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How to Loosen Up Your Spine

There are so many things that can contribute to a stiff spine. As with any physical issue, it's caused by one of these things: biochemical, mental/emotional or structural stress. Which means it's either something you ate, put on your body or came into contact with, something you are believing or feeling, or some body structure issue, like postural or muscular imbalances. No matter how it got there, there are always things you can do to help your spine feel better.  Below are some of my ideas on the subject, in no particular order and definitely not a comprehensive list. (Also, keep in mind that I specialize in the structural and mental/emotional realms so this list is heavily influenced by my background).

1. Relax your spine in all the different ways it moves  (e.g. back bend, side bend, forward bend and twist)

This, in my opinion, is one of the best ways to get a looser spine because it is passive - there is no muscular tension involved. By simply laying on props that encourage the spine to open, the body relaxes at its own pace. It connects the mind and body because the brain has to talk to the spine and ask it to let go. If the spine doesn't let go, then that means the mind or body is not ready yet, and you either need to reduce the size of your prop so it asks less of the body, or try a different position. I love it because A) it releases deeper residual tension that cannot be accessed by doing an active movement B) it's gentle and nourishing C) it really works!!

Here are some pictures of what I mean:

2. Take a restorative yoga class. Restorative yoga is basically a whole class of what I just described above - relaxing your body in a myriad of different positions (usually with props). It will loosen up your spine and a whole lot more. Everyday People Yoga and Eugene Yoga are both good options for restorative classes. As I browse their schedules I notice that some of them are a blend of restorative and gentle yoga, which are another great option.

3. Do Cat/Cow pose often (especially after back-tiring activities) - Cat/Cow is such a great move because it's so simple, accessible and very effective at improving spinal mobility. Cat/cow becomes even more effective when you do it with attention to how your spine compensates (see this video  which explains in more detail what I mean). If you can't be on your hands and knees because of uncomfortable wrists or knees, it can still be done in a bent over or standing position, which can be seen here.

4. Learn how your spine compensates (makes up for its lack of mobility) and practice moving without compensation. Where can you learn this? From a good yoga therapist or movement professional. I recommend taking an online course with my mentor Susi Hately, or you could take my Feel Fine in Your Spine workshop that is coming up next month.

5. For biochemical stress (meaning something you ate, breathed, put on your body or came into contact with in some way), I would recommend a functional medicine practitioner, a naturopath or a chiropractor who practices applied kinesiology (like Dr. Rob Voorhees of Eugene Complete Wellness whom I mention in another blog).

6. Release trauma - Sometimes physical pain or stiffness can be the result of unintegrated trauma. Trauma includes more than bike accidents and war. It includes any kind of physical or emotional abuse, a breakup, a major life change, not having a caring guardian as a child, having a mentally ill or incarcerated family member, the death of a loved one, infidelity in a relationship, loss of a job, major illness, enduring a racist act or ongoing racism, poverty, living in a house with an addict and more. My point is that trauma is common - it's basically the stuff of life. Sometimes trauma is released soon after it happens, and sometimes it gets stuck in the body. To release it involves getting more in tune with your body, your thoughts and your emotions. Some of this work can be done on your own and sometimes you will need the support of a practitioner or therapist. Here are some options for releasing trauma:

Modalities I have used with success

  • Touch for Health Energy Kinesiology

  • The Work of Byron Katie

  • Yoga (or any kind of intentional movement)

  • Practicing stillness

  • Acupuncture 

  • Craniosacral massage

  • Sound Baths/Tuning Forks - sound healing is real

  • Emotional Freedom Technique - even better when mixed with counseling

  • Talking to a counselor who is trained in somatics and trauma release

Some modalities I haven't tried, but have worked well for people I know:

Please let me know your thoughts in the comments!

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