Conditioning the spine will do everything to increase our range of movement with our torso. Image/qualia-based movement is best, e.g. Noguchi Taiso‘s water dynamic spine. What causes our spine to move in life? What thing or idea makes our spine do what? For instance, in one of two butoh-fus of Hijikata that specifically mentioned the spine called Flower Nerves, he says “your body has a spine of a peacock.”²
Feel the individual weight of the vertebrae stacked upon one another. Sway various locations to get more of a sense of the weight. Then add a Noguchi Taiso touch and feel this column floating in a body that is like a bag of water.
Place spheres on every vertebra (either very closely encasing it or a little larger). Work each vertebra individually with circles or figure 8s (CYCLE image schema) in endless directions that can take place within a sphere. There is more than just: (1) sagittal: front, up, back, down side; (2) horizontal: side, front, side back; (3) coronal: side, up, side, down. Find the endless verticals.
We can also embody cat scan slices. Your beloved author of this manual is also an x-ray/cat scan technologist. The scans go up and down the body in circles or spirals. Horizontal circles traveling from head to feet (or vice versa) form axial/transverse slices of the body which then pop up on the computer screen. From these images, we reconstruct the other views (coronal or sagittal views, and even oblique aka verticals).
Each vertebra can also move in scribbles or chaos.
Roll Down/Sad Droop & Sticky Tape
Erect position: From the head, gradually roll down anteriorly (front side) vertebra by vertebra then back up. Exercise can be done laterally (to the side) as well. Example qualia-world: As you are standing, a stranger passes you and says, “you smell!” Gradually, you begin a sad roll down.
Ground position: In sitting position with legs in front of you, bend your legs a little and externally rotate. From there, very slowly roll down starting from your coccyx (tail bone) and ending with your head. Make sure you feel each vertebra being massaged by the floor. Go back the other way as well. With adjustment of sitting position, this exercise can also be accomplished laterally. Whatever point is difficult, push that very point even more against the floor. Example qualia: Your back is the sticky side of tape that is being applied very slowly to the floor, and when that is finished, you gradually remove the tape (by rolling back up).
Contemporary Metaphor Theory Note: This exercise plays on the primary metaphor used universally of HAPPY IS UP; SAD IS DOWN.¹ This does not, however, have to be the case. It can switch, and we have evidence of this with slang jargon such as, “let’s get down.”
The Head-Tail Curve and the Roll Down happen at the exact same time. Try the side as well. Like with head-tail curve and roll down, one can challenge oneself by trying to connect them in a fluid rotation (since front-side-back-side can connect together).
Front to Back: Push your face forward without tilting the head. Also do the same to the back. Neck muscles will be used. Shoulders remain in place. Repeat.
Side to Side: At first to begin, make an A above your head with your hands. Keep face looking forward. Do not tilt head. Shoulders remain in place. Repeat. A mirror can help with this exercise. One can also imagine a line one travels along the ears. Relax the jaw. One can also follow one’s own hand side to side.
Lengthened Spine/Iron Pole
In modern dance, this is called the flat back, but the terminology seems obsolete. The spine is never really 2d or “flat.” Begin with an aligned posture (butt sticking out slightly, engage core, and engage the quads and heels pushing deep into the earth), then bend forward from the waist. Make sure your entire length of the spine is lengthened and that the head is in the correct position as the neutral alignment. Make an “L” with your body. Lateral lengthened spines are also possible, as well as behind you, though subtly. Example qualia-world: There is an iron pole that spans from base of your head to the end of your coccyx. You dropped a coin and want to pick it up. Hijikata also mentions lengthened spine in this butoh-fu: Plum Tree and Flower.²
The T/Rack Torture
Refer to Yoga’s Warrior III but also modify to rotate laterally. These positions make “T” shapes. Example qualia-world: Both wrists and one ankle is tied to torture ropes and the limbs are stretched apart, naturally forming a straight line (minus the standing leg).
Twist/Shadow Behind You
You can do a head-tail twist where the whole spine twists from side to side as a unit or a gradual twist where the twist begins at one end and finishes at another. Example qualia-world: With pelvis remaining in position, you twist behind you to try to find your shadow.
This type of spinal curve is where the head and the tail go in the same direction, thus forming an S. For instance, if the tailbone curves to the front (like zipping up a zipper) then the head will curve backwards. Example qualia-world: We are a dog taking a poo. On all fours, the butt curves under while at the same time the head is on guard in the backward direction. Mindful of not overdoing your neck by keeping in mind the image of an orange behind the neck (as instructed by Martha Graham*).
Super Slow Rotation
When rotating (e.g. transitions from front-side-back-front), one can choose to take 5 or more minutes to make one whole rotation. This exercise is best with the Noguchi Taiso principle of effortless body/water body.
When the spine is de/reterritorialized, it shifts from its usual human function and gets adopted somewhere else. An example of a reterritorialized spine is the reflexology foot, which has a spine along the medial plantar (toe side) of the bottom of the foot. What can become a spine? Can the arms become a spine? Can the fingers become a spine? Can the tongue become a spine?