I have been teaching a spinal movement practice of late. This is based on the things I have understood from my teachers, including Paddy McGrath and Simon Borg Olivier and Bianca Machliss. Any misinterpretations of their teachings are my fault. I encourage everyone to seek them out and learn from true masters how to move your spine in freedom. If you are coming to my classes, I have outlined some basic principles of the spinal movement practice in this post.
Basic Principles Of The Spinal Movement Practice
The spinal movement practice has anatomical and physiological benefits. On an anatomical level, spinal movements can help bring strength and flexibility to the spine. On a physiological level spinal movements help move information and energy throughout the nervous systems and torso. The torso contains most of your organs and careful application of the spinal movements can help improve the functioning of these organs.
There are a few important points to consider with regard to spinal movements. These points are listed below, although not in any order of priority.
Move the vertebrae one at a time from bottom to top
Blood can move in two directions throughout the spine, whereas in other parts of the body it can only move in the one direction. This means if you move the middle part of your spine you will push blood (and energy) upwards as well as downwards—like squeezing a toothpaste tube in the middle. Therefore, when performing spinal movements you try to move either from top to bottom or bottom to top. It is more common to move from bottom to top and this is what will be instructed in classes. This is akin to squeezing the toothpaste tube from the bottom so that all the toothpaste moves upwards.
Create length on one side without squashing the other
An important principle of spinal movement is to create length on one side without squashing the opposite side. For instance, in back bending this means lengthening the front without squashing the back. In side bending it means lengthening the one (e.g., right) side without squashing the other (e.g., left) side.
Learn to move stiffer parts of the spine
There are parts of most people’s spines that are relatively stiff and immobile, while other parts of the spine are mobile and often weak. The parts of the spine that are most commonly injured or which people complain about tend to be the weak mobile parts, primarily the lower back and neck. A basic principle in the spinal movement sequence is try and move each vertebra, including the stiffer parts of the spine, rather than move only the more mobile parts.
Create stability and mobility
The spine should be moved in such a way as to create stability without compromising movement. This approach encourages use of the abdominal muscles in a very particular way—a way that encourages firmness with relaxation so that you can still breathe into the belly. When practicing the spinal movement sequence you do not pull your belly in tightly. This restricts movement and breathing and leads to tension in the lower back. Instead, you create firmness in the belly through posture.
Distinguish spinal movements from hip movements
It is important that you learn to distinguish spinal movements from movements of the hip or pelvis. Despite the common claim of ‘tight hips’, most people’s hips have sufficient range of movement for daily life and most people will have learned to move their hips in favour of their spine. Being able to separate hip from spinal movements is an important element of this practice.
Tense less, stretch less, think less
Remember that the aim here is to create a way to move energy through the spine. Over-tensing and over-stretching will limit or block the flow of energy. Thinking too much can also block the flow of energy and inhibit your ability to relax if you worry or focus too much on whether you are doing everything right as you practice. Worry less about ‘doing’ and focus more on what it feels like to move.
Move slowly into and out of your postures and within the postures themselves. When you move slowly you will be less likely to injure yourself as you will feel if something is not right. Moving slowly brings greater control and awareness.
Use active movements between and within postures
Use active movements to position yourself. An active movement is a movement where you come into a position through your body’s own ability to move without the need for external forces. External forces include gravity, momentum, and levering oneself into position. If you need to use an external force to fall/fling/pull you into position then you need to ask yourself whether your body is really able to be there in the first place. If you cannot take your legs into full lotus (padmasana) without using your hands then you probably need to question whether you should be there in the first place.
You are different every day so do less or more as you need.
Only do what is comfortable for you. Your body is not the same every day. Your practice won’t feel the same every day. See if you can learn to tailor your practice to whatever is going on with you on a particular day at a particular time. Do less if you need. Do more if you need. Let go of the attachment and expectation that you can do the same practice every day.
Learn how to lengthen your spine
Try to learn the spinal lengthening movement first. Then, before initiating any of the other spinal movements, initiate the lengthening movement. This will help maintain the length and integrity of your spine.
Never move into pain
As you practice, do not move into pain, especially if you are prone to neck or back problems. The sensation of pain is your body’s warning to you that something is not right. Practicing using the preceding pointers should help avoid this situation from arising. However, there are always exceptions and you must remain alert to the possibility that, for some reason, a particular movement on a particular day may not be right for you. There are occasional instances used by trained professionals where pain is part of the healing process. I am not using any such approaches and, therefore, if you sense pain you should immediately back off.
Using these principles should help you move your spine in freedom, without stress or tension. If you feel stress or tension then do let me know. There might be something we can do about it!
Happy and safe practicing!
 Please bear in mind your life is not going to be worse because you cannot do full lotus! However, it will be better if you don’t injure yourself by trying to pull yourself into a position that your body cannot move into naturally.