Pliable Muscles with Undulation

Friday, November 9, 2007

By: Anita Boser, LMP, CHP

Reprinted from FMOnline

A new day has begun, and your first waking awareness is of discomfort. What do you do when your muscles feel like wood? You have three options to make it through the day:

  1. Push through the pain and give the drill sergeant in your head permission to motivate and abuse you to get up, move, and complete your list of things to do.
  2. Acquiesce to the symptoms and forego exercise and other activities that hurt in the short run and help in the long run.
  3. Develop a new strategy of movement that will lubricate your sore muscles so you can move easier.

Many of us are programmed to get around or through our aches, because we have so much to do. In my work as a Structural Integration Practitioner (1), I have many clients with fibromyalgia and chronic fatigue, and I notice that they often push through pain.

Unfortunately, this leads to a flip-flop between pushing and acquiescing. However, you can use the third alternative, a new movement strategy, with an exercise called undulation. My clients report that it helps them to be more active and have fewer symptoms. It works by hydrating your tissues—transforming the wooden feeling back into pliability—so that they you can move, bend, and stretch more easily.

Try this (but if you have a back problem, please check with your physician or physical therapist first):

  1. Sit on a chair with both feet firmly planted on the floor and your pelvis level.
  2. Initiate movement from your lower abdominals. Pull your pubic bone up toward your chin about an inch to tilt your pelvis.
  3. Continue to draw your abdominal muscles in and back so that your chest drops down.  Let the movement carry up through your neck so that your chin dips toward your chest.
  4. To come back up, start at the base of your spine. Rock your pelvis forward so that your sit bones come back onto the chair surface and your low back returns to its normal curve.
  5. Continue the motion flow up from your low back through your middle back, upper back, and through your neck. Straighten your spine until you are sitting tall.
  6. Repeat curling in and unfurling, starting both movements from the bottom and working up.
  7. Continue as long as it feels good. Stop as soon as it doesn’t. (2)

You can undulate forward and back, like the example above, or side-to-side, or any way that feels good to your body.

Don’t be misled into thinking that exercise has to be uncomfortable to be helpful. If you regularly, gently, and smoothly move your spine, you will build strength and flexibility as you rehydrate your muscles and discs. While this isn’t very aerobic, it’s a great warm-up. I undulate before I even get out of bed to soothe any stiff muscles before I start my morning exercise routine.

This type of exercise has several advantages. It helps you develop body awareness so you can better limit activity when appropriate. Also, there’s no pressure to perform. You can stop immediately when your body is finished.  With other exercises you can be a half mile from home when you realize that it’s enough—or in a class where you don’t want to “quit” before everyone else.

Another advantage is being able to use your core without overloading muscles. The fundamental idea of many exercises is to develop strength by creating strain in the body. A person in chronic pain just can’t do that without paying a very high price.

Undulations engage the most intrinsic core muscles by using small, slow movements so you can build strength at your own pace. In addition, small, fluid movements actually help your muscles and connective tissue flush out waste products and attract nutrients, like a self-created massage.

Rather than pushing through or being pushed around by chronic pain, you can slide through discomfort with gentle exercises that actually feel good. Moving slowly and in small increments develops core muscles without strain, provides the opportunity to stop exercise before causing damage, makes muscles more pliable, and gives the drill sergeant in your head a vacation.
Boser, LMP, CHP, practices Hellerwork Structural Integration in Issaquah, WA.  She is author of Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation, which teaches 52 fun and easy exercises that build balanced strength and flexibility around the spine.  For more information or to contact Anita, visit http://www.undulationexercise.com/.

  1. Structural Integration aligns and balances the body’s connective tissue so that the person can have greater freedom of movement and operate more efficiently in the earth’s gravity field.
  2. Forward and Back and Forward Again, Variation #1, excerpted from Relieve Stiffness and Feel Young Again with Undulation by Anita Boser (Vital Self, Issaquah, WA, 2008)