Principle #4. Connecting The Movement Of The Spine To The Largest Joints First
The past few months I’ve shared the movement principles I follow when teaching a workshop, group class or working one on one with a client.
So far we’ve looked at:
- Nourish Relaxation
- Move in your pain and tension free range or motion
- Initiate Movement: Begin with the Spine in Mind
This month let’s look at………..
#4 Connecting The Movement Of The Spine To The Largest Joints First
Once the body is relaxed and we feel the spine as the central place from which movement occurs it’s time to find free and easy movement of the arms and legs. This requires good functioning shoulder and hip joints. It also helps to understand a how the shoulder girdle and pelvic girdle relate to the spine and our limbs.
Without getting bogged down by anatomical terms and illustrations (if you want the anatomical goods check out Susi Hately’s Anatomy and Asana: Preventing Yoga Injuries book Fig 4-3) Let’s look at the connection between the psoas and the trapezius muscles. The upper body and shoulder girdle attach to the spine via the trapezius at T12 and the legs attach to the spine at T12 via the psoas by crossing the pelvis.
Each piece – spine, shoulder girdle, arms, pelvic girdle and legs impact the other pieces. There is a whole system of muscles, fascia, nerves, blood vessels and connective tissue beyond these 2 muscles and the skeleton that make up the “web” of the body. By viewing the body as a web we understand no piece is separate from the other pieces.
The shoulder girdle provides the arms a large amount of support, mobility and stability. Think about all the ways we move the arms and ask them to support us:
- Reaching overhead to put things in and out of a cupboard,
- Carrying a baby or toddler,
- Swinging a golf club, tennis racket or hockey stick,
- Supporting the torso while riding a bike,
- Pulling us through the water in swimming,
- Moving and supporting us in our yoga practice.
If there’s tightness in the muscles of the chest, upper back or shoulders it impacts the movement of the arms and the spine. The tightness/tension puts pressure on the blood vessels and nerves through the shoulder girdle and down the arms into the hands. Carpel tunnel syndrome and other repetitive stress injuries have greater potential to occur. There are other areas of the web this ripple of tightness might be felt or noticed:
- Breathing pattern(s),
- The neck (cervical spine), or
- The low back (lumbar spine).
The pelvic girdles primary purpose is to transfer weight from the spine to the leg(s) – load transfer. It acts as a bridge transferring the weight and energy from the spine to the leg(s) while affording the leg bone (femur) mobility, stability and strength/power. The better the “bridge” connection is from the spine across the pelvis to the leg(s) the more effortless our movement becomes.
With low back pain I often see dysfunction in the hip joint. The bridge or connection from the spine to the leg bone(s) across the pelvis has become fuzzy. Similar to tuning in a radio signal the communication from the brain to the spine, pelvis and leg bone(s) is not as clear as it could be. Curious about how tuned in your signal is? Give this a try:
- Lay on your back.
- Place both feet on the wall so that your knees are stacked over your hips (knees/hips are at 90 degree angles).
- Take 5 breaths notice your body, your breath, your spine. With each breath is there a sense of settling in or softening in the body in this position? If not, please stop this is not appropriate for you today. Doesn’t mean it won’t be another day just not today. Remember principle #2 Move in your pain and tension free range or motion:-).
- Feel your feet on the wall, gently begin to press into the wall.
- Remember the images from above of the trapezius and psoas muscles? Did you notice your pelvis move, your butt or legs grip or clench, your breath change, your shoulders, neck or jaw get tight or tense, did your belly or breath grip or brace? If you felt any of these press again with less effort.
- Feel the hip creases soft as you press and only press into the wall to the point that you maintain the sensation of softness in the hip creases and don’t feel any of the compensations listed above. Feel the foot and whole leg as you press.
- Press and release a few times and notice how the feeling of this press differs from the first press.
- Come up to standing and notice.
As you play with the leg press the signal from the brain to the spine, pelvis and leg bone(s) will get more tuned in. The point is not to figure out what to engage but to move in a range that you aren’t encouraging the compensation patterns. Not even a teeny tiny bit. If you suffer from back pain it will likely go down as you take this new awareness into other movements and activities you participate in.
We start to see that like the interconnectedness or web of the body the principles of movement are also interconnected. The principles aren’t linear they ebb and flow working together.
This month’s movement moment provides a couple movements for you to explore the relationship between the arms, shoulder girdle and spine and leads nicely into next month’s principle #5 Move Joints in Their Optimal Range of Motion.
Have a good one,