On Wednesday, I shared the story of my flattened spine, and how it likely got that way. Today, I’ll discuss the journey I have taken to reclaim its curves and learn more about how I’m put together.
The human spine consists of five parts. There are seven vertebrae in the cervical spine (neck, C1-C7), 12 in the thoracic spine (upper back, T1-T12), five in the lumbar spine (lower back, L1-L5), and five in the sacrum (pelvic, S5, fused), four in the coccyx (tailbone, fused). A healthy human spine when viewed from the side, has a beautiful S-shape curve. The convex forward shape is called the lordotic curve, present in the cervical and lumber spine. The concave forward shape is called a kyphotic curve, present in the thoracic spine.
Over time, the shape of our spines changed according to our primal needs. First, while our ancestors roamed around the ground on their four limbs in search of food, the thoracic spine formed into a concave shape (out) in order to push their bodies away from the ground.
Secondly, the neck had to be picked up to its convex position (in) so they could look for food or spot out a predator, before they could approach. The lumber curve (in) became more necessary as our ancestors started to gain the ability to bear weight on lower extremities – and began walking on two legs. The lumber curve is a human specific feature. (Yoga Anatomy by Leslie Kaminoff and Amy Matthews).
The spine was developed over millions of years of human evolution to support the body’s weight and to protect the spinal cord. The curve of the spine can withstand great amounts of stress by providing a more even weight distribution. Also, when we walk or run, our spines undulate to support our movements. Amazingly, almost every human movement is assisted by the movement of our spine. If the spine doesn’t move well, we have to compensate by engaging other parts of the bodies.
I remember looking at my parents’ form and thinking it must be genetic that I have a very flat spine. Or is it cultural? My parents spent their youth during the Second World War in Japan where standing straight or bowing correctly were considered to be proper.
There are things I can do to reclaim my s-shaped spine. One of the Yoga Tune Up®. exercises that helped me a lot was Spinal Undulation.
When I teach this in my class, it is shocking that the majority of people are not in touch with their spines. When we go into Cat and Cow in a yoga class, most of us automatically go into the movement pattern we are used to. Moving from what moves…like the lower back, while part of our thoracic may be completely locked. By moving habitually, you won’t be able to figure out where your blind spots are.
Try YTU Spinal Undulation, take your time, remember to breathe, and feel the movement in your spines. The part that’s not moving needs to be awakened and retrained. The part that is moving a lot may be the answer to the pain in your back. This exercise is helpful for you to feel your s-shaped spine. One of the biggest reasons why YTU is so helpful is it makes you become more aware of your body–not anybody else’s, but yours!
One of my favorite activities is to go to the Museum of Natural History in NYC to visit the dinosaur exhibit. When you see the different bony structures from over many millions of years, the result of evolution is evident. Yet, we are all exactly alike. When I witness this I get welled up with the realization that we are all ONE.