Poor posture and repetitive movement using improper body alignments have resulted in back, neck and shoulder pain that has become pandemic in the West. It’s not only affecting adults, but our youth as well. The symptoms are caused by prolonged sitting, usually starring at computer or television screens, and recurring micro-movements operating keywords, remote controls, clicks on the mouse and more. With each passing year, we are only becoming more reliant on technology, so although prevention is key, the solution (at least in part) must also include ways to expel tension and pain once it has become lodged in the body.
Check out my video with practices for a healthy spine, including an exercise you can try with a training partner to get accurate feedback!
Qi Gong Exercise for the Spine
Qi gong, or energy exercises that stretch open the body’s insides as opposed to only the outer muscles, is an excellent self-healing system for releasing both long-term and daily tensions that become bound in the body. They involve slow, gentle and repetitive movements that calm the nerves and allow your blood and other bodily fluids to circulate more strongly. You could think of the bacteria and sludge that accumulates in a pond versus a smooth running stream that sweeps away all the gunk as it twists and drifts along.
One of the key tenets of qi gong and tai chi (a type of qi gong) training is maintaining a good connection through the spine. Although there are many reasons for it, one is to make whole-body movement possible, so that the spine and surrounding soft tissues get a good stretch.
How to Align the Spine
In this how-to video, I’ll show you how to maintain a good connection through your spine when moving. You always want to ensure that your pelvis doesn’t tip back or the ribcage doesn’t move forward of the pelvis. When this happens, the ribcage begins to “float” and causes erratic movement that can be called many things, but certainly not connected! Disconnected movement is a major no-no in internal energy arts training like qi gong, tai chi and bagua.
Basically, the body gets divided into an upper half, everything from the waist up, and lower half, everything from the waist down. There aren’t many bones in this middle area (midriff and belly) so it’s quite squidgy, which can cause the lumbar vertebrae to twist or shift out of alignment. What you want to achieve is the opposite—a straight spine.
To start, stand in alignment and settle in, then:
- Drop the tailbone (coccyx);
- Raise the spine; and
- Release the belly while keeping the spine open.
Unless you have an injury (in which case take it slowly and only move to about 30-40% of your maximum effort), you will likely find this relatively easy to do while standing still or doing a vertical squat.
However, when you add turning, common in most qi gong, tai chi and bagua forms, it becomes much more challenging because the dropping of the tailbone really digs into the body. Many qi gong and tai chi practitioners, to one degree or another, simply arch their back and stick out their buttocks to continue the movement. However, this breaks the connection to the spine and thereby any possibility of whole-body, integrated movement.
Maintaining Your Healthy Spine
To be sure you maintain the connection in your spine, go slowly and don’t try to move beyond two-thirds (if you’re healthy, less if you’re not) of maximum effort. Keep the upper body in alignment with the pelvis and don’t allow your pelvis to tip. If you notice either happening, you know that you’ve exceeded your comfortable range of movement and are now in the zone of diminishing returns.
It’s the slow road that leads to success, so by reducing your movement today, you make possible the promise of a healthier spine that keeps the aches and pains at bay for tomorrow and all time.