The spine gets a bit grumpy with complex movements. It is fine with flexion, rotation or side bending, but if two or more of these movements are combined the demand on the musculature increases and the risk of injury increases. Alexander Technique is a framework for reducing potential injury, increasing ease and efficiency.
Like any structure in the body, the spine must balance mobility and stability. Moving with a rigid spine has contributed to many cases of back pain. Often, someone suffering back pain knows no other way of creating stability than to hold the spine stiff. In cases of acute injury or extreme weight bearing, it is a suitable response. However for most of us in day to day living, immobilising the spine creates other problems and limits a healthy range of motion.
Supporting the spine
The spine, pelvis and skull all work together as one unit. Each vertebra leads the next into motion at its flexible articulation points, like carriages of a train. When our spine, pelvis and head are in a harmonious relationship, there is maximum scope for the spine to be self supporting, maintain its dynamic quality and buoy up the head.
The dynamic component of the spine is a requirement for movement through the torso, poise of the head, balance and ease in posture. The spine also moves in concert with the ribs on every inhalation and exhalation. Easeful breathing requires a mobile spine.
The way your arms relate to your spine is critical to enabling an easeful buoyancy. Shoulders that slump forward become a liability and shoulders hike up create an imposition of the functioning of the spine. A balance of tone in the suspensory sling of shoulder muscles will help the shoulders find stability, so that the arms may move freely at the ball and socket joint.
A similar balance around the hip joints requires an appropriate toning of the large leg muscles. If the legs are not pulling the pelvis around, the pelvis can move with the spine and maintain a healthy lumbar curve.
The neutral curve
Text book images of the spine show graceful curves are part of the spine’s integrity. In motion, these curves are in a constant flux. Breathing changes them, as does every small movement of balance. The image of the curved spine is useful as a recognition that we are not aiming for straight. It is also a reference for a generic neutral position. Rather than hold this position though, in our daily activity, we move a little away from, and return to neutral.
Sticking you neck out
The legs gripping the pelvis is a common cause of chronic deviation from our ideal neutral. Another popular distortion happens when you stick your head out like a bird. Slumping or straining in front of a computer screen often creates this shape. The head is pulled back at the top of the spine and the neck pulled forward from where it meets with the torso.
Aside from creating an unpleasant aesthetic, this shape disallows simple movement in the spine. Rotation alone is not possible since the top of the spine is part flexed and part extended.
A simple movement
If the spine is not pulled out of its natural neutral curves, rotation is a simple moment, both graceful and easeful. Try sitting with a lengthened spine and turn your head and contrast this to slumping and turning your head.
For most of activities, simple moments are all that is required. Out habits of posture and movement can mean we persistently complicate things.
The elegant lengthened spine can be effectively promoted using the primary directions of Alexander Technique. The details of this are the domain of a lesson, and outside the scope of this article.
Keeping it simple
Most activity involves some rotation of the spine, to some degree, for some of the time. The more the degree, frequency and duration of rotation, the more critical positive integration becomes. Loading at the same time also raises the stakes.
Hip joints save your back
To have a clear, simple, rotational movement of the vertebrae, we are going to need a freedom at the ball and socket hip joints. The more the hip joints are braced, the more the pelvis becomes slaved to the legs and the less it can function with the spine.
If the spine and pelvis are to work together, any forward motion of the torso must take the spine and pelvis together, which means the flexion moment must happen at the hip joints. When the spine has this lengthened unity, rotation at each vertebral level is optimised, and the spiral movement can flow through the whole torso.
This could be described as rolling at the hip joints and spiralling round the spine.
The distinction of flexion from rotation enables the spiral vertebral motion to happen through the centre of the torso, around the axis of the vertebral bodies. A misplaced rotational axis is liable to create a flexion, extension or lateral flexion of the spine and our simple motion becomes complex.
Simplify as sophistication
Understanding the components and complexities of motion helps us to create a clear picture of what it is we are working with and what direction we need to give ourselves. In itself though, this complex study is not a useful paradigm for practice.
The directions in activity will best serve us if they too are kept simple.
Send a request to coordinate, be available at the hip joints and spiral through the whole torso in order to do whatever activity you are engaged in.