Recently a reader asked for help understanding her “swayback”, AKA lumbar hyperlordosis. She had been taught--as have many of you, I suspect—that the correction for exaggerated lumbar curve is to tuck the tailbone down as if aiming it at a point between the heels. While this strategy may appear to straighten the lumbar spine, it doesn’t change the lumbar spine. Instead, it achieves the appearance of a straighter spine by changing the angle of the pelvis on the legs. And it generates a lot of hip and back tension in the process.
The problem with a lumbar curvature is not that there is a curvature. It’s normal for the spine to curve forward there, to curve back in the ribcage, and to reverse again in the neck. These curves are products of our spines’ development from the C-curl of being in the womb, into an upright state. Our spines are problematic when any of those curves is stiff and unresponsive.
It’s important to understand the distinction between straightening your spine and lengthening it. Straightening puts you into a position, held there by muscular effort. To the extent that you’re using muscular energy to hold yourself in a straight position (or any position), those muscles and joints are not available for moving you smoothly through your life.
Lengthening means that joints involved in the curvature can decompress because the muscles involved can release. Here are some suggestions for lengthening a restricted lumbar spine.
Good Old Child Pose
The picture says it all. Breathe into your back as you rest there for 4-5 minutes.
Plow pose with the feet on a chair. In this this less challenging version of the pose you can focus on inhaling into the spaces between your vertebrae. Note the padding placed under the shoulders—it’s there to protect your cervical curve.
Wall Traction. It’s worth reviewing this one in The New Rules of Posture on page 178. Because it lengthens the psoas muscle, it’s a more holistic stretch than the other two.
The transformative effect of any low back opener is not the mechanical effect, but your experience after you come out of the stretch. At that moment your brain will have a new, though initially fleeting, map of your spine as a longer, more flexible, more adaptable support. In time, your pelvis will find normal orientation with the top of the sacrum angled slightly forward of the coccyx. (If you imagine a laser beam emanating from your tailbone, the little red light would appear on the floor 6-8 inches behind you.)
After every "lengthening practice" take a minute to walk around, registering the lengthening sensation. Remind yourself of the weight of your bones, and of your peripersonal space. These spatial and grounding cues contribute to the decompression of your whole body.