Practicing for Sustainable Spine Health
Apr 01, 2016 02:49PM
By Jonina Turzi
The key to enjoying a lifelong healthy back is stability. By imagining the spine as a long stack of bones (called vertebrae) and learning to hinge the joint stack forward from stable legs and hips, one can alleviate back pain and promote sustainable spine health.
Once a stable, neutral column of back bones has been created and practiced, tight-feeling areas and muscles will naturally melt into functional movement. In her book Diagnosis and Treatment of Movement Impairment Syndromes, Dr. Shirley Sahrmann says, “Most spine dysfunctions occur because of excessive relative flexibility, particularly at specific segments, rather than at the segment of reduced flexibility.” In other words, we benefit most from tightening what’s loose (i.e. keeping the spine firmly lengthened with core muscles engaged) in order to loosen what’s tight (releasing holding patterns of pain and tension in muscles that are overworked).
Here are three steps to finding and keeping your spine stable. Practice daily and attempt to incorporate into your home and working life for optimally sustainable spine health.
Align – To start creating a stable spinal column, sit at the edge of a flat surface/chair with feet flat on the floor. Hold a dowel rod or yard stick behind you and place the back of your head and tailbone against the dowel. Note that the tailbone is lower than one might think. The hips may need to be tilted forward, dropping the pubic bone toward the chair and allowing the bottom of the tailbone to untuck back to support a healthy joint stack from the base.
Lengthen – The next step is to elongate the spine in this position using the legs and core muscles. Push feet down firmly against the floor and lift your head toward the ceiling. Pull in the abdominal muscles slightly and see if you can practice pulling them in—especially during the exhale phase of your breath cycle—to further lengthen the spine.
Hinge – Finally, begin to fold forward, still holding the dowel rod against your tailbone and head. Stop when you are about a third of the way forward or you start rounding off of the stick. In that position, reaffirm your strong leg actions and the lengthening potential of the core abdominal muscles. Hold for two minutes or more, while breathing deeply to create endurance and to reinforce the movement pattern of a safe hip hinge with a stable spine.
You might advance this exercise by coming up to stand and then squatting down toward the chair. Again, hold or imagine the dowel behind you and try to hover your hips just above the seating surface of the chair for a few minutes with a long, stable spine. Whenever possible, incorporate this elongated neutral spine into your functional positions and everyday movements.
This intentional practice of moving and hinging from the hips takes diligence and attention at first, but is well worth it for a lifelong, sustainably healthy back. In the words of the physicist Moshe Feldenkrais, one of the great movement educators of the 20th century, “When you know what you are doing, then you can do what you want.”
Jonina Turzi is a doctor of physical therapy, yoga teacher and functional manual therapist. She owns West End Yoga studio, located at 221 West Walnut Street, in Lancaster, where she offers group yoga classes and healing bodywork sessions.