Spine Decompression Exercise

Cats and Dogs with Feeling

For some time I’ve wanted to share an alternate version of an exercise in Lesson 7 of Heal Your Posture, my DVD workshop. The exercise on the DVD is similar to the yoga “cat stretch” but with added special imagery. The image is that each vertebra has its own vector, its own potential direction of movement.  For the flexion part of the exercise (the cat), the spinal vectors aim each vertebra into the space behind the body.  Envisioning each vertebra to have its own trajectory and attempting to move them one by one helps decompress the spine. This makes contralateral rotation of the spine--the normal motion of the spine in walking--more available, and more apt to emerge naturally if you incorporate this practice into your exercise routine.

After the flexion motion of the cat stretch, the spine curves the other way—extending into dog stretch. For that motion we visualize vectors extending forward from the front of the spine. I posted a blog about the front of the spine in July, 2013, if you’d like help visualizing that. Here are links to Part 1 and Part 2 of that post.

My new version of the spine decompression exercise is done standing at a wall. I've found it effective as a first step in mobilizing your spine.  But this is important: you need to first prepare your shoulder girdle so your upper back can be broad enough to allow full movement of your upper spine. Refer to Lesson 5 of my DVD for a full explanation. There are also several shoulder support videos in my YouTube archive.

Important Moments

In this video my first intention is to remind myself of the sensation of healthy shoulder support. Once my upper back feels broad, I also widen my visual field. This causes my neck to lengthen. See whether you can notice the moment when that occurs.

As you follow along with the rest of the video, notice a moment 3/4 of the way through the spine decompression when I re-adjust my hands on the wall. This was an unconscious movement on my part, but it’s worth noting. What I didn’t say in the voice-over is that it’s helpful (always helpful!) to be aware of the “skintelligence” of your hands and feet. Refer to The New Rules of Posture for more information about skintelligence. For now, just know that when you do this, you access the deepest motor programs within your brain, the place to access if you want to change your behavior. I’ve been teaching and practicing variants of this exercise for so long that I did it without thinking. Good for me!

© 2014 Mary Bond