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A bit about backs.

Since you've decided on starting contorting a lesson about backbends would be in it's place. I know that you will be most interested in this subject because it is the one part of your body that you might see as a bit of a mystery.

I'll start with what I have seen and some comments on that, then move to training methods and finally the sort of exercises you can expect to be given to get your back very supple.

The best way to explain all this is to make use of photos of actual people.


Picture A

The girl has a bendy back is what you will say. Correct. Look closely, however, and you will find that the back is bent over a large number of vertebrae. The bend even continues to the vertebrae behind the rib cage and the front of the body has a very smooth curve. A number of vertebrae have each moved a small angle to give this smooth curve to the back and this looks elegant (in my view). This bend resulted from the girl grasping her knees with feet relatively close together and tilting the head back to look at the floor and pulling the head in to be against the seat/thighs.


Picture B

Here is a significantly different feature from A. Notice that the back no longer has a good curve to it. The bend is taken by a few vertebrae in the lower back region. The upper back behind the rib cage is almost straight. There is a reason. She has bent back to get her hands to the floor. She has not pulled her head in to her thighs but has reached downwards. She could have pivoted more at the hips, but has simply allowed a small number of her back vertebrae to bend much more. The way she went about the pose kept the upper back straight.


Picture C

Here is a classic demonstration of a close bend. It is a tighter bend at a few vertebrae in the lower back area than B but the upper back is straight and the rib cage has no bend at all. This pose would have started out in the same way as B but she wanted her head through her thighs. She has hold of the legs at the knees and has pulled in from picture B position. Notice that her hips have pivoted more. As well, the few vertebrae taking the bend have had to get a greater angular movement than in picture B. It is not possible to get a tighter bend because her seat is hard against her back.

The flexible back has a great capacity to bend at various vertebrae. It is obvious that the easiest part to bend is the lower back because there is no restriction. The further up the back one moves, the rib cage starts to limit angular movement.

What do we learn from this? Somewhat obviously, the back can become exceptionally flexible and can produce a graceful bend. It is possible for vertebrae to move to extreme angles during a bend. I should point out here that the positions above are all standing back bends. There is a requirement to retain balance to stop from falling over and, as you can see in B, a good deal of muscle control is required.

Of course, on the chest or elbows the back simply bends where it wants to be comfortable. I will explain why I make that statement.


Picture D

Here the contortionist has her chest on the floor and has dragged her feet in to the shoulders. The more of her body that is on the floor, the more comfortable she is going to be. The lower back vertebrae have provided the considerable angular movement to achieve the pose. There is no balance requited as in a standing pose so the back relaxes into where it is most comfortable.


Picture E

Picture E has some similarity but here we see a layover and this is interesting. The contortionist is on the table and her weight is taken on the chest above the breasts. Only a small part of her body is resting on the table. In this picture, because the legs are hanging her back has not taken up the bend as at picture D. Something very interesting has happened! Notice that the bend has moved to higher vertebra to allow the legs to pull the seat towards the floor! So her back has simply taken up the bend at the most comfortable part of the back by providing angular movement of a few, but different, vertebrae.


Picture F

Picture F shows a contortionist with an interesting bend. There is angular movement low down the back but she also has movement of the vertebrae higher up at the ribcage area.

Conclusion.

When the back becomes more and more flexible it will adapt to the requirements of the position the contortionists gets herself into. It will not modify the vertebrae angles if the contortionist maintains strict muscular control of her body. When there is relaxation of the muscles, however, the back will take the bend at the most comfortable vertebrae for the occasion. It is more difficult to bend the back at the rib cage area and a great angular movement at these vertebrae can not occur. It is relatively easier to bend the back at the lower vertebrae where quite large angular movement between vertebrae can be achieved.

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