For the past few years, thanks to a hypermobile sacroiliac joint, I’ve been working through instabilities in my spine that make it easy to throw my back out if I’m not very careful and very clear about what I’m doing when I do yoga. One of the practices that has been incredibly helpful to strengthen and heal my spine is a technique of spinal articulation from the body of work known as PNF (Proprioceptive Neuromuscular Facilitation) introduced to me by Amy Matthews. I thought it would be fun to introduce you to this technique with a short practice and video for you to enjoy on your own.
An Organ of Action
The idea of allowing your spine to have its own agency and manipulate itself was one of those concepts that made complete sense to me when first heard it, but it is one that is surprisingly absent in yoga classes, barring a bit of cat/cow at the beginning, or a lot of instructions to grip and contract the core muscles. Much of that comes from the traditional yoga idea of the “organs of action.”
In yoga philosophy, the organs of action are the arms, the legs, the organs of speech, the organs of elimination, and the organs of generation. The spine isn’t included in that model. As a result, a lot of traditional yoga techniques use the arms and legs to manipulate the spine, often overworking it and even pulling it out of alignment. I’ve found that a simple practice of moving the spine through its various ranges of motion using its own muscles can do a lot to strengthen the weak or tight spots along its length and allow all the different parts of the spine to work better together.
We’ve been working on that articulation in great depth in my intermediate/advanced classes in a host of complex poses, but spinal articulation can be a delightful practice in its own right to awaken and strengthen the muscles that support your spine.
Spinal Articulation Practice
- Identify weak, hypermobile, and inflexible segments of the spine
- Strengthen the weak segments, stabilize the hypermobile segments, and free the inflexible segments
- Coordinate and strengthen the large secondary postural support muscles of the torso (abdominals and back)
- Improve posture
- Sit comfortably for a few moments and balance your head over your two sitting bones.
- Allow all your muscles to soften and expand.
- Pick a movement: flexion, lateral flexion, rotation, or extension.
- Beginning with your head, move through the movement from the top of your spine to the bottom.
- Notice if anything beneath the part you’re moving at any given moment activates—either pushing forward, back, or to the side—and if it does let that go.
- Work the different curves of your spine as evenly as possible so that every part contributes to the movement.
- Reverse up from bottom to top.
- Sit for a moment with your head balancing on the top of your spine.
- Repeat the movement.
- Cycle through the remainder of the movements.
Give it a Go!
Try the sequence for yourself, either as a mini-practice all on its own, after a few minutes of Constructive Rest, or as part of your regular yoga or movement practice. I think you’ll enjoy it!
If you do try this sequence out, I’d love to hear about it, either via email or before/after one of my classes this week!