I’m sure giant 10-foot Olaf snowman here is loving these temps, but for us humans, this polar-vortex-jet-stream-minus—minus-degree winter sure has us huddling and hankering for warmth!
Getting trapped indoors is a great excuse to catch up on your Oscar movie watching list, but the best thing to do is to give our spines some TLC. If this season has got you moving a little less out of the ordinary, going from sedentary mode to shovel snow mode is perhaps a transition you take for granted. Protecting your overall health includes your Pilates routine as a must for keeping the core strong and your back supple.
Both prolonged shoveling and prolonged sitting place demanding stress on the body. Dehydration can occur at the cellular level – which may seem obvious when you are working on a heavy-duty task, but the truth is it’s happening gradually and consistently throughout daily living. Yes, even when you are simply sitting. So, how can we put some spring back into the spine? Hydrating with water, of course – I’m sure you’ve heard that mantra time and again. But I also thought I thought I would give some attention to a classical mat exercise called The Roll Up. True to its name, this exercise was designed to create a lengthening and fluid effect on the spine.
The exercise contains a strength component for core muscles. But if you look at that alone, you’d miss the bigger picture. When executed well and with a constant flow of breath and movement, rolling the spine lubricates the spinal joints, increases circulation of blood and other vital fluids. The action of rolling and the fresh exchange of oxygen rejuvenates from mind fog, renews the body and in turn uplifts the spirit.
“When rising from the floor or lowering yourself to the floor, always do so with a ‘rolling’ or ‘unrolling’ motion exactly in imitation of a wheel, equipped with imaginary “vertebrae” rolling forward or backward. Vertebra by vertebra try to ‘roll’ and ‘unroll’. These ‘rolling’ and ‘unrolling’ movements tend to gradually but surely restore the spine to its normal at-birth position with its correspondingly increased flexibility. At the same time you are completely emptying and refilling your lungs to their full capacity.” 1
The Roll Up (see below for a modified version with a flex band)
- Lay on your back on the floor with your legs straight out and together, feet flexed.
- As you reach through your heels, simultaneously reach through your arms over your head as you inhale and prepare.
- Lift your arms up to toward the ceiling and bring the head and chest up
- Exhale as you begin “peeling” yourself off the floor (think of how you peel a fruit roll-up off its saran wrap packaging) focusing on picking up each segment of your spine in sequence. This part requires a combination of coordinated abdominal strength as well as flexibility in the spine and in the back of the legs.
- As you reach upright, maintain a “C-curve” shape, staying connected to the core, and reach the fingertips and crown toward your toes. (Tip: think “cat stretch” but from a seated position)
- Continue breathing as you begin rolling your pelvis to go back, reversing the entire sequence. 5-8 Reps
Imagery Tip for the Roll Up: Imagine that your vertebrae are like the track over the wheels of a tank or a construction bulldozer. The track ‘teeth’ step into the earth to gain footing, and move smoothly and powerfully transitioning one to the next.
Modified Roll Up with Flex Band
Do you have difficulty doing the roll-up? Or would you like to add a little variety to your regular Roll Up?
Using a flex band as a prop for support can help you maintain form and allow you to work on the weak points of your execution.
- Start seated with the flex band secured flat around the soles of your feet. Breathe in fully through a tall spine.
- Begin exhaling as you roll your pelvis like a wheel to create your “C-curve” shape as you imprint and elongate your spine, shoulders and head to the floor until you are lying down.
- Inhale and reach through your heels as you lift your head and chest.
- Like step 4 from above – begin “peeling” yourself back up – if necessary, bend your knees and press your heels down into the floor
- *While you have the support of the strap, try not pull with your arms in order to come up, but instead send energy and effort to the abdominals and relaxing any possible gripping in your back muscles. 5-8 Reps
Okay – no excuses now. Have you done your Roll Up today?