Many of us think of our spinal flexibility in terms of our ability to bend forward, backward, and sideways. What about rotation? Not only does rotation allow us to turn and look behind ourselves, but it plays an important role in healthy spine mechanics. Spinal rotation is also important for survival; we need to be able to turn to see who or what is behind us, to pull into traffic, to merge on a ski slope, etc. Unfortunately, we often don’t include rotation into our movement patterns. We also may have heard that “twisting” the spine is a bad thing and can cause injury. There is a difference between “twisting” and the gentle rotation that is necessary for a healthy spine. Here is a nice little exercise to open up the spine in healthy rotation.
1) Stand with your feet about hip width apart with the knees slightly bent. Bring your right arm up in front of you directly in front of your shoulder, as if you were pointing at something. Keep your eyes on your right hand as you slowly and gently turn your right arm, eyes and head to the right, as if you were going to point at something behind you. Go gently, and ONLY as far as feels comfortable for you. Note how far you go by mentally locating a spot on the wall or other landmark behind you. Come back to the front, lower your arm.
2) Again lift your right arm, gently turn to the right as if you were pointing at something behind you. Leave your arm and shoulders to the right, and slowly and gently turn your eyes and the head to the left to look over your left shoulder. Slowly turn your eyes and head to the right to look toward the right arm and hand. Again, turn your eyes and head to look over the left shoulder. Turn again to the right. Now bring the right arm, eyes, head and shoulders back to face front, lower the arm, and take a few deep breaths. One last time, lift the right arm in front of you, keep your eyes looking over your right hand, and notice how far you go now. Are you able to go farther than when you first tried it? Does it feel easier? Smoother?
3) Repeat the same movement pattern to the left.
Remember to move slowly, gently, and “listen” to yourself as you thoughtfully do the movement. In the context of learning, doing less helps you sense more, which is a principle of neuroplasticity and the foundation of The Feldenkrais Method(R). Do not do this movement pattern if you experience any pain or discomfort. You may want to consult with a Feldenkrais Practitioner or licensed physical therapist for assistance.
Cheryl Ilov, PT, GCFP