Betcha nickel that when my sister Lexie saw the blog post title of “Show a little backbone, wilya?,” she added the other line of “That’s just my pet snake Reggie.”
I know that because Lexie and I must continually throttle the urge to quote entire passages of “Raiders of the Lost Ark” to you whether you want to hear them or not.
The joke about that particular scene was not the large python crawling up Harrison Ford’s thigh at the time – the joke was that Indy had just displayed a cheer-worthy amount of spine in facing down booby traps and devious guides and blow-dart-wielding natives, only to be undone by his lone phobia, snakes.
(“I hate snakes, Jock! Hate ‘em!”)
The point is – the backbone is adaptable. Yours is loose in some parts and tight as hell in others, to make up for the looseness somewhere along its path.
For me, the low spine – the lumbar area, mostly behind your waist – is super-loose. I’m flexy as hell in the low back. But my thoracic region (call it the bra strap region, if you’re the bra-wearing type) is so tight as a result that I didn’t even know I was supposed to be able to move it the way I should.
Here’s how I know.
Barbara (the best trainer in the world at Body Dynamics in Falls Church, VA) take a foam roller that’s been cut in half – so it looks like a hot dog sliced longways, only made of hard foam that even my weight can’t crush. She puts it against the wall and has me lean on it so the top of the foam roller is a few inches below my neck, and the bottom is somewhere below my tail bone.
“Push your spine against the foam roller. Use more abs. MORE abs. Okay – now without bending your neck, touch the back of your head to the wall.”
“Without bending my neck?” I was awash in confusion. “What the hell are you talking about?”
“Use your back. Your spine. Bend back from where the foam roller ends.”
“Bend back?? From here??” I made some confused little gestures with my shoulders, bending at most a quarter of an inch. “Nothing moves there – I don’t bend that way. Neither do you. You’ve got your anatomy wrong for once.”
Not at all. She demonstrated, and her head almost brushed the wall. SHE BENDS THE WRONG WAY THERE. Way up high. Between the shoulder blades.
Or rather – I don’t bend the right way there.
“It’s because your lumbar region is so loose. The thoracic region has stiffened up to compensate. We’ll get you loosened. It’ll take a while.”
This made me think about my mother-in-law, a tough, smart woman masquerading as a sweet southern belle. She speaks with a gentile drawl and charms everyone she meets, but she’s hiding a whip-fast wit and – apparently – the genetic code for healthy old age. She’s 93, and her only issue now is that she doesn’t stand up straight.
She and my son were in a horrible car accident nine years ago (I mean like the kind where they use the jaws of life to pry you out of the car). Doctors told us she probably wouldn’t survive the night… but she did survive. She recovered – and she’s up and wandering around, annoying her daughter and smiling on me – so bonus points to her.
But she uses a walker and gazes intently at her feet as she goes. No wonder; I wouldn’t want to fall, either. Still, her back has now permanently hunched her over; it’s extremely hard for her to straighten up.
And I think… if she could go back five years and work on her spine flexibility, would she?
What about ten years? How much better was it before the accident?
What if she could go back 34 years, to my age of 59, and work on whatever was beginning to be out of whack in her back bone? If she’d done it, would she be standing tall today?
Is it worth it for me to listen to Barbara and loosen up my thoracic spine now, when it’s just an interesting exercise in futility??
So I’m going to show a little backbone and follow where Barbara leads. You get credit for the places in your life where you’ve been tough and strong – but that doesn’t mean you can ignore the places where you’re less capable. The pet boa constrictors ARE going to come along. And I want to be ready when they show up.
Really. Wouldn’t you rather look at a photo of Harrison Ford in his glory than even the most beautiful drawing of a spine? Yeah. Me, too.