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Back Stupids: how to hurt yourself

Here’s the stupid: Flatten your back to the floor and pull your knees to your chest. This has been around for a long time.  You may even be paying big bucks to a trainer to do a so-called core exercise where you flatten your back, perhaps in an old style sit-up.  This hard core idea is really a flattener.

This flattening idea was not historically stupid, it had a purpose some 40 years ago.  The idea still has legs; it is even possible that a quick survey of your orthopedist’s office may produce some pamphlets that she/he bought for 10 cents apiece that can be quickly passed to you in your 4 minute appointment.  These pamphlets were designed and produced using ideas about the lower back from the 1950’s and 1960’s.

You can see what some of these backs with huge lordosis problems looked like in Ida Pauline Rolf’s book which she originally copyrighted in 1977:    Rolfing: Reestablishing the Natural Alignment and Structural Integration of the Human Body for Vitality and Well-Being by Ida P. Rolf (Paperback – Oct 1, 1989)

At the time,  just about everyone who came in with back trouble had a big sway back.  Not everyone, of course, but it was a sign of the times.

Ida Rolf recognized the problem:  she even formulated what she thought would be a more perfect spine.  She had John Lodge, a Rolfer who was an artist for the book, re-draw the spine 5 times before she was satisfied with the amount of curve in the spine as she idealized it at the time.  That spine is amazingly straight.

She knew and worked with the too much lumbar curve issues, most famously with the “pelvic lift”, in which the lumbars including the muscles in front of the spine, the hip flexors, dropped back and flattened out the spine.  This stupid structural integration Nerd Fight is carried on to this day by some of those folks who say they are doing the “real” structural integration and the flattening of the back is the only way to do a pelvic lift. Poor hurt clients, impaled by orthodoxy.  (BTW, if you Google “Philadelphia Rolfing” right now, two people come up.  Of them one is a “real” poser, not certified.  You can figure it out by using the “Find a Rolfer” function at  Google will not be figuring it out, they just take the money for the ads.

Anyway, to make a long story short, everyone got on the bandwagon of making the spine flatter.  It became a cultural thing.  Joseph Pilates did it;  flat back is still entrenched in many a Pilates teacher’s mind as the thing to do:  sit on the floor, flatten your back and roll backwards.  Flatten your back and work on the Reformer machine.  Pilates wasn’t the only one.

Airline and car seats slung your hips forward so that you were in a “C” curve slump.

The doctors got in on the act, with those brochures. I got one of those brochure from a doctor in 1975,  Pull your knees to your chest and flatten your back to the floor!  When the exercise didn’t work for me I was told I hadn’t done it enough (True dat, it hurt too much). I saw some of these brochures in an internist’s office last year.

Sometimes I just want to holler:  STOP, YOU SOLVED THE PROBLEM ALREADY YET!! to some of these people who are still hanging on to this idea of “flat”.

Almost everyone who has long lasting lower back problems needs to have a functional lumbar curve.

A perfect world: the lumbar curve can go into extension easily and it can go into flexion.  It hangs out in extension on a daily basis, with flexible strength so that our whole body feels comfortable sitting or standing.

Be sure that if you do yoga poses into flexion (touching your toes, for instance) or any other kind of exercise that goes into flexion, that you give your back the opportunity to get back into extension (a swan dive look at the lumbars, just don’t lean back with the upper body).  A good yoga teacher, like Joan White or the workout coaches I have mentioned here, will make sure that you don’t spend too much time in the land of the flat backers.

If you get stuck having to balance yourself out, you can do this by getting on your hands and elbows and letting your lower back hang down into an old swayback horse pose, with your horse neck straight out from the spine. Don’t worry about going into the Halloween cat, even though it is almost the season, the world is going to take you into that pose, plenty.

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