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Whiteraven

Something amazing just happened.

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I accidentally aligned my back. And if feels amazing.

Ok, a little background. Not everyone is familiar with the fact that your back, properly aligned, can do wonders for your body. Stacking the vertebrae properly allows the spinal cord to operate like a fire hose, delivering all that juicy brain communication to the rest of your body. Jam your spine out of place, and it slows. For most of my life, I didn't realize that I had improper posture. When I threw my shoulders back, it got tight, and that was what was supposed to happen, right?

I've recently started doing pull ups. Plus I've been working on better form in my Wing Tsun stance. And I've been working on better form in my squats, Rippetoe style. But just yesterday was the first day I used a bar (actually a Bo staff) for my bodyweight squats. It stretched out my back. Now this workout also included doing pull ups to failure, so my back muscles were being stretched and activated really well. As the final component, I started flexing. Yep, like a bodybuilder.

First off, can I just say that flexing gets a bad rap? I mean, we usually associate flexing with overmuscled meatheads posing in front of the gym mirror. Yeah, it does look dorky. But you know what? Try it. It feels great. Suddenly I was moving blood to plenty of muscles. It was like isometric exercise. Bruce Lee loved isometric exercises. And then, as I focused on flexing and stretching my back, I suddenly felt everything slide into place.

At first I was a bit confused. Did I just crack my back? What is that weird sensation in my back? Why do I suddenly feel awesome? Slowly, I started to realize the way I was moving. My back felt like an iron rod, straight up and down. I know that sounds anal retentive. But then I started swiveling my body. It was effortless. I could move my arms without moving my head, my legs without moving my torso. I started doing the robot. Watching myself in the mirror, roboting, I had another revelation. This is the perfect dance posture.

I've taken swing, blues, ballroom and salsa classes. I've watched plenty of ballet and bellydance performances. This posture worked for them all. I could dance effortlessly. I could feel the flow of power from my hip to my hand, if I was leading someone. Here's where it gets Martial.

I stopped shadow dancing. I started thinking about the energy transfer I was doing. I sank down into the most perfect Wing Tsun stance I had ever done, and started punching. It was amazing. My hands were loose, yet able to respond to energy. I had been having trouble with that just Monday. Here was the answer. Here was why my form was off. I went through my katas and immediately noticed the difference. This is the dirty little secret I suspect most don't know. Align your spine, and your martial arts will be better. Those who already are aligned, often don't understand how others can be doing things wrong. And when you are learning, you just think that after enough practice, you'll get it. Yeah, that's all a bit true. But my form just snapped into place. I'll still have refining to do, but now the possibilities are endless.

This. Is. Awesome.

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So... here's the $64,000 question: how exactly did you do it, and can this feat be reproduced in other trainees?

I guess that's two questions.

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Disclaimer: You can hurt your back if you do too much too fast. While following these instructions go slowly. If you feel significant discomfort, call your doctor or chiropractor.

First, figure out if your back is already aligned properly. Stand up straight. Roll your shoulders back and let everything settle. Does your spine feel solid? It should feel like a long pole from your head to your butt. When you twist it should feel smooth, like your legs or body or head are all fluid and lubricated. Your breathing should come easily from your belly. Your arms should be able to hang loosely at your sides, without tension. If that all works for you, you're already there, so goody. If not, lets ask some questions.

What's your workout routine like? Do you do any exercises which strengthen the back? Do you focus on proper form while lifting heavy weight? Do you stretch a lot? Do you have good nutrition? Were you ever in an accident in your life; falling off a slide, getting tackled hard, car wreck? None of these are necessarily key, but they all will contribute.

If you aren't doing any back exercises, start now. Buy a pull up bar ($30 at Amazon). Your spine will not stay aligned when the muscles surrounding it are weak. Squats and deadlifts are also good back exercises, but must be done with good form. I read "Starting Strength" by Mark Rippetoe for my intro into heavy weight. So far, I've just used it to figure out form in my bodyweight squats, but it's making a difference.

Stretch. That first long morning stretch? It's because you want to put your back in alignment. It elongates your torso and rolls your shoulders back. Add a little yoga at the end of your MA practice.

Stretch your back specifically with a staff by placing it below your neck, right about the level of your shoulders. Pull your shoulders back so your muscles are protecting your spine. You shouldn't feel the pole on your vertebrae. Place your hands on the other side of the pole, so the pole is stuck by tension between your back and your hands. Don't grip. Move your hands as close to your back as you can. Hold it for 30s, a minute.

Walk with your shoulders back and your head held high. Imitate a ballroom dancer with your shoulders farther back than you think is straight. Get used to sitting up straight.

Lather, rinse, repeat for a couple weeks.

If you know you have issues from old injuries or your back just feels tight after a month or so of this, find a good chiropractor in your area. The best one I had incorporated massage to relax and loosen my back before "cracking and popping". A good chiropractic session should align you, but you'll need to be aware of your body to stay that way. This is the dirty secret of chiropractic, if they pop you into place, you won't stay in place if you continue the habits that kept your back misaligned.

Above all, don't be discouraged if nothing happens immediately. I had a strange combination of continuing exercise, form, and flexing and it happened accidentally. If I didn't know what I did about the human body, I would have just thought it was cool and forgot about it. You may not notice changes until someone else remarks about it. It's also entirely possible you'll never hit that sweet spot. But a strong, flexible back will pay off dividends for the rest of your life.

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