I am eternally grateful to have had excellent teachers throughout my years in the movement and healing arts. Dance, Pilates, yoga, reflexology, massage, qigong: within each modality, I was introduced not only to diverse ways to teach and care for others, but to effective modes of self-care. No one can escape it: injury and age are part of life. Although I certainly have days when I long for my past ability to run and leap like a deer, most of the time I focus on my great good fortune to have learned many techniques to cope with and even pre-empt some of the consequences of time and tumbles.
This move is a great way to erase back stiffness, and to open up the shoulders, neck, and hips. Basically, it is as if you are doing Cat/Cow in a supine position. To begin, lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat on the floor and slightly wider than your hips: Let the knees fall inward, so that they rest against each other. This subtle positioning encourages the neck to relax. Inhale, and as you exhale, press your spine into the floor; the pelvis rolls in and toward the head (i.e., tailbone tips up), and you roll your shoulders and arms inward. Let the neck bend slightly as the chin tips a bit up, away from the neck.
Next, reverse the curve: Inhale as you press the upper back into the floor, externally rotating the shoulders and arms open. Simultaneously, the tip of the tail presses down into the floor as the pelvis tips away from you: This allows the low back to lift away from the floor, thus providing a gentle lumbar curve. The back of the neck opens and lengthens as the chin moves naturally toward the check. Do this 2-part move a few times, breathing consciously and fully.
Still on your back, extend your legs long on the floor; arms rest at your sides, slightly away from the body, palms up. Begin to move your right leg along the floor to the right, like a hand on the clock; simultaneously, begin reaching your right hand, arm, and shoulder down along the floor, as if to meet the right leg and foot. You will feel that you are moving the ribs toward the hips, squeezing the right waist.
When you have moved the right leg and right arm toward each other as much as possible, slowly return to the neutral start position. Repeat the move 3-5 times on the right, before changing to the left side.
This technique is used to balance the body side-to-side, and also to help “stack” the pelvis and shoulder girdles properly.
Tip: The tricky part of this move is to keep your head on the floor. It is okay if your head naturally rolls as you bring the upper and lower body toward each other; however, it will want to lift and look toward your hand and leg, which places undue strain on the neck muscles. I find it helps to wear a little cap, or to do the move on a hardwood floor; that way, there is no hair-pulling or static cling.
Come to a comfortable seated position on the floor, e.g., cross-legged or legs stretched forward. Cross your arms onto your torso, as if hugging yourself: Hands can rest on the upper arms, or on your chest.
Then, as you inhale, lift your buttocks off of the floor; and as you exhale, let the buttocks drop back down. This is a short, quick movement, and it may take a couple of tries for your muscles to figure out how to lift your seat up without the use of your hands. The drop is not gentle or controlled; it is meant to be “kerplunk!” Once you have the hang of it, do up to 11 quick lifts and drops.
Body drops are used in kundalini yoga to help the body and mind prepare for shock; I find that the pranic stimulation also helps to refocus distracted energy.
Tip: Try the initial lift with the use of your hands: Place them next to your hips, hoist yourself up, and then drop. Then try again without the hands; usually, the muscles respond, having been “taught” how to lift your bottom.
Because my earliest foray into bodywork came in the form of reflexology, I am partial to this move. It “works” because of the toes’ relationship to the neck: When you bend and lengthen the toes, it as if you are “de-kinking” the cervical spine. This move is simple and subtle, yet its effects are immediate and powerful.
Sit on the floor with your heels pulled close to your buttocks, knees bent, feet flat. Wrap your hands and arms around the back of your thighs to help you sit upright. To test the range of motion and tension in your neck, lift the head to look upward, and then down.
Release your hands behind you for support; try not to round your spine. Slowly slide one foot out along the floor until the toes feel compelled to lift away from the floor; typically, this will be a slide of about 6-12 inches. Keeping the heel on the floor, curl the toes and lift them off the floor. Then replace them on the floor as you lengthen them out. Draw the heel back in toward the buttocks. Repeat 5-8 times before switching to the left side.
When you have finished the slides, sit up tall by holding your legs again. Then, slowly look up and down just as you did to begin. You likely will feel an ease and lightness to the movement that was not as apparent before the exercise.
Reclined Baddha Konasana
An early yoga teacher often reminded us students that before one can bend or twist the body, it needs to be aligned: Otherwise, you try to enter an asana from a place of imbalance. He pointed to a surprisingly simple posture that “puts the body in perfect alignment.” I enjoy bookending a practice or my day with this posture. It is highly restorative and deeply self-adjusting.
Lie on your back, knees bent, feet flat. Then, allow the knees to fall open, away from each other; keep the feet together. If your hip rotators are tight, you may need to prop each knee with a pillow or folded blanket. Allow your arms to rest a bit away from the body, palms up. Alternatively, you can place one hand on the belly, then the other hand on top: For women, right hand covered by left; for men, left hand covered by the right. Then, it is as if you are in svasana, or corpse pose. Breathe long and deep, and then allow your breath to regulate itself, finding a natural, relaxed flow.
Another option for this posture is to practice it at the wall. Bring your buttocks right to the base of a wall, and finagle yourself down onto your back, extending your legs up onto the wall. There should be little or no space between your bottom and the wall. If you like, place a pillow under your low back. Then, keeping your feet together, begin to slide the feet down the wall toward your groin area; let the knees open to the sides, just as you would on the floor. Ideally, your knees would be splayed open, leaning onto the wall. Again, experiment with which option seems best for you on any given day.