Neutral Spine: It’s a Metaphor

A guest post from one of our most esteemed SuperNinjas, the inimitable Stella Kaufman.


As we waited for the vet to come into the room, I squatted to comfort an anxious bulldog.  I stayed in that position for around 10 minutes. Feeling comfortable.  My knees weren’t caving. My spine was neutral. And I realized. 18 months ago, I couldn’t have done that. Squatting was uncomfortable back then, and was not about a neutral spine, but about an awkward movement for hips and legs. I remembered how in the last few years I would sit on the floor, and get up feeling stiff.  I accepted it (albeit unhappily) as something that just “happens” as you get older.  Seriously, there is nothing to make you feel old like feeling stiff and inflexible when you get up.

Now, the squat did not come easy to me. It took months of Kyle Langworthy convincing me that the squat was necessary. I believe he referred to it as “the king of all exercises.” I argued that perhaps it was just something that I couldn’t do, and that surely there must be another exercise that could yield the same results?! Kyle chose to endure my frustration and complaining, and eventually, I was able to do a squat. Still not well, but I could do it.

So fast forward to the following year of thousands of squats and constant reminders from the gurus at Mark Fisher Fitness about “neutral spine.” Something must have sunk in. How I moved around the city, how I lifted things — not just in the gym, but in everyday life — became something that I paid attention to.

I felt like I could move with ease and with (my version of) grace. I started to notice all the things I could do better than I could the year or so before. I had been working out 5 times a week for over a year—I mean, it made sense that this would happen. But I was just there to lose some weight. And then to get fit. And although I genuinely tried to improve my form, losing weight and getting fit was what I focused on. Moving better was just a “fringe benefit” of all this.

So as a squatted in that vet’s office, I came to realize that, in fact, a neutral spine has become a metaphor. When you move with a neutral spine, you feel…centered. It just feels “right.” Like you are, at that moment, living life calmly. I can’t really account for why all that zen is a result of the neutral spine (and really, who can say which came first, the spine or the calm?), I just know that when I am experiencing a visceral reaction from something that stresses me, I think to myself, “Neutral Spine.” I automatically stand up straighter, I take a deep breath, and I feel as though I can move forward from a place of centered calm. Chi flows, chakras are opened, and order is restored to the universe. I swear that happens. I invariably will take on the task with a new attitude. It’s as if a sort of spiritual cosmic alignment takes place with a neutral spine.

In spite of my penchant to over-dramatize (moi?) I am starting to think that maybe—just maaaayyybe—moving well is of grand importance on the health and hotness scale.

As an aside, I am also convinced that they tricked me at Mark Fisher Fitness. While they were teaching me about kettlebell swings and pushups and burpees, they were secretly teaching my body to move in a way that offers me a better quality of life. A life where you can sit cross-legged on the floor for hours. A life where you squat to reach the book on lowest shelf. And yes, a life where you can comfort a nervous bulldog.


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