Get Your Whole Back Back!

How clear and accurate a picture do you have of your body and how it's put together? For example if I asked you to show where your hip joints are where would you point? Try it now.

I’ve been asking new Alexander Technique pupils this question for many years and experience suggests that you are most likely to have pointed to somewhere on the crest of your pelvis—several inches higher than where the joint actually is [see image below]. Can you feel the two bits of bone that stick out a little on either side at the top of you legs? These are at the top of your thigh bone (femur) and the joints are just a little bit higher and a couple of inches in from there. If you got this wrong are in good company—I have even seen doctors who have had intensive anatomy training make this mistake! Incorrect information together with a faulty kinaesthetic sense caused by years of unnecessary muscular tension means many of us literally don't know where our legs end and our torso begins!

But why should we worry about this anyway? Because the way our body moves in activity tends to be strongly affected by our ideas about it. It will faithfully respond to our intentions, and if our intention is to move at hip joints which we think of as being at the top of our pelvis the body will actually respond as if this were true—meaning that the lower back (lumbar spine) will be taking over some of the movement which really belongs at the hip joint. The back is not designed for this, and over time trouble can ensue in the form of pain and stiffness.

Another common error people have in their internal ‘body map’ is in thinking that the joint between their head and spine is somewhere in the region of their 5th cervical vertebrae (see diagram below). This is wrong! The spine continues up to a point roughly between our ears, where it articulates at the atlanto-occipital joint.

Looking at the spine as a whole we can see that it is a very much larger structure than many of us realise. It starts between the ears and goes right the way down to the sacrum (which is a series of fused vertebrae). The sacrum is attached very firmly to the pelvis so functionally we may think of the pelvis as also being part of the same structure. In a sense the spine and pelvis form a single, flexible lever.

Try bearing this in mind as you go about your day. There’s no need to get busy trying to change anything, but just be gently aware of how much longer your spine is than you might have thought, and therefore how integrated and supportive your structure is. Maybe give yourself occasional feedback with your fingers: "here are my hips, here is the top of my spine". You may be pleasantly surprised at how nice it feels to have you whole back back!