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Layers of muscle in the back

A visual reminder of all those layers of muscle in the back. When you come for your Alexander Technique lesson you may notice that I like to remind you to let your back be long, wide but also deep. Here's why....

The deepest layer are the short, deep spinal muscles (levator costae, intertransversarii and interspinales, if you like names of things). This layer are beautiful little muscles that join the vertebrae together, and join the vertebrae to the ribs where they hinge up and down at the spine. Remember, the rib cage isn't a fixed shape - these hinged joints of the ribs at the spine and the softer cartilagenous parts of the ribs around the sternum at the front allow the ribcage to expand and contract as we breathe.

This layer of muscle also connect the spine to the head at the top - see in the picture. They're why we have all those processes (sticky-out bits of bone) at the rear of the vertebrae, they're there to allow all these fine muscular connections to take place.

The following layers of muscle out from the spine are the spinae erector muscles. These long, fine muscles are the ones that create the lengthening of the spine - if we allow it to happen. They run up and down the spine and connect in to each vertabra. If we can learn to use our Primary Control well - in other words, if we can allow the head to be related to the spine in as free and as poised a manner as possible - then these muscles gently lengthen and allow a lovely, long, springy spine that works well for us. A head-spine relationship working well like this takes the weight of the head down through the spine and its supporting muscle as nature intended.

That way we don't have to "hang on" to the weight of the head with neck and shoulder muscle, or chest and throat muscle, and end up with aches and pains in those areas. It's about using ourselves and gravity effectively. This is why we as Alexander teachers bang on so much about this head-neck relationship. Sorry, we do it for very good reason!

These muscles along the spine get "fatter" as the layers build - I don't know all their names, it doesn't matter.You can see some more of these muscles in the picture on the left. There are also lots of muscles connecting the shoulder blades and the ribs into the spine and integrating them into the back (the rhomboids, the serratus muscles, etc).

Finally, the most superficial, outer layer of muscle in the back is made up of latissimus dorsi (the big sheath of muscle in the lower and middle back, reaching out and joining the humerus in the upper arm) and the trapezius muscle - the big diamond-shaped muscles in the neck / shoulders upper middle back you can see on the right here. These big muscles are to do with movement and are NOT designed to hold us upright all day - that is the job of those deep tiny and long muscles in the pictures above.

So this is why I ask you to think about the back being deep when you come for a lesson - because, it really is. It is beautifully put together, we just need to learn to use it in accordance with how it was designed. That's what Alexander Technique lessons are all about!!

All the pictures here taken from the fabulous book, "Human Structure and Shape" by John Hull Grundy, published by Mouritz.


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