"Roll Up" & why you won't hear me say that

"Roll your spine up vertebra by vertebra and come to stand." This phrase is not in my teaching vocabulary, nor have I ever said it in a class.  And I doubt I ever will. When I attend other classes and the teacher instructs us to "roll up to standing," I never comply, and my face cringes.  Here's why:

  • Rolling up the spine from a standing forward bend can be compressive to the sacroiliac (SI) joints, the intervertebral discs (that soft jelly in between each vertebrae that act as shock absorbers), or the labrum of the hips (the soft tissue around the hip socket).
  • You are asking your lumbar discs to bear the weight of your cervical/thoracic spine, ribcage, head, etc... which are all a super heavy load for the lumbar discs. Now add in the effects of gravity and your lumbar discs are being compressed with quite a tremendous force with little or no support from the core muscles.
  • This compressive damage may cause instability over time in the spine, hips and pelvis increasing the risk for "throwing your back out" or other preventable musculoskeletal injuries.
  • Rolling up is the insensitive (and lazy, in my opinion!) way to come to standing from a forward fold.  Rolling up is a missed opportunity to build posterior & core strength as well as skeletal stability & body awareness.

So why Roll up to standing???  Well, I am not sure.  From a physical and objective viewpoint with my personal judgements aside for a brief minute, I suppose it is a way to stretch the back muscles... but there are literally dozens of other postures/movements to stretch the back more safely, sensitively and intelligently.

And here is the thing, these injuries may happen. It is a risk, and everything you do the moment you get out of bed has some kind of risk. BUT from an anatomical and physiological perspective, the risks certainly out weigh the benefits.  Of course, if you roll up to standing or you teach it, your body might be communicating with you differently than the research and personal experiences of other professionals.  Do you!  And here is another option:

  • From your forward bend; broaden through the feet; softly bend the knees; lengthen the spine forward from pelvis to the crown of your head. Engage the back body to lengthen, engage the front body for support. Put your hands on your hips or reach them toward the shins or floor; lengthen the shoulders down from your ears and broaden through the front and back of the chest.
  • Keep the spine long (and all supports engaged); bend the knees more; press into the inner/outer edges of the feet equally and ground down through the heels and balls of the feet; lift your lengthened spine and chest (hands on hips or lifted up) = CHAIR POSE!  Now you are working and building strength/stability/awareness in the body!
  • Straighten your legs and come to standing.  TA-DA!  You've just lifted from a forward bend to standing with strength and sensitivity and reduced the risks of compressing/destabilizing your spine.

*Wondering why the knees are bent in the forward bends? Stay tuned for more yoga asana and anatomy inquiries.  :)