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01 Feb


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Principle #3 Initiate Movement: Begin with the Spine in Mind

February 1, 2014 | By | No Comments

Each month I dig a little deeper into one of the 8 movement principles I use whether I’m teaching a workshop, group class or working one on one with a client.
We’ve delved into:
  1.  Nourish Relaxation
  2. Move in your pain and tension free range or motion

This month we’ll look closer at………..

#3 Initiate Movement: Begin with the Spine in Mind

“The spine is the fundamental place to begin movement because of its central connection to every other piece of the body. Each vertebrae connects with fascia, blood vessels, muscles and nerves, which fan in various directions to nourish, stimulate and balance each part of the body. At its essence, then the spine is really a system of skeletal, neurological, electrical, vascular and chemical input that when balanced and connected creates magically fluid movement, much the same way a well balanced and connected orchestra creates awe inspiring music. 

The spine is composed of 33 vertebrae which are arranged in 4 curves: 

Cervical curve – consisting of 7 vertebrae Thoracic curve – consisting of 12 vertebrae Lumbar curve – consisting of 5 vertebrae Sacral/Cocceygeal curve- consisting of 5 sacral and 4 coccygeal vertebrae”

Excerpt from Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries by Susi Hately

Entire Spine

The curves of the spine act as a coiled spring that absorb shock, dissipate and transfer energy when we bend, twist, flex or extend on or off our yoga mat. If the spine was straight it would be like a ridged guywire and we could not withstand impact or move fluidly and freely.

The spine as a structure is inherently stable and inherently mobile which is where we can run into trouble. The areas of the spine that are hypermobile are where the curves of the spine change directions – cervical to thoracic (C7-T1) , thoracic to lumbar (T12-L1) and lumbar to sacral/cocceygeal (L5-S1) allow more movement then other vertebrae of the spine.

When we move more through the above junctions other areas of the spine become less mobile and stiff. The thoracic spine is an area that for many becomes stiff and stuck. To compound matters we’ll compensate for the less mobile vertebrae by using our extremities – arms and legs to move the spine.

I see this when the arms are used to leverage the spine into a bigger/deeper twist rather then using the internal core muscles to rotate the spine and ribcage.

Also, in cat/cow where instead of initiating with the spine folks push and pull with the arms  /shoulder girdle and or legs to move the spine into flexion and extension.

Curious?  Give this a try:

  • Sit in a chair with your feet flat in the floor.
  • Place books under your feet so they are in full contact with the floor.
  • Place your palms together, thumbs at your collarbones and chin resting on your finger tips.
  • Take a moment to feel your sitting bones on the chair, rock slightly forward and back on your sitting bones and come to rest where you feel your sitting bones in contact with the chair.
  • Take a few breaths here and notice your low belly. Are you holding it in? Can you let it go?
  • Feel your bottom 2-3 ribs and begin to rotate the spine from the bottom few ribs in one direction and then the other.
  • Notice if your arms or shoulders are trying to lead the movement. Let the movement originate from the bottom of the ribcage.
  • Find a range of motion in your twist that allows the shoulders and arms be relaxed and easy.


The aim is to have a smooth even twist over the vertebrae of the spine rather than a twist concentrated in a few vertebrae. This helps keep the areas of the spine prone to stiffness supple and mobile while protecting the hypermobile areas of the spine from injury.

Here’s to a supple, fluid and dynamic spine on and off your yoga mat!

28 Dec


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Principle #2 – Move In Your Pain and Tension Free Range of Motion

December 28, 2013 | By | No Comments

Last month I introduced movement principle – #1 Nourish Relaxation.

This is the first of the movement principles I use whether I’m leading a workshop, group class or working one on one with a client.

Let’s take a closer look at the next principle –

#2 Move in your pain and tension free range of motion.

Pain and tension are loaded words with many interpretations and variations. When we experience pain that rips, tears, furrows the brow, causes us to wince, bite our lip, clench the jaw and quiet literally takes our breath away most will agree there is some form of dysfunction or compensation occurring in the body.

Tension or feeling strain during movement and our favorite activities is what happens before feeling pain. Tension and strain movement patterns over time lead to pain patterns.

For example stand up, notice your breath, feel your feet, feel your lower leg and feel your upper leg, feel your chest and shoulders, now lift one foot off the floor. Did your you hold your breath, lean to the opposite side, tense up in the upper body, grip in your jaw or face, feel any strain in your standing leg?

If you did there is an opportunity to improve the communication between the brain, nervous system, tissues, muscles, joints and bones of the body.

One of two things happen at this point:

  1. We continue to push through the pain and tension thinking we should be able to “run 5kms, do “X” yoga pose, etc. The belief being that if we keep working/exercising we’ll get stronger/more flexible and the pain will go away. This usually happens after a short period of rest to settle any acute pain. In effect we set out to “fix it” focussing in on the site of the pain. In some cases our pain will go down but we will not truly heal and may have more problems later on because the neuromuscular pattern that caused the pain has not been addressed. i.e. knee pain that comes and goes progresses to plantar fasciitis or sciatica.
  2. We recognize that the pain and tension are signs of dysfunction or compensation and if we keep running, doing “X” yoga pose, etc the dysfunction will persist. We choose to change our movement patterns.

We feed, nourish and strengthen neuromuscular patterns with our movement. If we move in pain or tension we feed the body brain patterns that are causing pain or tension. To change these patterns we have to stop moving in ways that create pain and tension.

When someone comes to see me they have usually been cycling through option 1 above. They have tried everything and aren’t getting lasting results. Many remark “they are desperate for something to change.”

Cool thing is change is always possible – at any age, in any physical condition. 

For the next week practice moving in a range where there is no click or clunk in the joint you are moving, no tension, strain or pain in your body and notice what happens.

28 Dec


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Principle #1 – Nourish Relaxation

December 28, 2013 | By | No Comments

I teach using Functional Synergy’s 8 Principles of Movement. Over the next 8 months I’ll elaborate on each of these principles.

Principle #1 – Nourish Relaxation

Relaxation occurs when we cultivate the parasympathetic system which is part of the central nervous system. The opposite of the parasympathetic system is the sympathetic system or stress response which when aroused puts us in a “Fight or Flight” state.

Many of us continually live in the “Fight or Flight” state which has lasting and far reaching impact on our health and wellbeing. This stress response suppresses our immune system, contributes to weight gain or inability to loose weight, results in self indulgent behaviour, feeling tense/tired and we simply handle life as it happens with less skill then we’d like at times.

The relaxation response or stimulation of the parasympathetic system turns off this fight or flight response and is where magical things occur. The breath is a beautiful vehicle for stimulating the relaxation response.

  • Sit and notice your breath for the next couple moments.
  • Where do you feel the inhale?
  • Where do you feel the exhale?
  • Are they similar in length or is one longer or shorter?
  • Which feels easier or you feel more connection to?
  • Notice the rate of thoughts in your mind.
  • Notice how your body feels and what sensations are present right now.


“Everything you do, the pace you keep, the feelings you have, and the choices you make are influenced by the rhythmic metronome of your breath.” ~ Donna Farhi The Breathing Book