Pilates, Homer and doughnuts

What Homer’s got to do with back pain

This Pilates segment is all about doughnuts, jam and how to improve back and neck pain.

As we get older and spend more and more of our time sitting down, beer in one hand, remote or mobile in the other, our bodies resemble Homer Simpson more and more. No offense, but while we may not all get to the same degree of fullbodied goodness as the yellow larrikin, we do spend an awful lot of time in positions that are unnatural for our bodies. Surfing, while also not promoting the most natural body position, actually takes you to the other extreme for a long period of time.
Paddling lying on your tummy, craning your neck for waves, whales or whatever else you like watching while out there, turns your spine into squished doughnuts. If you’re the other side of your prime, make that stale squished doughnuts. We need core strength to keep our spine protected and to be able to maintain the extension of our neck and back (particularly lower) and the bad news is that the sudden jump and twist of your hips when you find a good wave isn’t too kind on the lower back either.

Rather than getting all technical and to help you remember and visualise with ease, let’s imagine our spine like a stack of building blocks with big and small donuts filled with jam between them. (Very simplified but give me a second here.) If you stack them all, the pressure on the doughnuts is pretty strong to star with if you don’t have the core muscles to help create space for the doughnuts between the blocks. Now but that stack into a backbend without sufficient support and what do you get? Jam stains on your pants. (That could be bulging discs, shear, irritated joints, neural tension – all not too comfortable.)

To continue with this analogy, as we age, the doughnut also doesn’t get any fresher and loses some of its shock absorbing qualities. It’s no longer as springy, so it’s even more important that the surrounding muscles support the core well and protect it.

So without further ado, here are my top five exercise to strengthen your core, mobilise your spine and prevent your doughnuts from getting squashed. Anybody else hungry?

Single leg stretch
Start on your back, hugging knees softly into chest. Head is down, back of the neck lengthened.
Engage your core (draw up gently on the pelvic floor and feel as if you’re putting your wetsuit on), lift the head and lengthen the left leg away. left hand presses to the inside of the right knee, right hand touches the ankle (if possible).
Repeat as required.

Lie on back, arms extended overhead along floor, shoulder distance apart (you can hold a band or strap to help stabilise your shoulders), feet flexed and legs gently anchoring you to floor. Lower back eased off floor but ribcage drawn down.
Lift the arms and head up (nodding chin) on inhale. Careful not to lift the shoulders.
Exhale, flatten your core and lower back and roll up, one vertebra at a time. Core engaged, shoulders set. Imagine your curving over a beachball, drawing the navel away from your thighs, the hands to the flexed feet. Chin remains tucked – to lengthen back of the neck.
Inhale, lengthen the spine up, drop the shoulders. Arms up with shoulders relaxed.
Exhale, draw the navel in, roll of your sitbones and all the way onto the floor, arms can come in front of chest to make it easier or stay over head for advanced version.
Repeat with good form.

The Hundred
Lie on your back. Feet on floor or at table top (90 degree bend at hips and knees), arms by side, palms down, lower back eased off, ribcage heavy, shoulderblades flat against back, collarnones spreading wide.
Inhale, gently lift the pelvic floor (that tight wetsuit or wading into cold water feeling), nod the chin and lift the head off until you could hold a big apple under your chin (or about three doughnuts). Lift the arms two inches off.
Exhale stay and set your position. Knees gently pressing together, legs can even extend, if you can maintain the ribcage down.
Pulse the arms quickly without the rest of the body moving. Count to 5 on inhale, five on exhale.
Repeat 10 times.

Seated Side Stretch
Sit upright on top of sitbones with legs apart, bend the left knee and bring the foot in towards your groin.
Twist towards the right leg (foot is flexed) and hinge forwards with and open chest on your inhale.
Exhale to draw the navel up and curve down.
Keep lengthening and opening chest on your inhale and exhale to sink deeper with an engaged core. Keep your sitbones heavy and length through your spine (including the neck).
Then repeat but let the chest open towards the middle (no twist towards straight leg) and keep length through the bottom waist as well as you come forwards.

Floating Head
Get yourself a cheap inflatable ball from a sports store, deflate it a little. Lie on your back with the ball under the back of your head. (Not touching the neck!)
Draw circles with your nose in both directions and figure eights. Heaven!

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