Archive for November, 2012

29 November

The Spine

Your Spine

Why do you have a Spine?

You have a spine to connect the upper and lower portions of your body together.  Through your spine runs your spinal cord which is the major thoroughfare between your brain and the rest of your body.  Your spine is one of the most important aspects of your whole body.

What does your spine look like?

Your spine is made up of three main curves and the sacrum.  There are twenty four vertebrae; 7 cervical, 12 thoracic, and 5 lumbar.  The cervical are curved in a what is called a lordotic curve, the thoracic are curved the opposite direction or, kyphotic, and the lumbar are curved like the cervical, in a lordotic curve.  A kyphotic curve is the primary curve and the lordotic curve is a secondary, or functional curve.  A functional curve is one that does not show up until movement occurs.

The curves of your spine not only act as shock absorbers between your head and tail, but allow the head to be over your pelvis.  Your spine allows you to stand upright and see the horizon!  The curves of your spine also allow areas for your organs to be placed and supported by the body while maintaining its central axis.

Vertebrae and Discs

     You have 24 vertebrae and 23 discs in between each vertebrae.  There is no disc between the  first and second cervical vertebrae.  There are 7 cervical vertebrae, 12 thoracic vertebrae, and 5 lumbar vertebrae.  The vertebrae are smaller at the top of the spine and larger as you move toward the lumbar spine.  It looks like and egyptian oblisque.

Each vertebrae has a body, spinous process, transverse process and facet joints.  The body is the round part of the vertebrae that stack with the discs in between.  The spinous process is the part of the spine that you can feel in the back.  The transverse process are t-shaped on each side of the vertebrae.  The facet joints are how each of the vertebrae articulate with each other.  Take a look at the length of the spine and the way the facet joints face.  Due to their shape, can you tell which parts of the spine are prone to rotation and which ones more adept at side bending?  Between the body of the vertebrae and the processes is the vertebral canal that maintains the spinal cord inside a sheath called a dura mater.

The discs live between each vertebrae except between the first and second vertebrae.  The discs are made of an outer fibrous material that criss cross for strength called the anulus fibrosus.  The inside of the disc is made of a gelatenous material called the nucleus pulposus.  The criss crossing of the fiberous material creates the strength to keep the nucleus pulposus in place.  There is no vascular system in the discs.  The only way the disc get nutrients from blood is through movement.  Simple compression and decompression of discs in all directions is what keeps them healthy and happy.  So make sure you flex, extend, rotate and side bend your spine everyday.    

Muscles of the Spine

     There are multiple layers of spinal muscles that run along the spine.  Close to 11 layers of spinal muscles including a few superficial layers, it is like filo dough in there.  The more superficial the muscles  the further away they are from the spine.  The more superficial muscles are longer, they cross more vertebrae.  The closer the muscles are to the spine, the deeper the muscles.  They cross less vertebrae and are shorter muscles.  The direction that these muscles run dictate their job.  For example, the rotatores connect from the transverse process to the spinous process, therefore, they rotate the spine.

To take the discussion of the attachments of the muscles a little further, the muscles that attach to form a V shape, are ipsolateral or same side flexors of the spine.  The erector spinae is an example of this group of muscles.  The muscles that run in an upside down V shape are contralateral or opposite side flexors of the spine.  An example of this muscle group is the transverseospinalis.  Figuring out if you recruit mainly from one of these groups or the other can tell you how deeply you initiate your spinal muscles.

Spine Release

As we discussed in your organ workshop, it is important to allow the posterior portion of your spine stay relaxed and lowered, and the anterior portion of your spine lifting upward.  You know now, that the spinous processes need to release downward to keep the spinal cord relaxed.  The anterior aspect of the vertebral bodies can be thought of as being held upward in a majestic kind of way.

     In summary, you spine is an incredibly important part of your body.  It runs through the center of your body and is therefore effected by everything in the system.  Without your spine designed the way it is, you would not walk upright with your eyes looking at the horizon.  There is also an emotional aspect to our spine.  We tend to posture our spine in relation to whatever cultural social status we are trying to achieve.  We also have more of a hysteria around something being wrong in our spine rather than something being right.  So, give yourself a nice pat on the back and think happy thoughts about your spine today.

29 November

The Neck and Thoracic


The Neck

       It was interesting when writing this workshop that when I googled neck pictures on the internet, the only pictures that came up were those of neck and back injuries, or pain.  In this culture we relate the neck to pain rather than about something beautiful.  I had to look up pictures of diamond necklaces to get this nice picture of Kate Winslet at the 2010 Academy awards.  Doesn’t she have a nice neckline and shoulder girdle? (even without the beautiful necklace).  You have to have a nicely aligned neck, shoulders and mid back to pull off that dress and not let your cleavage loose.  We are so willing to let our necks be thrown around like a sack of potatoes, and think of it as painful.  The neck also has the possibility of being attractive, well aligned and beautiful.


Atlas/Axis Joint

The Atlas/Axis joint is the first two joints of our cervical spine.  Atlas named for the Greek God that holds up the world.  The Axis is the second cervical and it rotates our head.  I am not going to go into too much detail with this joint because we have already covered it in previous workshops.  There are a few important points to review though to maintain alignment and reduce stress and tension in the neck.

Remember that the skull needs to sit on the Altas in a balanced way so that the neck stays aligned and the muscular around the neck does not need to work too hard.  The bite plane should be parallel to the ground.  Eric Franklin often gives the image of a helium ballon floating on top of your spine.  Try it, it is a nice feeling.

If the skull and the Atlas are in the correct position, then it is quite easy to allow the Axis do it’s job of rotating the skull.  Allow your skull to be heavy and collapse on your spine and try to move your head side to side.  Now lift your head away from your spine and move your head side to side.  Which do you like better?





Shoulder Girdle

       You have previous experience about the alignment of the shoulder girdle.  Just a reminder to keep the clavicles parallel to the ground and the head in line with the shoulder girdle.  If you look at the person sideways, their ear will be right over their shoulder.  Another great image from Eric Franklin to keep the front of the shoulder girdle open is to think of big eyelashes eyes at the corocoid process that are wide open.  If you collapse your shoulders forward, the eyelashes will get smooshed.



       The Trapezius is a key muscle that connects your neck to your shoulders.  It is one of the first muscles to get tight under stress, and when it is relaxed it has a beneficial effect on our mental state.  It is thought that the Trapezius was originally a gill lifting muscle and tends to drag the whole shoulder girdle upward toward the neck (Franklin p. 45).  Although the Trapezius is one muscle, it is discussed in three separate parts; upper trap, middle trap and lower trap.  The job of the upper trap is to lift the shoulder blades,  the job of the middle trap is to bring the shoulder blades toward each other, and the job of the lower trap is to pull the shoulder blades downward.  See if you can feel the difference between the three parts on your back.

A partner can help you feel the three parts of the Trapezius by stroking the lines on your back.  Make sure the person being touched is standing tall with the shoulder girdle open and the head nicely aligned.  On an exhale, stroke the upper trap from the neck to the shoulders, then the lower trap from the mid back up to the shoulders, and then the mid trap by stroking the two shoulder blades toward each other (Franklin p. 48).


Arm Lines

In Tom Myers’s book,  Anatomy Trains , he discusses how the body connects the neck, shoulder, mid back, ribs, and beyond to the arm, hand and fingers.  He calls them armlines, and defines four of them; the  deep front, superficial front, deep back and superficial back.  Any tension along the line can impede the performance along the whole line or part of the line.  The following are the armlines, which do you think needs the most support in your body?

Deep Front Arm Line                             Superficial Front Arm Line

3rd, 4th and 5th ribs                            Lateral clavicle and costal cartilages

Pectoralis minor                            Pectoralis major and Latissimus dorsi

Coracoid process                           Medial humerous

Biceps brachii                                Medial intermuscular septum

Radial Tuberosity                          Medial humeral epicondyle

Radial periosteum                         Flexor group

Styloid process of radius                       Carpal Tunnel

Radial collateral ligaments                    Palmar surface of fingers

Scaphoid, Trapezium in the hand

Thenar muscles

Outside of thumb

The Deep Front Arm Line relates to the front aspect of the shoulder to the thumb.  It is released by hanging by your arm.  When it is tight it tends to pull the head into a forward position over extending the upper cervical spine.  A tightness in this line can also negatively affect your breathing.  A nice image for the deep front arm line is to think of the arm hanging from your occiput or bottom of the skull.

The superficial deep arm line follows  the medial edge of the deep front arm line all the way down to the palm and palm side of the fingers.  To feel this arm line, stretch your arm against the wall with the palm side toward the wall, or lie supine on a table and allow the arm to hang down, palm side up, below the table.

Deep Back Arm Line                                     Superficial Back Arm Line

Spinous process of lower cervicals and upper thoracic Occipital ridge, nuchal ligament, thoracic SP

Rhomboids and levator scapulae                  Trapezius

Medial border of scapulae                            Spine of scapula, acromion, lateral clavicle

Rotator cuff muscles                                    Deltoid

Head of humerous                                Deltoid tubercle of humerus

Triceps brachii                                      Lateral intermuscular septum

Olecranon of ulna                                 Lateral epicondyle of humerus

Ulnar periosteum                                  Extensor group

Styloid process of ulna                                 Dorsal surface of fingers

Ulnar collateral ligaments

Triquetrum and hamate (hand)

Hypothenar muscles

Outside of little finger

The deep back arm line runs from the back and neck down to the little finger.  It is a line of the arm that would be used in a tennis backhand, or in a judo roll on the floor.  A collapse anywhere along this line can lead to injury.  The superficial back arm line also begins in the back and runs to the backside of the fingers in the hand.  The tendency in this line is to get stuck around the anterior deltoid where the line transitions from the back to the front.  The line again transitions from the front to the back at the lateral humeral condyle above the elbow before running down the back of the arm.

These four arm lines cover all aspects of the arm.  They originate mainly from the neck, mid back and ribcage and continue on to the hand and fingers.  Being mindful of these arm lines can keep the alignment open from the neck down to the fingers.

The Thoracic

       We have just discussed how the mid back is related to the neck and the lines of movement that go all the way through the shoulder and down to the fingers.  If the previous imagery of the alignment of the neck and the identification of the arm lines does not help to relieve tension, there is still one more strategy to release the neck, back and shoulders.  It means we have to go deeper to find and release the tension in the body.  We need to look at the organs of the thoracic.  In the thoracic, the main organs to examine are the heart and the lungs.  Today we are primarily going to look at the lungs.

We have two parts to the lungs, one on the right and one on the left.  The right has three lobes, and the left has two in order to make room for the heart.  They are so precious that they are wrapped in a pleura or double layered membrane.  We take air into our lungs approximately 18,000 to 30,000 times each day.  The air follows our bronchial tubes down to the lungs to feed oxygen to our blood.  The bronchial tubes are covered with little hairs called cilia that pull the impurities from the air before going on to the pulmonary alveoli.  That is the point where your body is separated from the outside world by just a few cells.  The blood is then circulated by the heart, and our exhalation carries out carbon dioxide and waste material that our body does not need.

Like all organs, the lungs are an extension of our brain and emotional system.  From an mechanical point of view, people with lung issues tend to have increased tension in the neck, shoulders and mid back which causes postural problems, lack of color in their skin, a tendency to sweat, and make noise while they breathe.  From an emotional point of view, these people can seem shy, subdued, and fearful.  They may feel locked in and inhibited to go out and live life.  They are afraid to bother people and have a tendency to stand back.  They can do very well, but their lack of self confidence hampers their intentions (Barral, pg. 47).

Noticing your lungs and how they move in the thoracic cavity can be another way to release your neck and shoulder tension.  In addition, breathing is central to feeling a vitality in your life.  In this workshop you have learned numerous techniques through imagery, muscular skeletal lines and organs that can all be used to assess your current physical state and also aide in releasing tension in your body.  So, you can look like Kate Winslet wearing a beautifulNeil Lanediamond necklace.



Barral, Jean Pierre. Understanding the Messages of Your Body. North Atlantic Books. Berkeley, CA. 2007.

Franklin, EricRelax your Neck and Liberate your Shoulders. Princeton Book Company.Hightstown,NJ. 2002

Myers, Tom. Anatomy Trains; Myofascial Meridians for Manual Movement Therapists. Harcourt Publishers.            London, UK. 2001