As it goes in our lives and with our bodies as a whole, we don’t notice our back until it’s not working. While enjoying life to its fullest, we may pick up some not-so-beneficial movement and postural habits and ultimately find ourselves aware of a stiff neck or an irritating ache in our low backs. Just as we worked the kinks and knots in, we can work them out. Challenge yourself to “backtrack” this month, to be more aware of the capabilities of your back muscles in their entirety. Revisit some of the basics of back-muscle engagement, and get back on track!
The back includes all types of muscles, short to long, thin to thick. The shape of the individual vertebral bones and the shape of the entire length of the spine inform how and where movement in the back happens. However, movement anywhere in the back generally affects multiple muscles much of the time. Poor posture commonly fatigues and overstretches the back. Any forward deviation from our center of balance—for example when our head or hips jut too far forward—requires the back muscles to remain “on” to prevent us from falling forward. The ability to call upon all the back muscles at our disposal will assist us in correcting our motion and alignment patterns. We simply need to retrain ourselves in how to engage our back muscles, and then we are back in business.
To retrain our back muscles, we need to move in three orientations: neutral, flexion, and extension. Simple exercises can offer the opportunity to concentrate on precision, sensation, and form. As you practice, track the degree of muscular engagement up and down the entire back. Does it make sense? Locate areas that seem to be doing too much or too little, and experiment with minor adjustments to form. Find your optimal balance of effort and ease, then carry this technique into your daily life!
1. Sit up tall on your sitting bones with your legs straight in front of you. If you cannot sit up with straight legs, if your lower back rounds outward, or if your pelvis tucks, bend your knees slightly. You can also sit on the edge of stacked blankets or on a wide block.
2. Flex your feet.
3. Inhale, lengthen the torso using your back muscles, and exhale fully.
4. Repeat for 5 deep breaths.
1. Sit up tall on your sitting bones with your legs straight in front of you. If you cannot sit up with straight legs, if your lower back rounds outward, or your pelvis tucks, bend your knees slightly. You can also sit on the edge of stacked blankets or on a wide block.
2. Flex your feet and place your palms on the floor next to your hips.
3. Inhale, sweep the arms up alongside the head. Draw the spine upward, keeping its natural curves intact, and let the thighs rest heavy into the floor. Engage the quadriceps to lift the kneecaps.
4. Exhale, stiffen the abdominals, and tip the pelvis forward, bringing the torso into a seated forward fold. Lower the arms as you go, and hold on lightly wherever the hands land: shins, ankles or the sides of the feet. Broaden your collarbones.
5. Stay for 5 deep breaths. Do not let the pelvis and lower spine roll backward. Reach the arms forward and up on your last inhale, and use the back muscles to lift the torso upright on the exhale.
1. Lie facedown on your mat, resting on your forehead with pelvis and spine neutral, feet hip-width apart, and arms 45 degress from your sides, palms down. Inhale deeply.
2. Exhale, and lift the head, chest, arms, and legs a few inches off the mat. Reach through the arms, legs, and crown of the head, but keep the low back and pelvis in neutral to avoid compression or “crunching.”
3. Remain lifted for 5 deep breaths, focusing on length in the low back and the back of the neck. Lower your body slowly to the mat on your last exhale.
- Put your back up against the wall. Have a seat with your legs outstretched, and use the wall as a prop to help you sit tall. Your head, shoulder blades, and sacrum will touch, but there should be space between your back and the wall at the curves of your neck and low back.
- Let your head be in the clouds. Imagine your head as a balloon and your back muscles as the string. The balloon floats upward and keeps your torso long and tall.
- Work bottom to top and top to bottom. Visualize lengthening, or growing, the back body from bottom to top. Then reverse the orientation, allowing the back muscles to flow from the back of the skull all the way down the back of the torso.