Thursday, May 29, 2008

The Front of Your Spine

Many of my clients are incredulous when I tell them they can feel the front of their spine by pressing in on their belly (on an empty stomach, on an exhale, press in from the side). The spine has a dimensionality that most of us do not know on a gut level (pun intended).

Why is this? I think it is cultural. Growing up, we were taught that the spine was that row of bones on our back - the back bone, or spine. We forgot to remember that the spine is three dimensional, it has depth, including a front and back side. Also, our culture has a superficial aspect, where the  superficial appearance of objects or people is highly-valued. Hence, we are well acquainted with the front of our face, our body, and the skin on the back of our body (to a lesser degree) but we are not as much encouraged to sense or consider what is beneath all that superficial anatomy. Perhaps we think such knowledge is only for the medical doctors. True, we don't need to know all those details, but we can certainly know certain basic facts that will make our lives easier, and even keep us out of pain and trouble, over the long term. 

For example, last night I asked a client to tell me what she thinks about when she uses the word "spine".  She said, as most people do, "It is in my back, it is made of vertebrae that hold me up. It is my backbone".  Then I asked her to visualize the front of her spine, while lying on her back. She got a curious, fascinated look on her face - this was obviously something new to her - that she had this tube like apparatus going down through her torso, and not just along the back.". I asked her to explore moving her torso and hips both ways - small movements, first with the ordinary concept of the spine - as she described it nicely - and then while including the dimensionality, front and back, left and right sides, like a 3 dimensional snake. After a few minutes she told me "When I think of my spine as I usually do, my torso does not move. It is like the backbone is there holding everything in the right posture or something. That is how I was raised. When I think of the front of the spine, I can move my torso really easily - it is amazing".  

It is wonderfully helpful to  think about, or sense, our spine from the front or the back, or from either side. Why not? If you live your entire life thinking your spine is that thin row of funny bones on the skin of your back (with perhaps some mysterious things called vertebrae behind them), your movement patterns will tend to be stiff and distorted; You likely won't be living as productive, as creative and fully-dimensional a life as you would if you had a more  realistic or complete body image. Our static body image not only influences our movement patterns, but how we think and feel. I think that is a more or less accepted premise of anybody who works in the movement arts, simply because it becomes so very obvious when observing people. I am constantly struck by how chronic pain is almost always related to distorted movement, and distorted movement is always related to a distorted body image, in some way. 

The spinal vertebrae get larger as you go from the neck to the low back. Your lumbar vertebrae are probably two or three times larger than you could have imagined. Go ahead, poke your belly. You may be shocked to see how large your lumbar vertebrae really are. 

As I write these blogs it is always with a sense of slight frustration, because I well know that to fully embody these ideas, time and practice is needed. You can only get a hint from reading a few paragraphs. The right kind of learning environment, lots of guided movement lessons,  and the right kind of teacher is needed. That is one way to describe a four year Feldenkrais Training Program. 

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