Optimal mobility is simply the capacity for each joint to enjoy its full range of motion (ROM). Mobility can slide too far into openness resulting in a vital loss of stability, which is generally the result of injury or a predisposition towards hypermobility/ loose ligaments. For practitioners of Yoga Asana, whose joints are hyper mobile, special care must be taken in finding optimal alignment and strengthening the joints and musculature protecting the joints.
Alignment is the neuromuscular patterning and subconscious postural intelligence of the body. Rather than a static final result it is really a verb, aligning in each moment in relationship to reality. To pick this apart a little bit, lets briefly look at spinal alignment in sitting. When you sit, are you sitting on top of your sit bones, pelvis tipped slightly forward, knees lower than hips, allowing the spine to stack healthily, not craning forward at the neck, but elongating out of the crown of your head? Or, for another example, when you reach for something, are you using only the bare minimum of effort to pick it up, or do you subconsciously recruit extra muscle fibers and energy to do the task.
Foundational strength starts with building functional core strength. Core strength is not achieved by doing sit-ups. Indeed core strength has become an umbrella term for many different philosophies. To keep things simple, let’s just say its your bodies capacity to respond to the needs of the moment with appropriate intrinsic muscular support and nervous system coordination, that you don’t injure yourself. This is accomplished by ones orientation in gravity (here we’re back to alignment and mobility) and the development of real strength.
How much strength is enough? The gold exemplar of the type of strength and mobility I’m talking about here is seen in the elite gymnast. Given we don’t all have the time or desire to train for this level of fitness, a general rule of thumb is to develop a level of strength and agility that allows you to do what you want to be able to do in your life. This of course varies with ones interests and stages of life. I recommend a minimum of 1-3 15 minute sessions a week.
I think the most effective method is to follow the training protocol of the worlds gymnastic community. I outline some of the basic exercises in these pages, and also in person or in classes. Realistically, these are the warm-ups to the warm-ups, but developing a capacity for these basics are enough to protect one from common back pain.