By: Pete Egoscue
The efficacy of static back lies in its simplicity. When your body works with gravity to find realignment, comfort will increase naturally.
Pain is not something to be feared; it is something to be understood. It is usually the body's way of telling us that we're physically off balance, that is, our weight distribution isn't fifty-fifty left to right and we're not vertically loaded, meaning our head isn't sitting squarely over our shoulders which isn't sitting squarely over our hips all the way down through the knee and ankle joints. This leads to weight not being evenly distributed on our feet and our feet not pointing straight ahead. All of which leads to pain somewhere in the body. Don't fear that pain. Listen to it and respond.
Whenever we are off balance and not vertically loaded, gravity works against us. The first law of my 8 Laws of Physical Health states: "Gravity is necessary for health. In order for gravity to exert a positive and dynamic influence on the body it must be vertically aligned in its postures." When the body is not vertically aligned, it will be unbalanced, and gravity will exacerbate that imbalance. For instance, a right knee might get sore after jogging not because of the pounding or even because of the knee but rather because the hips are misaligned, putting more weight on the right side than the left.
Static back is a great way to use gravity to our advantage when we are off balance. This exercise, pictured above, involves laying on the floor with the feet and calves elevated on a chair, ottoman, or block. The backs of the knees should be flush with the edge of the block so the legs are supported and the muscles can release.
The first great aspect of static back is that it gets us down on the floor. I addressed the importance of this in my last article.
Many of you will notice that the first several times you get on the floor to do static back, you will feel stiff when you get back up. This stiffness is nothing to fear. Muscles naturally get stiff when they've been worked to some form of fatigue, and in getting up and down off the floor, you are exercising muscles you've not used in some while, and you're engaging muscles that are newly symmetric. Keep going. Getting up and down will get easier, and eventually you'll even find yourself looking for excuses to get up and down on the floor because it's fun to do and no longer hurts.
But the main feat static back accomplishes is that it allows gravity to work with us to begin the balancing process. When you lie on your back and put your legs up on a block or chair, it causes a symmetrical right angle posture at the knee joint.
The position of the ankles, knees, hips, and shoulders (load joints) coupled with gravity at work on our torso causes the pelvis to rotate to a right angle. When that happens, the muscles of the back become bilaterally engaged. The back muscles can work unilaterally or bilaterally. When we're off balance, they work unilaterally, which means that the muscles on one side of the spine are working harder than the muscles on the other side. That's not optimal, but muscles have that capability and then position the joints accordingly. The goal is to get the body to where it's working bilaterally, to where the muscles on either side of the spine are working equally hard. That's what lying in static back does. The pelvis and knee rotate themselves using gravity and the stimulus of block, and that rotation causes those back muscles to bilaterally engage.
Incidentally, there is nothing static or passive about static back, even though it looks like folks are just lying on the ground. The truth is that static back is an incredibly active maneuver. Contrary to what some people might believe, achieving symmetry in our bodies does not require motion alone. It requires a symmetrical demand on the body, and that's what static back is -- a symmetrical stimulus that is engaging all the muscles of the muscular-skeletal system in a process of redistribution. There's a lot more going on than just getting off your feet.
I encourage doing static back on a relatively hard surface. Your first few times, don't lie down for more than 10 minutes, but how many times you want to do it a day is up to you. Trust your instincts and your body: It will let you know what feels good. By feeling good, I mean how the body feels during the settling process while you're in static back. Initially, you're going to feel stiffness when you get up and maybe even as you walk around the first few days, but that stiffness is the result of reengaging long dormant muscles. It can be alleviated with pelvic tilts or cats and dogs.
When you're lying on your back, you will be inclined to put your arms in different positions because your body is asymmetrical, so one arm will have more range of motion than the other. That's natural, but it's important that you place both of your arms in the same position, and you should respond to the one with restricted range. If you can put your right arm out straight, but you can't move your left arm too far from your hip, then bring that right arm in toward the hip. This imbalance will change relatively soon, and eventually you'll have both arms out straight to the side, palms up.
Lastly, breathe. When our body is off balance, the nerve that activates our diaphragm, the phrenic nerve, gets impinged, and so the diaphragm doesn't have enough room to work. We end up breathing with our shoulders. However, as you lie on your back, and the body lengthens out and the torso becomes symmetrical, the phrenic nerve opens up, allowing room in the abdominal cavity for the diaphragm to work. When you breathe in, your stomach will expand, and when you breathe out, it will collapse, which is exactly what it's supposed to do.
Breathing and balance. So much of our health comes down to those two things. And there are few ways better to optimize both than lying in static back.
For more articles, yoga sequences, and mindfulness content like this, visit Sonima.com.