Your Spine is a Vital Organ

From the archives: 1/6/06


Not only am I a teacher of the Alexander Technique, I am also a student.  I had my first lesson in 1983 and still have lessons and exchange work with colleagues.  I have found the Technique useful in my endeavors as a dancer, singer and exercise enthusiast; and as a valuable tool to help me heal from injuries, including 3 whiplash incidents, neck, upper and lower back spasms, a hamstring pull, severely stubbed toes and other bumps I don't recall at this moment.

Most recently, I spent 12 weeks healing a lower back event.  The symptoms started a couple of weeks after particularly stressful stretch, including the death of a dear friend and an anxiety provoking missed approach when landing at the Cincinnati airport.  It began with soreness on the sole of my left foot, moved to pain on my lower left side, and which ranged from a dull ache in my abdomen to a sharp pain on the left side of my waist.  Sitting was most painful, so I spent most of the day on my feet or laying on my back, knees bent.   Taking Alexander lessons helped greatly, as did teaching.  During the worst patch, I would awaken in pain in the middle of the night and slept poorly.  Ibuprofen helped.

I did an exchange with my colleague, Judy Stern, who is also a Physical Therapist. After I described the symptoms, we concluded that I probably had a chronic muscular spasm and she recommended a week of ibuprofen to reduce the inflammation, and that I rest on the table or floor two to three times during the day.  After a week, I felt 90% better and have resumed exercise and only occasionally feel sore - which resolves itself within minutes.

Judy reminded my to think of my spine as a single organ, rather than break it into segments (neck and lower back) so that I can work with myself - my stress and pain, in a more effective and holistic way.  Sure enough, I find immediate relief when I remember that my spine is a unified structure of support.  Taking it even further, I include the awareness that my whole torso (shoulder to shoulder, sit-bone to sit-bone) is a single entity.  This immediately improves the mobility in my rib cage, and I notice my breath becomes fuller and it seems as though twenty pounds of pressure eases, as the upper half of my torso stops pressing down onto my waist. (No wonder my lower back was sore!)

Try This:

Using a mirror, look at your torso so you have a strong visual memory of how wide your shoulder girdle is and how wide your torso is.  Trace your shoulder with your fingers, so you have a sense of the structures.  Locate the bones on the bottom of your pelvis.  One easy way to do this is to sit on a firm chair, and then place your hands under your buttocks.  You will immediately feel the bones and their weight on your hands.  As you remove your hands, notice if there is a clearer sense of contact on the chair.

Here's a useful site for interactive learning to help you refine your knowledge of your body's structure.