For the past few weeks, I have been doing a series of stretches designed to correct posture problems and limber up the ol’ spine. When I am done, I feel about an inch taller, for a few hours anyway. I also feel less stiff in the morning and after a lot sit on the commuter train.
Here are some tips, broken down by the three major spinal regions – cervical, thoracic, lumbar and sacral. Let’s go to the map!
My favorite moves involve sensations of lengthening the spaces between the vertebrae of your neck. Start by nodding your chin toward your left shoulder as far as you can, comfortably, while keeping your shoulders down. Then raise your chin to the left side, again, as far as you can comfortably. Do this a few times to the rhythm of your breath.
When you’re nodded toward your shoulder again, move your chin in a diagonal through space so that you’re raising your chin as far as you can comfortably to the upper right. Repeat the diagonal move a few times.
Then repeat the whole sequence on the opposite side. Be sure to keep your shoulders down! You may notice that you’re more limber on one side than the other. As you complete a few moves, you may find that your ability to nod or rise increases as you stretch and warm up. Finish with a few movements that go shoulder to shoulder in a wide arc, like a big smile.
Cervical and Thoracic Spine
This move gives the sensation of elongating the neck and upper back. In bare feet, stand straight on a non-slip surface, with a chair or table nearby in case you need help balancing. With feet facing forward and arms at your sides, rise onto your toes and stand, balancing, for 10 seconds. Then lower your heels until you’re standing flat on the ground, while continuing the sensation of lengthening so that you feel as tall as you were when you were on tip-toe.
It helps to imagine that a string emerging from the crown of your head is keeping you up, like a puppet. Repeat this several times with feet facing forward, and several times with feet in a V position. Reach out for support if you think you’re going to fall, but try hard to balance.
Thoracic and Lumbar Spine
I love a classic Pilates roll-up for helping me stretch and strengthen the core spine.
Stand straight with arms at your sides and shoulders down, knees slightly bent (not locked). Nod your chin to your chest, and slowly roll down, vertebra by vertebra, allowing the weight of your head and arms to pull you into a forward folding shape. When you’ve gone down as far as you can, bend your knees a bit and hang like a rag doll for a few seconds.
Then, roll up, articulating and feeling each vertebra as you go, from bottom to top. Your head rises last. Repeat several times. You should be able to hang further at the bottom with each try.
The Whole Spine
Pretty much everyone who’s had back issues ends up doing pelvic tilts as part of a stretch routine for recovery. Stop me if you know this one!
Lie on your back with your knees bent, feet flat. Take note of where your head, neck, back and butt touch the floor, and where there’s space between your bod and the floor. You will probably feel space around the middle of your back where the natural curve of your spine hovers above the floor.
Gently tilt your pelvis so the space disappears and your spine feels imprinted to the floor. Use your abs to do this move. It helps me to imagine I’m balancing a bowl of soup on my pelvis, so that when I tilt my pelvis, the imaginary soup would spill all over my belly.
Then tilt the other way – exaggerate the space where your spine is off the floor. That imaginary soup would now spill all over your crotch. (Sorry for the dumb imagery, but it helps.)
Repeat a few times – each time try to feel each vertebra articulate up and down. You can also nod your chin towards your chest to elongate your cervical spine.
Try all these and let me know if you feel a little taller when you’re done!