Monday, January 30, 2012

Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part IV - Stretching and Strengthening the Deep Muscles of the Spine

In the previous three lessons on Restoring and Rebuilding the Inner Core, I have focused on Mula Bandha, Uddiyana Bandha, the respiratory diaphragm, and the Multifidi - the deep muscles of the spine. These are the "Core 4" of the Inner Core. In the last post we learned how to find these deep muscles of the spine and we began to work them. In this post we will expand on Lesson III and learn to find length and strength in these crucial back muscles.

Exercise 4: Lengthening and Strengthening the Deep Muscles of the Spine

Setting up:
Start by rolling a blanket, towel or felt pad into a hand's-grip sized roll. Set this behind you and gently ease your way down to the floor with the roll under your lumbar (centered directly behind the belly button). It should look like this:

This is the 5th step of the Supported Lumbar Stretch. Click the link to see the original post showing each step of this process.

Keep your knees bent and take a few lifts and lowers of the pelvis to ease your way into this stretch. This should feel like "ahhhhhh" not "owwww." If you are feeling more "ow" than "ah" change your roll. Make it a bit smaller and try to settle in again. There is no set size for the lumbar roll. It should be the size that is right for you today. Once you have settled in, find a smooth, deep, and steady breath. Notice the rise and fall of the belly. Notice any other areas in your body that move with the breath. If it feels good on your back, let the knees drop slightly from side to side (slow tick-tocks) a few times.

Working in the pose:
The main work of the first half of this exercise is to just stay put. Settle in and breath. Let the lumbar roll do the work for you. Stay for up to 5 minutes (more if it works in your body). By laying over this roll we are lengthening the muscles of the spine.

Many of us may think that we don't need to accentuate our lumbar curve because perhaps we have a habit of over-arching the spine already. However, when you over-arch your spine you are not lengthening your muscles, you are actually shortening them by "kinking" into your back.

If you are a tail-tucking, lumbar straightener, this pose is perfect for you too. Now you can reestablish the natural curve in your spine.

After you have lingered for a while in the Lumbar Stretch, start to think about developing some movement around the lumbar pillow. Begin to engage the muscles of the lower back by purposely pressing the sacrum into the floor and exaggerating the curve of the lumbar. Now press the feet equally into the floor and lift the bum off the floor, coming up into Bridge Pose.

When you release Bridge, try to dip your tail down to the floor without touching your back to the lumbar roll. This is nearly impossible of course. Your back will most likely touch the lumbar roll but I want the action to be a dipping of the tailbone and a continued arching of the spine to really get into strengthening those deep spine muscles.

Take 5-10 rounds of lifting up into Bridge and then dipping the tail down to the floor. Keep the knees aligned with the hip points and keep the feet rooted to the floor. After you finish, lower onto your lumbar roll and linger again for a few minutes to ease the back.

To come out of the pose, lift up enough to slide the lumbar roll out from underneath you and then slowly lower to the floor with a lengthened spine. Take a minute to lay flat to let the spine settle. Help ease your transition by slowly tick-tocking your knees side to side. Finally, take any finishing movements that you like: a long stretch, a bundle roll hug, gentle twist, etc.

Homework for Restoring the Core: 
(click lesson links below to review)
1) Pelvic floor lifts: 10 each, 5 times a day from any position: sitting, standing or laying down.
2) Heel lifts or toe taps: 5-10 on each side making sure to keep the pelvis stable and neutral and maintain an easy breath.
3) Spine awareness through exaggerated arch and curl.
4) Strengthening the spine through dips and lifts from Bridge Pose.

Lesson I: Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part I - Finding Mula Bandha
Lesson II: Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part II - Strengthening Uddiyana Bandha.
Lesson III: Restoring and Rebuilding your Inner Core Part III - Finding the Deep Muscles of the Spine.

Up next: More exercises to improve your core.