Spinal Health Through Movement

The Spinal Column A Most Misleading Term

Far from being one solid column, your spine consists of 26 separate bones, linked up by 76 joints. Take a moment to visualize a ‘column’ with 76 movable connections!
More than any other structure of the body, the spine is built not for stability, but for movement. Most of us experience this painfully at some point in our lives. Of course we do need stablity to keep our back from hurting, BUT it needs to be a ‘smart’ kind of stability.
In our quest for stability we often go too far. We confuse the sturdiness of a thick, immobile column with the integrity of a slender, mobile structure in which small movements happen and are continually balanced and offset by other small movements. For the spine to be stable it needs to be able to distribute and disperse weight and pressure evenly so that none of the disks get squished and all the nerves that come out of the spinal canal have plenty of space.

Imagine you are asked to balance a stack of 26 building blocks – you would have to be really careful in how you stack them just so, wouldn’t you? Now imagine that somebody is tugging at 12 of those blocks a few times each minute. Do you think your ‘just so’ stack would stay upright for long or would you have to make adjustments?
Every breath you take moves your ribs, which are connected to two vertebrae each (above and below). More joints! – That’s right. You have 24 ribs, and 48 joints with the spine. As a consequence, every breath you take necessitates slight adjustments all the way up and down for the spine to stay in easy balance. And all of that before you take even one step, let alone walk stairs, look over your shoulder to back up your car, or run a marathon.

We do not have the choice to move or not to move our spine. We only have the option of moving everywhere – fluidly, efficiently and with grace – or of holding some places rigid and forcing extra motion into some other places. You can guess that the second option can be quite uncomfortable.
Therefore, taking a few minutes every day to work on your spinal mobility is a good idea. I will give you a few ideas below, BUT make sure to try them slowly, with caution and awareness. If any kind of discomfort occurs, back off. Slow it down, make it smaller. If your spine is already compromised, and you are unsure of whether you should try those movements, come in for a movement session to get a program tailored for your particular situation.

But here is the general approach:
1) Find a sturdy chair or stool with a hard, flat surface to sit on. Your hip joints should be a bit higher than your knees. Now tilt your pelvic bowl forward and back a few times so that you roll over your sitbones and get a good felt sense of where they are. (You will have to be in loose or stretchy clothing for this to work. Jeans will limit the motion in your hip joints too much.) Find a position where your weight is slightly in front of your sitbones and relax. You should have your natural lumbar curve – you can check with your hands. If your lower back flattens or comes back when you relax, lean forward, reach under your right gluteals with your right hand, ‘hook’ into the muscle and pull back. Do the same on the left side. Sit up again and relax. You will probably stay in your natural spinal curves with more ease now.
Rest your hands on your thighs and relax your shoulders.
Now slowly turn to the right side – starting with the eyes! Look to the right; let your head follow your eyes; let your spine gradually rotate to the right, from the top down. You may find that your left foot is pushing a bit into the ground – great! Let your right elbow move back in space and turn your right forearm so that the palm faces upwards. (If the arm movement throws you off, leave it for now. Turning the arm would complete the rotational impulse and thus support the spinal rotation, but it can be a bit much to coordinate.) Rotate as far as is comfortable, then release and let your body return. The head and eyes will return to forward-facing last. Do the same rotation to the left.
You can do this as a slow exploration, or a little bit more quickly. However, make sure that you stay in front of your sitbones and do not lose your lumbar curve!

2) Start from the same position as before (lumbar arch and sitting in front of the sitbones). Relax. (Eyes, too.) Now slowly tilt your pelvic bowl back, so that you roll back over your sitbones and your weight falls behind them. Notice what happens in the spine.
Then reverse: Tilt your pelvic bowl forward, rolling over your sitbones to let your weight fall in front of them again. Notice what happens in the spine.
If you do this movement very slowly and your body stays relaxed, your back will round and your gaze will drop when you tilt your pelvis back (to sit behind your sitbones); your back will arch and your gaze will lift when your tilt your pelvis forward (to sit in front of your sitbones).

Repeat this movement several times. – Tilt your pelvic bowl forward, tilt it back. Allow the movement to travel all the way up your spine. Do it slowly enough to be able to catch yourself when you start holding anywhere. Are your arms hanging in a relaxed way? Are your eyes soft and your gaze mobile? Is your neck relaxed and participating? Can your head move with the rest of the spine? Are you releasing your pelvic floor and allowing the space between your tailbone and your sitbones to widen as necessary?

If this motion is difficult and less than fluent, you may want to take a few minutes to practice every day. As always, GO SLOWLY and keep it comfortable! You are not working with muscle contraction, but with releasing and relaxing. This is not about repetition but about awareness.

If and when this is easy (and only then), you can start to play with creating a continuous wave up and down your spine, always starting with your pelvic tilt. Make it small, make it slow, enjoy!

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