Thoughtless, fearless, relaxed movement.
This is what healthy normal movement looks like and as such, is the goal of our rehabilitation and training programmes. Jon Yuen (see video below for a bit about) is someone that we draw on for expertise in tasks and training methods that cultivate relaxed, flow full movement. When applied to the spine, this can give movement an almost water like quality, or waves.
Jon has kindly agreed for us to lift this article, which might help give you more reasons to look after your spinal health, and what a healthy spine can actually do.
Luke R. Davies,
The School of Spinal Waves
We have an impressively large library of information that can be accessed via equally impressively small devices.
We’ve put man on the moon, created durable, comfortable and stretchy pants, and we’ve designed seedless watermelons. Despite what seems to be an almost endless capacity for innovation, we’ve yet to come up with an answer to the simplest of questions:
How should we move our spines?
There are plenty suggestions, but truth be told it doesn’t seem like we’d be worse off without most of them.
The issue with many of these specific solutions is that they imply that we have specific problems. When someone suggest that we should move in a certain way, they also tend to insinuate that we shouldn’t move in a myriad of other ways.
And so, for every proposition made, we are also encouraged to limit the motion and application of the spine.
The spine, a body part that consists of many parts and that can move in many and amazing ways, has become burdened by so many of these specific and conflicting solutions that, when discussing technique, we tend to talk about how we should prevent it from moving.
Perhaps it’s time we acknowledge that we’re not getting the answers and results we want because we’re asking the wrong question.
Instead of asking ourselves how it should move, maybe we’re better off figuring out how it can move.
The Hidden Benefits of Waves
There are many reasons why I enjoy spinal waves.
They feel good, I get to refine a cool skill, it keeps my spine healthy, I become more mobile and a bit stronger as well. It’s an offer that cannot be refused, to be honest.
However, what I consider to be the most important benefit of this movement is that every repetition can help us to find new answers to the following question:
How can I move my spine?
By moving in more ways and learning how we isolate particular parts of the spine, we get to address and improve the following and not frequently discussed principles of movement.
Bed of Nails - Distribution of Force
You are lying on a bed consisting of three hundred nails.
With your weight somewhat evenly distributed, the pressure exerted by each individual nail is not enough to puncture your skin. You’re not necessarily comfortable, but there’s no pain, and you’re safe.
Let’s remove half the nails.
Each point of pressure is more insistent now. Your flesh is still intact, but your body is on alert. Every movement you make has become a deliberate and precarious act of balance.
We remove half the nails again.
One false move, and your skin will break. In fact blood has already started to trickle.
And now, we remove all nails but one.
To train is to damage the body just enough to encourage it to become stronger and more resilient. However, if you only stress one particular tissue in one particular way, over and over again, chances are that it won’t feel very good after some time, and progression will turn into pain.
This is the reason we don’t want to stick to just one specific technique. Instead, we want to adjust the way we move depending on which situation we’re in and the current state of our bodies.
Changing posture and execution is one of the ways we can distribute the force so that our movements becomes both safer and more comfortable. When you practice spinal waves, you become aware of more of these movement options and get to explore which ones to take advantage of in different situations.
Cheat Reps - Distribution of Effort
There are two ways we can be efficient - for the sake of functionality and for the sake of practicality.
When moving for the sake of functionality, we stress particular joints and tissues in order to provoke an adaptation. If you were to perform a «functional» bicep curl you’d want to isolate the movement of the elbow so you could work the corresponding muscles.
When moving in a practical manner you want to get the job done in a cost-effective way. Were you to place your carry-on bag in the overhead compartment on a plane, you probably wouldn’t perform a strict shoulder press. You would distribute your efforts to more muscles and body parts and it would probably look more like a mix between a curl, clean, push press, log press and gentle flick of both wrists.
This would become even clearer if you were the baggage handler - you wouldn’t limit the involvement of body parts that could potentially make your job easier.
Efficient and practical movement can be identified by seeing someone do what needs to be done by involving all the body parts that can and should contribute. This allows us to have a surplus of energy that can be used react to unforeseen events, prevent harm to come to ourselves and others, or to add aesthetically pleasing flourishes while looking impressively stoic.
The spine is often trained by preventing it from moving. Practicing the many ways it can move allows us to better distribute our efforts so that we can move more efficiently - both for the sake of functionality and practicality.
Saw - Distribution of Attention
You’ve been kidnapped and find yourself in a basement where 1000 candles have been lit.
The static hiss of a speaker breaks the silence:
You will be released on one condition. One of these lights are electrical and will be turned off at a random time. If you can tell me when this happens, I will let you go. Also, there’s some Gatorade in the fridge behind you. This is not relevant to your assignment. I’m just very passionate about hydration.
Chances are that you will rely more on luck than skill in order to escape the situation. There’s simply too many things to focus on at any given time.
Now imagine that you get kidnapped again and find yourself in the same basement, only this time it’s pitch dark.
Once again, a voice can heard:
You will be released on one condition. I will turn on one light. If you can tell me when this happens, I will let you go. Best of luck.
In all probability, you’ll have an easier time noticing when one light gets turned on if it’s not competing with the illumination of 999 other lights.
This also applies to how we sense our bodies and improve our bodily awareness. If everything is happening at the same time, and with the same intensity, you’ll struggle more with noticing the finer details.
The spine is often treated as a solid unit that has to remain tense once we decide to consciously involve it in a movement. The result is that we pay less attention to its individual parts and we either work the entirety of it, or we don’t bother thinking that much about it.
When practicing spinal waves, we allow fewer segment to move at a time. We distribute our attention as we move through all 24 joints and get to learn more about each individual part in the process.
Spinal Wave - a skill or a study?
Knowing how to distribute force, effort and attention is a skill that will get you far. It allows you to improvise and improve movement on the go, instead of just memorizing and perfecting a technique in the hopes that it will be useful in any and all situations.
Conditions change, after all.
The circumference of a tree branch, the inclination of a floor, the texture of a surface area, the weather, your energy levels, the state of your body and so much more will not be the same every time you move.
That’s precisely why principles and basics are important - they don’t just allow us to adapt our bodies, they also let us adapt the way we approach any given problem and challenge.
Spinal waves can most certainly be practiced as a stand alone skill - like previously mentioned, there are plenty of benefits in doing so and whatever gets you and keeps you moving is cool by me.
However, we should acknowledge that they’re also an excellent opportunity to unlock the awareness and movement of the many parts it consists of - the very same parts we can use as we figure out how we want to distribute force, effort and attention.