pain, a dowel is particularly useful because it can help you discover safer movement patterns to protect your back. These new patterns can prevent compression of your spine during core work, forward bends, and side bends (lateral flexions)—allowing you to lengthen and strengthen your muscles without causing additional strain.

You can think of a dowel as an external representation of your midline to help you find strong axial extension, which is a full lengthening of your spine. For example, if you place the dowel in front of you and close to your body in Tadasana (Mountain Pose) and pull down on it, your chest will lift and your spine will lengthen. For

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