On Saturday mornings Aspen Coaching run three Physical Exploration classes back-to-back. This triad of classes commences at 8am with the first session focusing on Spinal Mobility and Coordination Patterns. Those of you who have been awake early enough on the Saturday to experience this session will know how frustrating some of the spinal movements can be to interpret and follow due to their complexity, but I can assure you, the value of such movements is priceless.
With these classes lasting only an hour each, I don’t really have time to go into detail about why we teach these movements. I feel that once I elaborate on the purpose of this type of movement training, your understanding of the benefits will ultimately help subdue the frustration.
Why do we neglect the spine?
We can’t function without our spine. Yet many of us under-appreciate it. Why?
We focus on legs, arms, chest, back, heck – at Aspen we spend 5 minutes of every class simply warming up our wrists! Those little joints at the end of our arms get love, but our spine – the joints that hold our entire body together, the channel for our spinal cord, the thing we use every single moment of our life to support our head, brain, and our organs – is taken for granted!
This could be, in part, due to fear. Anyone who has suffered any sort of back-pain will know it’s not fun. We may avoid or simply paralyse particular movements out of fear of hurting ourselves further. Any trauma we may have had in the past will undoubtably create some neurological rigidity.
Such was the case for my mum. A traumatic car crash in her younger years left her with decades of chronic pain in her back, knee, and neck. This caused an underlying fear of moving which ultimately made matters worse.
Another reason we may neglect to care for our spine is because, well… it’s not sexy.
Having freedom in the spine doesn’t feel as impressive as being able to hold a handstand or banging out some chin ups. Therefore it may not be on the radar as something we should be focusing on.
Lastly – and perhaps most commonly – it’s complicated!
We often struggle to coordinate the most basic of movement patterns. Think about learning to squat for the first time, or learning to push up, or marrying the components of a muscle up – learning to coordinate particular areas of the body is tricky.
We will never be as adroit with our spine as we are with our arms and legs, and therefore the process of learning how to move it is very frustrating and complicated.
But given how instrumental our spine is in our daily life, and how common back-pain is, care of the spine shouldn’t be forgone for something sexier.
It’s for this reason that we offer classes that focus on Spinal Mobility. Movements like Spinal Waves reduce tension in tight muscles by gently encouraging movement in areas that have remained rigid for years. Left unchecked, the spinal tension we’re working to dissipate can result in back-pain over time. As they say; prevention is better than cure.
How can we care for our spine?
Caring for our spine doesn’t need to be a daunting task. To simplify the process, I’ve split it into four steps – education, movement, complexity, and environment.
Educate yourself on how the body works, and specifically, what your spine is designed for. This will reinstate a sense of trust. Trust that your body is strong, adaptable, and has a natural instinct to move. Know that moving your spine is essential.
When you wanted to improve your shoulder mobility you started with some shoulder exercises. The same needs to happen with the spine.
We start with exercises that encourage movement in basic planes – flexion (Jefferson Curl), extension (leaning back over a roller), and rotation (lying on your side and open the chest toward the roof). These three exercises are the perfect place to start and can easily be done at home every day.
Come to class and jump in the deep end. It’s not so much about large movements of the spine than it is about varied, small movements in all directions. Add small increments of flexion, extension, side bend, and rotation to all intersections of the vertebrae. Small, precise, varied movements.
I cannot stress enough how important your environment is, not just in terms of spinal health, but every aspect of your body.
Where are you all day? What do you do all day? This, and this alone, will shape your health inside and out. If you spend time locked up indoors, chained to a desk, under florescent lighting, surrounded by WIFI, screens, pollution, while sipping coffee, drinking wine, eating poor quality food, it will not matter how much training you do, this will have more of an impact on your health than anything else.
I understand we all need to work, and if your job includes any of these things I would highly encourage you to look at ways to have regular breaks. Get up, go for a walk, get some fresh air, leave your phone behind, look up, smile at people. When you get home, sit on the floor to eat dinner, go find a park and hang on some monkey bars, mix up your day, get an early night, don’t turn on your TV for a week. Mix up your to daily routine and get your body moving frequently.
Frequent and consistent effort will outdo intensity. There are opportunities to move more everyday, we just need to look through a different lens.