The Elegant Boner: The F*cking Truth About Your Spine

by Fitness Ninja Liz Messina

At MFF, there is a lot of talk about the “elegant boner” spine (Watch This!). We like to use ridiculous phrases like “porn star”, “sad dog”, “care bear stare”, “rib cage boner” and of course the “high school wrestler” (Watch This!) to make it easy to achieve a neutral spine.  I know … I know, these are highly “scientific” terms and it is understandable that sometimes you may wonder why the hell we make such a big deal out of finding your neutral spine. So, let’s break this baby down and learn why a neutral spine is important not only for health and hotness, but will also improve your mood, brain function, joint health, and sex (meeeooowwwww)… oh, and did I say hotness?

Part 1: Motha F*ckin Science!

Posture is the expression of many psychological and physiological factors combined into the lovely human that is you (TWEET THAT SHIT!). While we love some good motha-f*ckin posture here at MFF, we’ve tricked you. We don’t really care all that much about your “posture.”  Sure, all those cues we give you will protect your spine and ensure safe and effective movement while getting after it during your workouts, but ultimately our intention is to take control of your brain and help make you the happiest-sunshine-shitting-Ninja that you can be! 

The specific part of the brain in discussion is your “paleoma,” aka midbrain. Your midbrain controls your autonomic nervous system, and your autonomic nervous system controls vital functions such as breathing. It has two major components; 1) para-sympathetic and 2) sympathetic. Oooooh f*ckin scienceeeeeeeee!

The sympathetic division turns on your flight-or-fight response. For example, in threatening situations the midbrain will tell your sympathetic nervous system to prepare you to run like the dickens or to fight till the death. It doesn’t give a crap about anything else when threatened, and in fact will shut off many other bodily functions during this time in order to ensure survival. The parasympathetic division, on the other hand, is that friend that holds your hair back after a heavy night of tequila and ecstasy.

Quick review of the autonomic Nervous System:

Sympathetic:

Para-sympathetic:

Tom Hanks, obviously…

Now, to be clear, there is nothing wrong with having a sympathetic response. We actually need it to survive and is usually good for us in small doses (like lifting heavy shit! ROAAAAAARRRRR!!!!). The issue arises when we become “stuck” is a sympathetic state, and we start living life a little bit more revved up than we should be. The f*cked up shit is that most of us don’t even realize that we are sending chronic threat signals to our brain on a daily basis.

The biggest factor contributing to this issue is WE DON’T KNOW HOW TO F*CKING BREATHE.

Think about the most readily available resource you need as a human to survive. Not Starbucks. It’s air! You. NEED. Air. The way we get air provides our brain with a message about what is going on in the outside world. This is where neutral spine rules the motha-f*cking school yo! Now, no need to worry, we are masters at compensation and have figured out ways around this dilemma. Let me explain …

Your diaphragm is a dome shaped muscle that goes from your lower spine, cuts across your body and attaches to the front of your ribs. When your rib cage boner is up, your diaphragm’s sexy dome gets pulled flat and it cannot properly contract to take full breaths. Our brain assumes that we are suffocating and we begin to go further and further away from neutral spine in attempt to compensate for lack of efficient breathing. Because suffocation is a threat, your sympathetic system gets fired up and ready to go. Now, imagine taking thousands of these breaths per day! 

Essentially, when our breathing is less than optimal, we are actually shaping our bodies like clay to eventually grow huge ribcage boners and eventually chronic porn star. This effect perpetuates dysfunctional breathing, which perpetuates stress on the body, which perpetuates ribcage boners and porn stars, which perpetuates dysfunction… you get the point. It’s a cycle.

Part 2: Five Sweet Side Effects of a Neutral Spine

Mood

As you can imagine, living under the constant notion that you are suffocating can be pretty stressful. When your ribs are down and you can achieve full deep breathes, you are essentially telling your brain “Hey man, no threat here. We can chill cause shit is all good”. When we are living in a more relaxed state we tend to enjoy things a bit more. Things that would normally bother you just roll off your back when you’re more relaxed. It’s not a coincidence; it’s your brain.

Brain Function

Remember when I said that your brain will shut off other functions when in a sympathetic state? Being able to return to a resting state allows your brain to focus on the complex tasks at hand, which also happens to be REALLY good for exercising happiness. Focused attention and happiness are two functions that share the same part of the brain. Focus better, have less distraction, and feel calmer when it comes time to get shit done!

Joint Health

Say it with me now Ninjas: “A NEUTRAL SPINE IS A HAPPY SPINE.” (TWEET THIS SHIT!) Not only does your spine love neutrality, your joints love it too! Keeping a neutral spine can allow other joints to stay neutral therefore protecting them from any over use in a non-optimal position.

Sex

In order for us to get in the mood, we need to be nice and relaxed. Guess what people, if your sympathetic system is Nicholas Cage raging around the streets of Hell’s Kitchen coked out of his mind, it’s going to be very hard to get to feeling sexy. C’mon, nobody likes Nick Cage…

What is interesting is that before sex, our parasympathetic system works to relax us and get us in the mood. As we get closer and closer to climax we begin to become more and more sympathetic. If your sympathetic nervous system is being over worked, it may be hard to a) even get in the mood and b) climax.

Now, here is a picture of James f*cking Franco to let that para-sympathetic system caress your sweet libido.

Hotness

Hotness isn’t all about what is on the outside. It’s about your energy, the way you behave and your intentions. By getting out from the constant state of stress (that you may not even realize you’re under), you may be able to improve the way you feel about… well… everything. When you think good (I speak English) you feel good, and when you feel good you look damn good!

Now my Ninjas, don’t you worry … A neutral spine will be sure to make you look good on the outside,  too. When your spine is in neutral, your abdominal muscles get into a better position allowing them to work BETTER and get STRONGER. So, with a well-planned diet, a neutral spine, and a consistent training you can have that strong rippling core of your dreams.

Part 3:  Kick-ass Ninja Challenge!!!!!!!

So now that we know all the amazing things that living in neutral can do for us, let’s discuss how we can achieve that shit! It is one thing to go through your elegant boner checklist as you train at the gym, and if you are doing this you are f*cking nailing it like a goddamn hammer! However, what really makes a HUGE difference is how you function outside the gym environment.

Ok, so here’s the part where I give you some really funny looking exercises to do at home every day for the next two weeks. Two weeks! That’s all I propose. I can almost guarantee that if you try these exercises once or twice per day, for 14 days straight you will notice something different in the way you feel, move, and even think! Best part is, you only need to choose one. That’s right, pick whichever one you like best… or do both of them!

The concept behind these exercises is to put your body in a position that encourages your diaphragm’s ideal dome shape, simultaneously strengthening your abdominal muscles. By breathing in these positions you are literally re-training the shape of your spine (working toward a more neutral position), and you are telling your brain YOU CAN BREATHE! 

Now for many of us it may be really hard to feel like you can breathe in these positions. That’s because you’re used to breathing one way, and these go against everything your body is trying to do. Just stick with it, and remember run your own race – don’t push too hard.

Exercise #1: Like a Prayer

aka Rock Back to Elbow

  1. Sit on your heels with your knees and feet together and toes flat.
  2. Fold over so that your chin is just over your knees, let your head hang.
  3. Place your elbows on the floor just outside of your ears,  and your hands flat on the floor under your forehead making ^ shape with your forearms.
  4. From here, sad dog it as hard as you can. Push your the front of your ribcage towards your spine, and push your elbows into the floor.
  5. Keep this position and inhale gently through your nose, only fill up half way.
  6. Exhale outside of your mouth for 10 seconds, get ALL of the air out and continue to drive your ribs towards your spine as you exhale. Pause 5 seconds and, inhale through your nose half way being sure to keep your abs tight.

WATCH IT HERE!

Exercise #2: The Scaredy-Cat 
aka Belly Lift

  1. Get on your hands and knees….(oooh dirty), inhale through your nose.
  2. While you exhale, arch your back like a scared cat, being sure to tuck your hips like the sad dog and put away your rib cage boner by pushing the front ribs up towards your spine.
  3. Keep abs tight in this position while you shift your weight forward so that your nose is over your fingertips.
  4. From here, sad dog it as hard as you can. Push your the front of your ribcage towards your spine, and push your hands into the floor. Think about getting your hips and ribs as close together as they can get, and your ribs as far away from your hands as they can get.

5. Keep this position and inhale gently through your nose, only fill up half way into tight abs.

6. Exhale outside of your mouth for 10 seconds, get ALL of the air out and continue to drive your ribs towards your spine as you exhale. Pause 5 seconds and, inhale through your nose half way being sure to keep your abs tight.

WATCH IT HERE!

Choose whichever exercise you like better, doesn’t f*ckin matter. Repeat it AT LEAST 2 times for AT LEAST 5 breaths each. You can do these as many times a day for as many breaths as you prefer.   

Tell me in the comments below what changes you notice in how you feel physically and emotionally over the next 14 days.

The world is your oyster my Ninjas, so let’s wear some goddamn pearls. 

Close popup