Move Your Spine in All its Directions

To paraphrase Joseph Pilates, you are only as young as your spine is healthy. A stiff back at 25 makes a person older in some senses than someone twice his age whose back is flexible. 

Good Pilates teachers recognize this principle and teach their clients to move their spines in the following four planes of movement:

  1. Flexion (rounding forward)

  2. Extension (straight back or arching backward)  

  3. Side bending 

  4. Rotation 

The older I get, the more this principle makes sense to me. When I started Pilates at 20, everything was easy. Eighteen years, three babies, and several (ahem) pounds later, things don’t move quite as easily as they used to. 

(Which, I’m convinced, makes me a better teacher. Having a little real world experience makes me a much more empathetic teacher. Now I GET why certain things are so hard, and I KNOW what it feels like. Consequently, I have a lot more solutions to those things than I used to.) 

A healthy spine is supple and the muscles that support it are strong and flexible. Of all the benefits of Pilates, this is probably the most important. And the one with the most real world applications.  

On a daily basis, your spine needs you to move in all directions. You need to be able to look over your shoulder while driving. You need to be able to bend over to put your socks on. You need to be able to extend your back as you reach to put in a light bulb. You need to be able to bend to the side as you play catch with your child. 

There was a man who lived next to my grandparents in Low Hill, Pennsylvania who had the straightest spine of anyone I’ve ever met. Mr. Greskovitch died in his 90s, maintaining that posture until his dying day. He was an old school farmer who worked his garden for seven decades, daily moving his spine in all its planes as he toiled. 

All those years of bending, arching, and twisting while he grew food for his family left him tall and strong. (My grandfather was no slouch either, pun intended.) Our desk job lifestyles necessitate more of a conscious effort on our parts to move our spines the way the old timers used to do naturally. 

By the way, I still have some of Mr. Greskovitch’s horseradish growing in my garden. His grandmother brought it with her from Eastern Europe! Interestingly, the leaves grow up out of the ground straight as an arrow.