Forward Bends…Should You “Round” Your Spine? (Yoga Controversy)

spine rounding in yoga safe?

Is this spine “rounding” really safe?

Today on Core Wellness TV, I answer a very important question about “to round or not to round” your spine when you bend forward.

Jackie left this GREAT question about Yoga on my last blog post about keeping a flat back and “hip hinging” to save your spine:


“Dr. Steve, This makes a lot of sense. I have been practicing a little bit of Yoga lately and have noticed that in some of the videos that I use online, the instructor bends her spine while stretching the legs and lower back.

This causes discomfort, so I try to keep my spine straight by leading with the chest (not so easy). In your opinion, are these girls showing the stretch incorrectly?”

Now…I LOVE Yoga and I do not know the video she’s referring to…but I did make my clear stand on the issue of rounding your spine.

In today’s episode, I show you…

  • WHO should NOT flex their spine forward (and why).
  • WHY it IS important to be ABLE to flex your spine forward.
  • WHEN you should NEVER have your spine flexed forward! (take heed, please)

Obviously…this is a very visual answer…so here you go!

ATTENTION YOGA INSTRUCTORS AND STUDENTS:  I love Yoga and want to see students be successful without injury.  I appreciate you and thank you in advance for sharing your thoughts and feedback after watching this episode.


Remember, the Core Wellness Institute training course for pain relief and posture transformation is open for enrollment at

For now, I still have the bonus 30 days of Direct Access Coaching available where I answer your specific questions for your specific issues through the comments on the blog and twice monthly private Skype call in times!

Here’s where the journey begins


  1. Great video!

    As a yoga teacher I only teach rounded spine postures while the body weigh is supported- like cat/cow. All unsupported forward flexion is taught with a flat back. I have seen some teachers round the spine while supporting weight on their thighs, as in a standing forward fold, but my preference is all fours as it’s safer. I agree with everything you said regarding teaching the body’s movment patterns and am curious to what you think about foundation training and the spine? Specifically the exercise called the founder. I’m not sure if I should be teaching neutral spine, or ask them to pull navel in enough to flatten lumbar.

    • Thanks Renee for your excellent feedback.

      Regarding the founder…I do not have the complete foundation training. Only seen youtube clips like this one

      Seems to be a different philosophy than what I’m teaching because it doesn’t appear to respect the neurodevelopmental model of ideal posture and it’s restoration which is based on a level diaphragm, not tilted upward.

      Simply because it actually trains you to flare your ribs in the front which leaks your power. See this image

      Regarding pulling navel in…it’s OK as an awareness exercise and to mobilize internal organ fascia but as far as creating strain free, pain free movement…it actually makes your stability and movement patterns worse. See this post for my thoughts on bracing vs. hollowing

      I’m sure Dr. Goodman addresses some stability in his larger program, but the founder by itself can certainly mislead people.

      Hope that helps, Renee


      • In Dr. Goodman’s You Tube video and the picture you present is an exaggerated example of what he is trying to get across. Dr. Goodman even mentions the model is exaggerating the movement. He is simply trying to stress the fact most people close their rib cage towards their hips and he is emphasizing the opposite and work on a movement that triggers to develop the posterior chain, not necessarily create a neutral spine. That’s been my take. I’ve been doing Foundation Training for 4 years and I have decreased my back pain by about 90%. With these results, I am a huge advocate of his work.
        I enjoy both Dr. Goodman’s Foundation Training information as well as this Core Wellness information and draw from both and use whatever I need to help my clients

        I have never taken a Yoga class where the instructor taught us to round at the spine before bending. We always hinge at the hip and then fold.

        • Thanks Meg, yes, he does admit that it’s exaggerated, but then he says it’s because he’s doing it right.

          There’s no doubt he’s helping lots of people by making the hip hinge such an important piece and waking up the ability to extend the spine and open up.

          I need to investigate his whole program before I say anything else because I just don’t know anything except the founder…which I’m sure does not reflect his entire system.

          I’m glad you have improved with his work and the info you find here!

          Thank you for your yoga input as well. That’s the way it should be. Unfortunately, there’s a lot of tight hips out there that cause way too much flexion way to early!

  2. Dr. Steve,

    Thank you for responding to my question with your video! I understand and appreciate the details you provide in your written answers, but the video offers a lot of clarity.


  3. Hey Doc Steve,

    I’m a Yoga Therapist in Chicago and a big fan of your work. I love your approach in general, and now in particular, your introductory discussion of working with classic yoga asanas. Thanks for sharing your wisdom!

    • That’s awesome! Let’s keep the world moving. Where do you practice in Chicago? I’m secretly on the lookout for venues for some workshops on the road this spring and summer.

  4. Thank you, I have actually been wondering exactly what Jackie asked, since starting your program last fall. I have done yoga all my adult life, and since injuring my back last Jan. carrying my 60lb, seizing dog in her last moments, I believed I had a sciatica situation-I am now thinking, (and thank you also for the glide video) perhaps the flexion plus twisting caused some disc damage. A year is a long time for this to be hanging in there, I think. Never had sciatica last this long. And the exercises for that have not really helped, although just doing your exercises daily have lessened the duration, it is more like random(or not so random!) “attacks” now-usually after yoga….sometimes when I go for my daily walk and then I need to hinge forward and breathe for a few breaths to continue. This gets old for my walking partners. 🙂

    I have been doing the forward bend forever, as I said-only now it feels painful and my “sciatica” is triggered for the rest of the day. I did begin trying to do the movement as a hip hinge instead, but wasn’t sure the forward bend was the movement triggering the pain. So simple, really-if it hurts, don’t do it.

    Thank you again, this along with the enzyme information has been invaluable.

  5. Dr Steve, what about when someone has osteoporosis? As I understand it the front of the spine is more suseptable to hairline fractures. Can you still do cat/cow? do you have to limit the cat/cow more, even smaller moverments?

    • The nice easy limbering movement of Cat cow should be safe for nearly everyone since there is virtually no load AND it’s vital to give the brain the movement so it doesn’t lose that part of the “movement map”.

      But you’re right, very susceptible to compression fractures if you lift or load the spine in flexion. Thank you for bringing that up…I was only talking about disc injury but the body of the vertebra is at risk, too.

  6. Hi Dr Steve,

    Thank you so much for these powerful and helpful instructions. I think the use of the ball in bringing flexion into my thoracic spine will be powerful. A recent MRI showed disc trouble at T7-T8 level and so I am anxious to see what this does to the mobility in that area. I just got finished doing it and experienced some discomfort with it; however, I believe it was more the hurt-so-good kind of discomfort. Recently having been assessed by a Chiropractic Functional Neurologist it appears that my overall posture is good but the curvature of my neck seems to be an issue. I had decompression surgery for Arnold Chiari Malformation when I was 15 and that seems to have brought much instability in my neck over the years. Do you address the neck at all within the Core Wellness Training Course?? Do you have any videos on youtube about it?? Have you every heard of a person’s balance being affected with neck instability, and the curvature of the neck not being like it should be??

    Thank you so much and keep up the excellent work…your videos have and continue to benefit my life!! By the way, if you were in South Carolina I would very quickly schedule an appointment for you to assess my situation. 🙂
    ~ Rebecca

    • Hi Rebecca, the full course addresses full body core stability and movement from the ground up.

      The deep neck flexors (stability for the neck) are PART of the core…or more appropriately…the deep spinal stabilizing system.

      The core is not just about the abs and trunk.

      Although there is a full module on neck stability and forward head posture, the neck is always involved in the training.

      Balance can DEFINITELY be affected by neck dysfunction…look up “cervicogenic vertigo”.

      The deep neck muscles are responsible for telling the brain where you are in space. If they are not working properly…your brain gets very little input that’s also poor input. Garbage in…garbage out.

      I know you would benefit greatly from the course and you have access to the training for life. will tell you all you need to know.

      Talk soon,


      • Hhhmmm Dr. Steve!…….I find it very interesting that without you even knowing my case, what you are saying is lining up very much with what my doctors are saying though they did not mention “cervicogenic vertigo”, and I never heard about it myself. It’s not that I was question my doctors that much, but sometimes it just feels better to have things confirmed by several different healthcare professionals. 🙂

        So my neck question for you is: Do you believe that if the deep neck muscles are able to function properly it will help in alleviating balance disturbances and restore the proper input to the brain??

        Thank you so much for your clear explanations and confirming some of my questions! ~ Rebecca

        • Restoring deep neck flexor activity is definitely a huge piece of the puzzle and will give much better input to the brain.

          But you must also identify if there is a mobility problem in the tissue (joints, muscles, fascia, etc) and restore it with chiropractic and / or manual therapy of some kind with soft tissue work.

          In essence mobility AND stability are both needed.

  7. Hi Dr. Steve,
    Loved this video….always working on the hip hinging. Also, loved your tip on how to practice breathing into the back I’ve been doing pilates and yoga for years…..still have trouble with that which affects my whole practice.


    • Yes, the ball works great for that. I also like to practice squatted against a wall and connecting my back support zone and feeling myself being pushed away from the wall with my breath.

      You’ll get it, Karen!

  8. My general perspective (as a yoga teacher) is to teach people to bend at their hip crease while keeping the lumbar spine elongated. If they are able to do this and don’t have disc issues, I suggest then letting the head drop. Then the weight of the head and shoulders may enable their frontal hip bones to reach a bit more towards the ground (or thighs), but they have to keep extending through the abdomen/ lumbar region. To come up I have them focus on the back of their upper palate to raise the head and bring it in line with the sacrum Then they can push into the earth to raise their entire torso.

    I don’t do much of the rounded back or cat/cow because for the most part people are already rounding their lumbars too much and not reaching back with the lower thoracic (your back rib support).

    Finally gotten your video to play, lots to think about. Thank you so much!

    • Excellent Marie…you are speaking of a standing forward bend, correct?

      The “keep extending through the abdomen / lumbar cue is keeping your people safe.

      When they focus on the back of their palate are the just imagining it or moving their tongue toward it? I’m assuming this is to keep the deep neck flexors engaged and to keep the neck long?

      And you know I like “push into the earth”…that’s awesome.

      Where do you teach / practice?

      • Steve,

        Actually, I use these cues in standing and seated forward bends. (For forward bends, I don’t generally recommend two straight legs on the floor unless they’re wide apart).

        The back of the upper palate cue is something I adapted from from Alexander Technique. In constructive rest (on floor with knees bent for 15-20 mins) your relax, allow lengthening, and gently encourage space between the skull and the cervical spine. I have my students put their fingers in their ears and imagine a line between the two fingers, That’s generally at the back of the upper palate. When students are then doing a forward bend, and the head is released, this focus gets deep neck flexors engaged and to keeps the neck long when raising the head. . It’s a great cue to deal with forward head.

        I teach in Rockville, MD. That’s between DC and Baltimore… Love your blog. So sorry I didn’t get to have any personal video sessions with you, but the timing didn’t work. Maybe in the future.

        Regarding the Founder’s I think it’s a really accessible back and internal corset strengthener when done well.

        Any suggestions on how to release a strongly tucked pelvis and lazy/tight psoas? It’s only after 10 years of teaching yoga that I became aware of how much work I need in this area!!!

        Thanks so much!

        • Just got Eric’s book today in the mail. Yes, certainly accessible and will help a lot of people build back muscles, just wish there was more emphasis on keeping good centration and level diaphragm.

          Review course material on good squatting for the motor control for a good tail back/ hip hinge and really focus on the push away lunge.

  9. Dr. Steve,

    I’m wondering what you think about my approach to spinal flexion in yoga class. (I don’t generally have students do cat/cow on all 4s).

    Sit on a yoga block, knees bent, feet in front of you, and sense your sitsbones. Inhale, pressing down thru the sitsbones and reaching up thru your inner ears. As you exhale, roll back on your sitsbones (posterior tile of pelvis) rounding the back. As you inhale, press down and roll forward through the sitsbones so the top of the pelvis moves forward. As you press down, your heart naturally reaches up to the sky, you become erect. Repeat several times.

    I developed this when I learned about pressing down into / support of the earth from you. This helps reinforce the notion of reaching down to reach up. If students have disc issues, i tell them to roll back very gently and keep a strong intention to connect with the earth thru the whole process.

    I’d be interested in your comments.


    • It’s great that you’re applying the “push away” intention, Marie. I’m personally a fan of being able to inhale or exhale in any position instead of only inhaling with posterior tilt doing it one way or the other.

      I understand if you are just trying to create a repetitive movement for meditative purposes…but you must always be able to execute a good functional breath no matter what your position.

      Maybe spend a full breathe cycle in neutral, posterior tilt, and anterior tilt. But I would certainly end back in neutral.

      Just ask your students how they feel about it.

      You’re doing great work.

  10. Dr Steve,

    Thank you for the information.

    I have always been taught that I have to start a forward bend with a hip hinge. And recently I learn that to exercise the core, you have to do forward flexion movements in the thoracic spine while engaging the stability in the lumbar spine. So I’ve been wondering, should we focus more on the flexion of the thoracic spine or the entire spine for better benefits?

    And I recently hear a fitness instructor mentioning that flexion of the spine while lying on the floor (things like crunches) are going to create shear forces on the vertebrates. Yoga and pilates have a lot of movements that includes that kind of movements and they are supposed to be gentle and build a healthy spine. Or is body weight too low a load so it will not create shear forces that are destructive for a healthy spine without any flexion intolerance. I’m just trying to piece information and it gets really confusing. Appreciate your advice.

    • It’s important for your brain to get the information / afferance from good spinal flexion mobility in all segments. So that means the entire spine. Go slowly and intentionally vertebra by vertebra as a start.

      But that does not mean you HAVE to do it that way every time. If you want to keep lumbar spine straight and just work with flexing the t-spine…great.

      The more intricately you create the movement map in your brain with different ways of creating body mobility under low load situations, the richer your mind/body communication becomes.

      BUT…and this is a BIG BUT…This does NOT mean you load your body in these end range positions. For loading you must create the best possible centration of all joints so you can effectively transmit force without any energy leaks that cause tissue strain and eventual injury.

      Crunches on your back where you flex your lumbar spine is a much debated topic. A few outliers can get away with these repeated spinal loads, but if you have any history of back pain (especially disc related), or if you flex your spine all day at a desk job or spend a lot of time driving, you’ve got no business placing this load (and it IS a heavy load) on your discs.

      Stu McGill, the main researcher and purveyor of “Don’t flex the spine under load” does an excellent job of dispelling misquoting and myths around this topic (and his research) in the paper below.

      Hope this helps you in your journey to better understanding. Great question.

  11. i have a slipped a disk and i was only 12 years old when i found out so i had to quit all of my stoprs and the doctors wont give me surgery un til i cant take anymore of the pain and i am already in a lot of pain so i can relate

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