Feldenkrais Session: Getting To Know My Spine A Little Better

Hi folks,

Our spine is complex, interesting and important. From: http://goo.gl/6h23C

I experienced an interesting and educational Feldenkrais session today, which was initiated by my mentioning that I had a tight muscle in my back. The exercise was simple in principle but mentally challenging (for me at least, not for Karen, my instructor). Our spine consists of a bunch of bones stacked one on top of the other, with a tube down the middle in which lies our spinal cord. These bones interdigitate beautifully, with a number of bony processes that integrate them into a functional system with the aid of stabilizing ligaments, muscles and tendons. The end result is a strong, flexible structure that can turn and twist around, carrying forces from the tips of our toes to the ends of our fingers, and of course our head. The elasticity of this system can be harnessed during running, as explained by Jack Heggie in his great book, ‘Running With The Whole Body.

The vertebrae are stabilized by a number of well-designed ligaments. From: http://goo.gl/6h23C

How often do you stop to think about your spine, I wonder? In Feldenkrais lessons we are taught that you aren’t really in control of (or one with) your body parts until you understand what they are, where they are, and how they work. As an analogy, think of someone driving a car. If they don’t have a clue about the workings of their car they are less likely to check the oil regularly, respond immediately if the oil light comes on (by stopping ASAP), or understand how the power train works and thus how you need to work with this complex system to optimize the life of the car, and so on. They won’t operate the machine as effectively as they might. This is also true of you and your body.

This Feldenkrais session was designed to assess how well I could sense each of my vertebrae, from the top to the bottom of my spine. I was asked to push into and pull away from  a fingertip placed on each of these bones in turn in a strategic (Feldenkraisian) manner. Some vertebrae were easy for me sense, and thus control, whilst others presented considerable difficulty. This indicated that my relationship to my spine was better in some areas than in others. The session also markedly lowered my voice (relaxed muscles of the throat) and removed the tension from my tight back, both being wonderful benefits of this mental game of spinal exploration.

There are many small muscles that stabilize your spine. From: http://goo.gl/5w3kP

Thinking of muscles, there are many small and large muscles that stabilize your spine, and it was these muscles that Karen was trying to teach me to access during this session. It was similar to work I do on my feet, to control the muscles that move my toes. Most of us have lost the ability to move each toe individually, but working on this can bring great benefits in terms of foot flexibility, strength and function. This is also true of the spine it would appear. The last thing anyone wants is backache, which is extremely common. Such problems are often related to inappropriate use of your spine and legs. Rory, my main biking partner, informed me recently that a video I posted a week or so ago had helped him a great deal with his approach to standing up from a seated position in a chair. The trick is to share the load between your legs and trunk, whilst recruiting your head and arms to optimize use of gravitational forces in your favor. Here is the link to that post, if you missed it, and here is a nice movie about the spine that I found on YouTube:

As an experiment you could try finding the most and least effective ways of standing up (Please don’t do this before reading the disclaimer at the bottom of my post, and do things gently or you will hurt yourself). For instance, as a really bad way to stand up (just tried it myself): I leaned into the back of my chair whilst throwing my arms forward to propel me from the chair, simultaneously forcing myself vertically with my quads and glutes. Just feel the strain on your lower back and abdominal muscles if you are foolish enough to attempt this maneuver. Do this ten times and tomorrow, or maybe sooner if you aren’t very fit, you will find out what you strained in the process. If you can create this kind of stress as a result of standing from a seated position, imagine what you can do to your body whilst biking in traffic or running hilly trails.

The goal of Feldenkrais is to find the most efficient means of completing a movement through awareness of your own body. One technique used in Feldenkrais is to make a movement in an ineffective manner, and then move to a more efficient approach in order to appreciate or sense the difference. Such an approach is used extensively in Jack Heggie’s book that I referred to above. Here are some more examples of ineffective modes of human progression.

I learn something every time I go to my Feldenkrais session, and my back feels so much better. No, this is not a paid advertisement. Feldenkrais works for me and I want everyone to know about it.

-k Your Medical Mind


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Disclaimer: As a veterinarian, I do not provide medical advice for human animals. If you undertake or modify an exercise program, consult your medical advisors before doing so. Undertaking activities pursued by the author does not mean that he endorses your undertaking such activities, which is clearly your decision and responsibility. Be careful and sensible, please.