7 MIN READ
With Alex Coleman
It’s no secret that sedentary, modern-day lifestyles are bad for the spine—especially with so many of us working from home. Too much sitting and looking down at our phones means that the bones, tissues and nerves that give us sensation and movement are compressed.
For London-based Pilates instructor Alex Coleman, guiding people to move in a way that counteracts this has become her life’s passion and work. “The ability to heal is within ourselves,” she says. “Sometimes we just need guidance.”
Here she shares her five top ways to nourish your spine. Because being kind to yourself and your body is a great place to start.
The first thing you can do to nourish your spine is as simple as lengthening it. When you’re seated, ground your sitting bones into the chair and reach the top of your head to the ceiling to create opposition. Make sure that your head and ribcage are sitting directly above the pelvis. This will decompress and provide space for the spine, which encourages blood flow and ease of movement.
Articulation means moving smoothly and evenly, which is so important for allowing the spine to distribute force as you go about your day. If you think of the spine like a whip, you want to expel energy out of the end of it so that it doesn’t get stuck along the way and lead to tightness, tension and back pain.
Spinal articulation also means activating the muscles at the back and front of the spine (your core) in a really deep, controlled way. You can try this great little sequence at home to get started:
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet hip distance apart. Curl up from your pelvis, all the way to the top of your shoulder blades, then slowly articulate back down – creating space and paying attention to each vertebra.
Arch and curl
Sit on a stool or cross-legged on the floor. Elongate your spine, then curl and flex it forwards. You then arch it back taking the spine into extension. Repeat ten times.
Around the world
Interlace your fingers and bring them above your head, palms to the ceiling and elbows bent. Imagine you have a planet resting on your chest and circle around it. Do it five times then reverse.
Elongate then arch your spine by lifting your chest to the ceiling and wave it forwards, then reverse by curling from your lower, middle, then upper back until you come upright. Repeat and keep a slow rhythm as you do this.
Your spinal discs (the squishy bit that act like hydraulics protecting your spine from impact) are made up of 85% water. If you’re dehydrated, then so is your spine, which holds you up every day. Be kind to it and drink water: for men, a good amount is 3.5 litres per day and for women, around 2.5 litres.
And remember, if you drink water in conjunction with caffeine, the caffeine cancels it out.
Perhaps you expected this to be number one on the list? But when you elongate and articulate the spine, you’re already working your deep core. Picture an elastic band being pulled from both ends – the elastic band gets tighter, and that’s what it means to have true core strength. In biomechanics we call it bio tensegrity: expanding from all ends to create a stable structure.
Try these three core exercises, which are particularly good for your lower back:
Lie on your back, bring your legs to a table-top position and arc one leg down tapping the toes on the mat, then bring it back up. Alternate legs.
Side to side
Lie on your back, bring your legs to table-top and squeeze them together. Rotate your pelvis taking your knees from side to side.
Supine around the world
Stay on your back and bend your knees, feet on the floor. Interlace your fingers behind your head and imagine that planet is back on your chest and circulate around it. Do five each way then reverse.
If all else fails and you’ve been too busy to do any of your spine-loving exercises, then just keep it moving. Culturally, fidgeting is seen as a nuisance, but actually it’s a very natural and healthy thing to do as it’s your body’s way of trying to maintain its internal rhythm. Studies show that our spines have a vibrational tone and frequency, and when we don’t move and articulate them enough, the vibrations slow down, which traps tension and inevitably results in pain.
So, allow yourself to fidget. Let energy move around your body: twirl, spiral around your ribs, shoulders and neck or do some circles with your pelvis. You’ll be surprised how much better you feel and naturally sit up taller, which consequently brings us back to tip number one: axial elongation.
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