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Don’t Stick Your Behind Out; It’ll Sway Your Back

November, 2018

My book has a lot of images of village Africans. This is because I travelled to Africa, which is in turn related to the fact that primal posture is better preserved in Africa than in most places, and certainly you find better posture in village Africa than in modern, industrial societies.

 


This woman’s J-spine is well intact; her L5-S1 curve is pronounced. L5-S1 curve varies by race and social posture influences.

 

Readers of my book sometimes have the mistaken impression that the work is about replicating the baseline shape of a village African. Though I state explicitly that the amount of L5-S1 curve varies by race and is also very individual, newcomers to our program sometimes believe they should be sticking their bottoms out. Not so! Trying to create L5-S1 curve by sticking your bottom out is likely to cause an undesirable sway higher in the lumbar spine, as L5-S1 tends to be stiffer than the higher lumbar levels.

The goal is not to force a predefined amount of L5-S1 curvature into one’s system, even if it is clear that (as in most cases) there’s been pelvic tucking happening over the years and one’s natural L5-S1 curve would be greater than what’s showing up currently. The way to reintroduce normal lumbosacral (L5-S1) curve is not to tense up the long back muscles (erector spinae muscles). That’s like pressing on the accelerator and the brakes simultaneously. Rather, healthy steps towards re-establishing one’s normal L5-S1 curve are:

  1. Learn to relax rectus abdominis (the “6-pack” muscle) while still cultivating tone. One way to learn to relax a muscle is to first contract it and then release the contraction.  For the rectus abdominis, that means first tucking the pelvis, and then let the contraction go.

  2. Toning the gluteal pack (the buttock muscles), including gluteus medius. These muscles, when toned, draw the sacrum backwards, which in turn lends to gluteal action, thus forming a positive feedback loop. The best way to tone the gluteus medius is to use it in walking — make every step a rep. For more instruction in this, refer to the Glidewalking chapter in 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Additionally, our “These Glutes are Made for Walking” blog post has useful visuals about what you want to do and our “Samba Your Way to Beautiful Glutes” blog post describes how to use samba to develop your glutes.

  3. Mobilizing L5-S1 in case it has become stiff from years of tucking the pelvis. My favorite approach for this is to use a roller. While remaining obliquely “seated” on the roller, slowly roll forward and back, keeping the sacrum in contact with the roller. Let the “tail” drop toward the ground when rolling forward, giving the sensation of “wrapping” the sacrum around the roller. Another approach uses a yoga bolster, rolled-up sticky mat, or stack of blankets. We teach this technique in our Foundations Course under supervision of a qualified teacher. (The technique involves using a yoga bolster, rolled-up sticky mat, or blanket stack and allowing the sacrum to hang over the soft, yet firm, edge of the chosen implement. Make the bolster longer with an extension brick or cushion, and use a pillow under the head, neck, and 2” of the upper back, so the upper body is stretchlying.)


Creating a soft, yet firm, edge is an important step for mobilizing your L5-S1 juncture.


Allow the sacrum to hang over the edge of the bolster or other soft yet firm material.

 

To summarize, a healthy pathway to restore the primal architecture you had as a child is to relax your front, tone your behind, and loosen the link between your back and your bum. Which of these pieces have you made the most progress with?

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Comments

Thank you for this post. I'm pretty sure I've erred on the side of swaying my back to create a J-spine, so it's helpful to get this guidance. 

You write in step 3 above:

While remaining obliquely “seated” on the roller, slowly roll forward and back, keeping the sacrum in contact with the roller. Let the “tail” drop toward the ground when rolling forward, giving the sensation of “wrapping” the sacrum around the roller.

I don't follow this description. Do you have any pictures or video demonstrating this technique?

Thank you.

I'm with you there...  couldn't have said it better

thank ypu for asking :)

Hi Esther! Do you recommend Pilates as a way to accomplish these goals? 

Pilates lost their trademark several years ago, so "pilates" refers to a wide and conflicting set of exercises and beliefs. In general, I like pilates' emphasis on building strength. I don't agree with their description of a normal spinal shape (old-school teachers tuck severely; some teachers talk about a "neutral" pelvis, which, compared with the Gokhale Method description of a natural "anteverted" pelvis, is still tucked). I also don't like the stresses that the neck is frequently subjected to (for example, in the Pilates 100). I don't think that cultivating a healthy spinal shape is a strength of pilates. I believe they are stronger on creating limb muscle strength, and ab strength (though I suggest some modifications).

Great advice! I too have been working too hard to create a J spine by sticking out my butt. 

Could you post a video of how to use the roller for the L5-S1 strengthening and alignment. I too misinterpreted the J spine as sticking out my butt.Oops!

Yes, a video would be great! The technique sounds useful -- I broke my coccyx and may have cracked my sacrum as a kid -- but I too am unable to follow the description.

 

The bolster, even used infrequently, has helped. I have had the good fortune of using the lumbar sensors twice and about a year about ( I think) and the change was measurable. But from the beginning I have doing glute kicks and glide walking too. Still I think I have a very stiff S1and my sense is that the bolster is what made progress for me. 

I agree that step 3. is not clear.

A video or sequence of photos would be greatly appreciated!

Okay! That will be a good future project. For now, I'm going to recommend using a couple of blankets. People like Sundance (see above) with a history of a broken sacrum, or significant dysfunction in this area should only do this with a teacher present. 

If your lower back and sacrum are robust, our roller is great. The roller you choose should not slip against your body or against the floor. I couldn't find any that don't slide, so we created our own here.

In future, I'll create a video of this technique.

Thank you for the great article Esther. I hold a lot of tension in my back. How long do you suggest using the yoga bolster to start with? Would you be best to start off for a few minutes and build up to a longer time? 

3-5 minutes max unless it's a very small rise (a blanket rather than a bolster), in which case your bottom will be on the floor and you can stay there as long as feels comfortable. If your bottom is suspended over the edge, doing more than 3-5 minutes could be too intense.

Thanks for the helpful article since I, too might be exagerating the tilt. I like that  tight glutes naturally keeps sacrum back.  Will keep on trying to strengthen glutes.

I struggle to release 6 pack abs since inner corset is also recommended. What's the difference?

 

Different ab muscles. The 6 pack muscle is rectus abominis. The inner corset includes this muscle, but mostly consists of the three eeper layers of abdomial muscles. 

Hi Esther,

Would you mind elaborating on this point?

How do we strengthen the INNER CORSET rather than the rectum abdominus? Should we never do workouts that strengthen the abdominis... It is hard to know if I am making things worse. Do you perhaps have a short video you could point us to...one that shows WRONG Vs RIGHT way?

Thanks so much!! Love your work!!