Head to Toe Alignment
My sister called one afternoon and asked what I was doing. Truthfully, I was just sitting quietly with my Yoga Toes and Invisalign Braces, letting them work their silent adjustments on my teeth and feet. “Well, I guess I’m aligning myself,” I replied. To which she said, “And later our Zoom yoga class will continue the work!”
Alignment can relate to these small physical alterations, or to the big picture of aligning your values, intentions, behaviors and environment to enhance your life. It could extend beyond to the cosmos, as when things really go well, you might say your planets are aligned and all is working smoothly in life.
But, starting with the basics, how does spinal alignment contribute to your personal well-being? In neutral alignment, the four natural curves of the spine create a functional balance and maintain proper posture.
- the two slight inward curves of the neck (cervical) and low back (lumbar)
- two slight outward curves of the mid-back (thoracic) and the sacrum
When properly aligned, these curves:
- counteract the constant force of gravity on the body.
- ensure that the joints work efficiently.
- enhance body mechanics in all positions – standing, sitting, on all fours, and supine (lying face up).
However, when any of these curves becomes exaggerated it can cause strain in the joints, ultimately leading to headaches, neck and shoulder problems, sciatica, and hip and knee pain. This becomes particularly problematic if you start exercising with weights or other kinds of external resistance before aligning your spine. For example, if you have a forward curve in the upper back or a sway back in the lumbar spine and you overload these areas of misalignment, you are likely to cause more stress to the joints and possible injury.
Be smart and work on spinal alignment before doing weight training. Do body weight exercises like squats and pushups to engrain proper form and stabilization techniques. Add a few simple alignment exercises to improve your posture. Get in the habit of doing these four simple exercises to realign the spine. You can even do them sitting at your desk. Repeat each move 5-10 times daily.
- Lengthen the spine: To restore and maintain the normal curves of the spine, try this “growing exercise.”
- Take a deep breath, filling the belly with air, and gradually lengthen the spine as you lift the top of your head to the ceiling.
- Think of elongating the sides of the torso, stretching the space between the ribs and the hips, decompressing the spine.
- Fluff up the chest by drawing the air up into the chest cavity.
- As you exhale, hold the height and stay tall.
- Realign the head: It is common to develop a forward head position from our daily activities. The “neck press” strengthens the muscles of the neck and upper back and realigns the head over the shoulders.
- Put two fingers on your chin. Inhale, then as you exhale use your fingers as a cue to retract your chin, i.e. move it straight back, pressing the curve out of the back of your neck.
- Keep your chin level being careful not to push it down.
- Release and repeat.
- Anchor the shoulder blades: When you’re in the habit of slouching, your shoulder blades slide forward and apart exaggerating the curve of the mid-back. “W’s” activate the muscles that stabilize your shoulder blades, an extremely important technique to use when doing upper body weight training.
- Hold your arms out to the sides, palms forward, with the elbows bent and in line with the shoulders.
- To form a “W”, inhale, then squeeze the shoulder blades down and together as you let your breath out slowly.
- Hold for 2-3 seconds and repeat.
- Align the pelvis: the position of the pelvis determines the degree of curve in the lumbar spine. Neutral spine alignment is midway between a full arch and a flat back position.
- Explore your personal range of motion by tilting your pelvis forward and back.
- Return to a neutral position, allowing the slight curve in the low back area –
just enough to slip your hand in if you are lying on your back or standing straight with your back against the wall.
- Tighten your abdominals to hold this position.
Take a few moments every day to practice these simple spinal alignment techniques to:
- Establish good postural habits.
- Improve body mechanics in all activities.
- Reinforce proper form for exercising.
- Enhance the results of your weight training exercise.
- Reduce your risk of injury.
For expert guidance on strength training techniques, step by step photos depicting how to perform the exercises and a selection of well-rounded workouts please check out the book Strength Training Exercises for Women by Joan Pagano at http://bit.ly/JPFSTEW
Joan also offers an online fitness and nutrition course, “Beat Belly Fat, Bloating, Bone Loss and the Blues” available on her website here https://www.joanpaganofitness.com/beat-belly-fat-bloating-bone-loss-and-the-blues. This course includes a module on exercise for posture and alignment.
(c) Copyright – Joan L. Pagano. All Rights Reserved Worldwide.