Yoga—Make Extension Easier With a Feldenkrais® Flexion Lesson

July 16, 2010

There are few yoga postures that address flexion in the spine. Cat stretch and the hare are two that actively flex the whole spine but are often done as warm ups and aren’t considered "hard-core" yoga poses (going through my library of yoga books these two are seldom listed). Even forward bends do not go into full flexion; it’s more about hinging from the hips and keeping the spine “neutral”.

From a functional standpoint, flexion and extension are inter-dependent and in order to have a flexible spine you need to be able to flex and extend equally through the full range of movement. The following is a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement® lesson that I use in my Yoga the Feldenkrais Way classes which goes deeply into flexion and interestingly makes extension much more available.                                                                                                               

We'll use cobra pose as the baseline (see drawing at the top of the blog). If you look at the drawing of cobra pose you’ll notice the angle of the lumbar spine—it’s working very hard while the thoracic spine (the part of the spine attached to the ribs) is more passive. This is not good for the back rather, each vertebra should flex a little bit so that the work load is evenly distributed along the entire spine.

There should be more of an arch through the entire spine. Notice in the photo of Susinn that she isn't going up as high but her whole spine is participating in the extension. So, if you're still with me. Try this short Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement lesson for flexion and notice the difference at the end.

NOTE: Do not do this lesson in the way you would do “crunches” in a regular exercise program. When you bring your elbow and knee towards each other only do about 60% of what you are capable of doing. That means your knee and elbow will NEVER touch. The point of this lesson is to understand how gentle flexion can improve your organization for extension.

  1. Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor above your head—thumbs and index fingers touching.  Lift your head slowly and notice how far you can go WITHOUT pushing up with your hands; make a mental note of this spot as we will come back to this at the end. 
  2. Now lie on your back. Begin with your knees bent and feet standing about a hip’s width apart. Lift your R leg off the floor (knee still bent) so that you can hold the knee with the L hand (hold just below the knee cap and just above the shin).
  3. Put your R hand behind your head and bring your R elbow a little closer to your ear and keep it there.  Now bring your R elbow towards your R knee and your knee towards your elbow and then back to the starting position (arms remain attached to your head and leg).  Do this movement several times slowly and thoughtfully noticing that in middle of your back presses into the floor as you lift your head arm and leg. DO NOT HAVE THE ELBOW AND KNEE TOUCH; remember, only do 60% of what you feel you’re capable of doing. 
  4. Repeat on the other side.
  5. Rest with your legs long and arms at your sides. Stay there until your body feels relaxed and quiet.
  6. This time, put your R hand behind your head and your L hand under your L knee.  Take your right elbow and left knee towards each other a few times in this position. DO NOT STRAIN. Keep the movement easy.
  7. Repeat on the other side.
  8. Now go back to the first instruction again. Lie on your stomach with your hands on the floor above your head—thumbs and index fingers touching.  Keep you eyes closed as you lift your head slowly. Stay there, open your eyes and notice how far you can go now without effort.



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