As much as Pilates is all about ‘the abs’, it is just as much about the spine!
Evolution has left us with such specific muscles, organs, bones, and structure in our bodies. They all have a purpose and have amazing abilities that we remain completely unaware of. We breathe when our lungs (muscles) contract and expand, completely on their own. We stay alive by how our heart (again a muscle) contracts and pumps blood all around our body. We can stand, sit, walk, because of our muscular skeletal structure.
The spine is a column of vertebrae, each vertebra is shaped in a specific way and attached to muscles to enable movement. The Spinal column is differentiated through 4 sections.
– The cervical spine starts with the smallest vertebra at the top of the neck and attaches to the skull to hold the head up. There are 7 vertebrae in the cervical spine and that 7th vertebra is the most extended posteriorly, this is the boniest part of the spine at the bottom of the neck and in line with the shoulders. Because the vertebra are smaller, the joints are narrower and this enables the most amount of mobility in the spine. The neck can flex, extend, rotate more than the rest of the torso because of this.
– The thoracic spine starts after this bony 7th vertebra. The vertebrae become thicker, denser, and attach to the rib cage. The articulation with the ribs aids in lateral flexion, rotation, and so on. This part of the column consists of 12 vertebrae.
– The lumbar spine begins shortly after the ribs. There are only 5 of these vertebrae and they are the largest, most dense of them all. This is needed to hold the weight of the ribs, shoulders, and head. This also means there is not a lot of mobility. The Lumbar spine is also connected with the most amount of muscles in the area, including the obliques, which means it is the source of lateral flexion (side bending).
– The Sacrum and Coccyx (pelvic area) are the last puzzle pieces of the spine. The Sacrum is about as long as the width of your hand and is shaped similarly to an upside down triangle, the tip of the triangle being the Coccyx (commonly known as tail bone due to its tail like shape). It is comprised of another 5 vertebrae which are fused together, making the bones extra dense and more immobile. Although the thick lumbar vertebrae and dense Sacrum sound extremely supportive, this is the most common place to experience a slipped disc. The load on the lower spine can become too much and due to the immobility of the Sacrum, the last Lumbar vertebra hasn’t much room to wobble or adjust with the load.
Each section of the spine is curved in a different way for a super interesting purposeful reason. When we are born as babies, we have a completely kyphotic spine (outward curve, c-shaped). It is when we begin to sit up and hold our heads high that we develop a slight lordosis (inward curving) in the cervical spine; the neck. When we begin to stand and walk we adopt the same lordosis in our lumbar spine due to the load. So we end up with 4 curves, the two lordotic curves aforementioned and the thoracic spine and sacrum staying in kyphosis.
We adopt our natural spine in Pilates in many movements – our C Curve. The more we do in our days, the more days go by, the more we load our spines. It makes perfect sense to adopt our kyphotic spine curve to draw back to the days before our spines were under such pressure and to help with any misalignments.
Take your focus to the spine in your sessions this week and see if you can note a difference!