Friday, April 20, 2007

5 Ways to Use and Understand the Spinal Roller


The sympathetic nervous system (See below for details.)

Points on Governing Vessel Meridian in acupressure (see below).

Andrew Taylor Still (the father of Osteopathy) using a rope swing to cure his headache. See details below.


I've been using this tool I call the Spinal Roller in my yoga practice for almost 30 years now. There are at least 5 separate but related ways to understand what it means to use this therapeutic tool. These 5 ways are:
l. As a yoga tool
2. As an aide to the natural practice of rolling one's back
3. As an osteopathic tool
4. As an acupressure tool
5. As a device that helps tone down the sympathetic nervous system.
All of the above can be viewed as differing perspectives on the same process of rolling out the tension, stiffness and distortion that many of us find in our backs.

A Spinal Roller can be any rolling pin like device with sufficient cushioning to avoid injury. The hardness and firmness of the roller is of equal importance in order to be able to deliver a firm and strong pressure against the spine and between each separate vertebrae. A too soft roller will not apply the focused pressure necessary for the manipulations and adjustments.

The Spinal Roller is a good yoga tool. I've even named my business Yoga Tools with the roller in mind. As a yoga tool it can enhance both forward and backward bending movements. It gives increased focus and direction to spinal stretches and adds a whole new dimension to yoga practice. The Spinal Roller is both a tool and a toy. It adds an element of movement and play to yoga practice. I have found it the ideal yoga tool.

One of the many techniques found in the practice of yoga is rolling the back on the floor. Vertebra by vertebra we press the spine down against the floor to loosen and adjust it. Cats and dogs also roll around on their backs. Most of us have probably watched a cat or dog do such things but we never gave it much thought. Sometimes our animals are trying to tell us how to move and how to use our bodies in the only way they can and that is by setting a good example for us.
Cats and dogs roll around on their backs and they do it because they enjoy it. It feels good; it is a perfectly natural thing to do. Too many of us lose touch with the natural, easy and pleasurable ways of moving that our animals always seem in touch with. Spinal rolling is natural.


Spinal rolling is also a way to give oneself osteopathic and chiropractic adjustments. When you roll your back you discover your need for manipulation and adjustment and you find that you
can give such treatments to yourself. There is no big mystery here. Get down and roll around on the floor long enough and you will feel the tension, stiffness and distortion in your back and you will also find a way to treat it.

In fact, the man who discovered and developed Osteopathy got his inspiration from using a simple tool to cure himself of headaches. After 20 years of using his simple headache tool he realized the importance of the technique and went on to develop the science of Osteopathy. The following is a famous quote from his autobiography:
"One day, when about ten years old, I suffered from a headache. I made a swing of my father' s plow-line between two trees; but my head hurt too much to make swinging comfortable, so I let the rope down to about eight or ten inches off the ground, threw the end of a blanket on it and I lay down on the ground and used the rope for a swinging pillow. Thus I lay stretched on my back with my neck across the rope. Soon I became easy and went to sleep and got up in a little while with the headache gone. As I knew nothing of anatomy at this time [he was ten years old], I took no thought of how a rope could stop a headache and the sick stomach which accompanied it. After the discovery I roped my neck whenever I felt those spells coming on. I followed that treatment for 20 years before the wedge of reason reached my brain and I could see that I had suspended the action of the great occipital nerves, and given harmony to the flow of the arterial blood to and through the veins, and ease was the effect...." (See drawing at beginning of article.)

His name was Andrew Taylor Still; he was a 19th century country doctor who found his inspiration for the whole science of Osteopathy in that simple tool. Dr. Still developed a hands-on manipulative style of treatment that has grown into a worldwide and generally respected branch of medicine. Had he not been a physician his original inspiration may well have led him in a different direction. His founding principle of pressure applied across the back and spine could just have easily led to the invention of a series of tools for individual self-treatment, the kind or treatment he applied to himself for 20 years before the "wedge of reason" reached his brain and he realized what he was doing and why.


By using a Spinal Roller you can give yourself a strong acupressure treatment. This is the 4th way to understand the effects of using a Spinal Roller. A good roller will apply a cushioned but focused pressure directly between the vertebrae. Right between many of our vertebrae are powerful acupressure points that lie on a meridian called the governing vessel meridian.
When you use a roller you eventually discover these points in the spine. They are very often the focal points of distortion and blockage in the back. The Spinal Roller allows you to press open these very specific centers and by so doing release and align the back. The following diagram shows some of the more important of these spinal centers.

Top of head (Gv 20)
Between fifth and sixth thoracic vertebrae (Gv 11)
Between first and second lumbar vertebrae (Gv 5)
Between fourth- and fifth lumbar vertebrae (Gv 3)

(See drawing at beginning of article.)


I'd like to briefly mention the 5th and last way to understand what it is you do when you roll the tension, stiffness and distortion out of your back.
Rolling the back and giving it massage and manipulation eventually begins to have an effect on our autonomic nervous system, particularly that part called the sympathetic nervous system. The sympathetic nervous system consists of two chains of connected ganglia that run down either side of the spinal vertebrae along the entire length of the spine. These ganglia give rise to a multiplicity of nerves that have an effect on almost the entire body. These are the nerves that stress us and throw us off balance. These are the nerves that must be toned down and quieted for the body and mind to ever find rest and peace. By eventually releasing the back of its chronic tension, stiffness and distortion, these sympathetic ganglia and nerves are brought into their proper balance with the rest of the body.
Too many of us are in the constant, unremitting grip of the sympathetic nervous system. It has taken possession of our bodies and won't let go. Using the roller in very specific areas will eventually help us diminish sympathetic nerve action in the body. As long as the sympathetic nerves dominate large areas of our body, those parts will never know the benefits of rest or relaxation. Spinal rolling moves us in the direction of relaxation and release.

See the sympathetic system of nerves drawing at beginning of article.

Much of what I have written and thought about in the last 30 years is a direct result of my experience with the Spinal Roller. I have written a series of pamphlets and compiled some of those articles into three books that express my attempt to understand some of the hidden principles behind the practice of yoga, self-massage, and the use of tools.

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