I recently did a youtube video on an exercise designed to help people develop better spinal awareness.
It was in fact designed to help people learn to feel (and control) each individual vertebrae of their spine.
One of the first comments on the video was by someone who suggested that spinal awareness was great for lazy people but if you reallly wanted to fix low back pain then use indian clubs.
"Feeling is for lazy people..." or something like that.
I've nothing against using indian clubs.
From what I've read, they look like fun.
And they may very well fix low back problems. As for myself, I'm in a "minimal equipment" mode right now. I don't even use a yoga mat if I can help it. Yes I do use a chin up bar, but given the choice if I bought anything it would be a pair of rings for hanging work. (Oh, and I'm doing squats and deadlifts using weights...)
Anyway, I thought about his comment and realized that he was right.
Learning to feel the individual vertebrae of your spine is for lazy people. When it comes to yoga I am very lazy.
Why am I lazy?
Well for one, I hate pain, and I hate working hard unless I know it is getting me somewhere or I can see myself improving.
As a for instance I didn't do wheel pose for a long time because it was so difficult and I didn't see myself improving. Plus I was doing ashtanga yoga for a while and everytime we finally got to wheel pose my matt was so slippery with sweat my hands kept slipping.
And I kept thinking to myself, did this pose have to be so f**ing (facebooking) difficult to learn?
And why wasn't it getting easier.
And so I looked for ways to make learning wheel pose and doing it easier. Not easy, just easier.
I like to think of this as an intelligent approach.
Lets look at the alternatives.
Work really really hard with no perceivable change or benefit... or figure things out with the result that doing the pose is easier and actually feels good both during and after…
Well, I'm choosing the second option (the one where it is easier and feels good…)
The result was that I started getting people coming up to me in class saying that they can never do wheel pose but in my class they can.
(I've tried to capture the essence of these lessons in my "making wheel pose easier" pdf.)
Actually if I was going to learn how to use indian clubs I'd use the same yoga for lazy people approach.
I'd practice feeling the clubs, and I'd practice feeling them as I move them so that I can move them in the best way possible given what I am trying to do.
It's more or less what I learned to do when learning sword forms for tai ji.
Applying this same "yoga for lazy people" approach to twists, I figure that if I can feel my individual vertebrae, and control them, then I can use that awareness and control not only to twist deeper but do it with less effort.
Gosh I'm a lazy bastard!
(By the way, I think mother nature is also lazy. If you look at dinosaur skeletons, they have a lot of similiar elements to ourselves. It's like she said, "fuck this, I'm not going to keep redesigning different building blocks for all of these different animals. I'm going to use more or less the same thing but modify them. )
If you learn to feel the individual vertebrae of your spine (as well as the other bones of your body) you can feel how they relate but more importantly you can also control how they relate.
And it's what I try to do when swinging or cleaning a kettlebell. (By the way, my kettlebell does need cleaning. It's been sitting for a while gathering dust.) But when I do do a "clean" I like trying to feel the kettlebell as pull it up, and judge the time so that I can pull on the handle so that the kettlebell ends up gentrly against the outside of my forearm as opposed to slamming into it.)
When I read that guys comment, I'd just finished watching the Croods for the fourth time with my daughter.
I wasn't going to watch it, but then I saw that John Cleese was one of the writers and so that sold me.
Anyway, for me learning to feel my body is sort of like the different between Nicolas Cage's character before he chooses to start using his brain and after.
Believe me, I still have my "caveman" moments. But overall what I try to do is feel what I am doing so that I can do what I am doing in the best way possible. That means my mind isn't elsewhere while I'm doing. Instead it is fully engaged in processing sensory information so that I can use that sensory information.
"Oh, the indian club is heading for a sensitive area of my anatomy. I will now vary the trajectory of the club in question so that it doesn't hit that part of my anatomy.
Dont' worry. I understand that not everybody can feel their body, or even knows where to start. I work with people like that all the time.
And part of my job both in my classes and on this website is to make it as easy as possible for you to feel your body and control it so that you can do whatever it is that you are doing in the best way possible.
(A start is learning how to break poses or series of actions into brush strokes.)
So if you want to leave caveman (or cavewoman) mode and start working intelligently (and this assumes that cavepeople weren't intelligent...) then hopefully Sensational Yoga Poses can help.
Sensational. I use it to mean poses that are full of sensation. Sensation is sensory information that we can use to vary the way we do a yoga pose.
It's like driving a car (better yet, a motorcycle, or better yet, flying a plane.) You look where you are going and you steer or change speed to avoid obstacles. In this case the eyes provide the sensory information and we use that information to stay on the road and avoid hitting things on the road.
And like learning to drive a car, learning to feel your body and control it is made easier if you break it down.
For a taste of learning to feel your body little bits at at time, check out smart yogi proprioceptive elements.