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Stretching the spine in Six Directions


Have you ever watched the movement of a baby? A starfish? Movement from the core of the body is necessary for the freedom to express oneself physically through the arms or legs. From the earliest developmental stages of life, the intelligence of movement comes from the core, navel center. As a fetus, we are fed and our awareness comes through the umbilical cord. This is very similar to the awareness of the starfish whose mouth and nervous system is in the center of the body. When a starfish moves, as in celebration it begins its movement from its center or core moving gracefully out to its limbs. Similarly, a small baby initiates its movement from the core. Watch how a baby begins its first movements. As the movement blossoms out from the navel center, the baby unfolds and rolls over.

Keeping this perspective of moving from the core of the body, bring yourself to table pose. On all fours with hands under the shoulders and knees under the hips, begin to follow your breath as it flows in and out of the body.

Melting your heart between your shoulders allow yourself to soften and open to new possibilities. Following your breath, when you feel the impulse, begin to round your back up toward the ceiling like a Halloween cat. Notice where you feel the most stretch, then bring your curiosity to those places that have less sensation. Breathe.

After a few breaths, relax the back and drop the belly towards the floor like a swayback horse. Soften the heart between the shoulders and allow the tailbone to rise towards the sky. Stay here for a few breaths. Continue, moving as slowly as you like. Explore how the breath helps with the movement. Which breath makes the movement feel light, which one makes it feel heavy? These are the first two movements up and down.

The next two movements are lateral movements to the right and left. Bring your awareness to your back around the tailbone and visualize a tail growing out. Before starting your movement, soften the heart and find your breath.

With your breath, move your newly grown tail to the right to bring the right hip and shoulder closer together. Feel a squeezing in the right torso while the left side is expanding. After a few breaths, bring your awareness back to your navel center and begin to wag your tail over to the left side. The head should not lead the way, but follow the rest of the body as the left torso squeezes and the right side expands. Continue this pattern of squeezing one side with expansion on the other, moving from the core of the body.

Notice how the body moves with the breath. After a few times, you might explore how it feels to move from the head first while the body follows. Did you have the feeling of disconnection? Was the movement less fluid? Some other helpful hints for this pose: The hips have a tendency to roll with movement; keep the hips over the knees. Also, keep the arms straight with the heart soft.

The last two movements are twists. Separate your knees a little wider apart, then place your left hand closer to your right hand. Remember to soften the heart and allow yourself to open to new possibilities. Then, reach your right arm up towards the sky on your inhalation, from your heart shine through your arms to expand the chest. On your exhalation thread the right hand underneath the left arm reaching as far as you can, revolving the torso towards the left. If you like, you may place the right elbow on the floor or, for a deeper twist, bring the right shoulder on the floor with the left elbow bent.

Now, if your breath is moving freely through the belly and chest, requiring no force or effort, you can celebrate your twist by joyfully reaching the left hand up and touching the sky. While in the pose, notice your thoughts and where your awareness is located. Is it with your breath? Can you feel that the twist originates in the core of your body near the base of the spine? Now bring the body back to table pose and try the other side.

Moving the spine in 6 directions daily is a practice which will enhance the movement in not only your spine, but also its effects will touch every part of your body. When we tap into the body’s intelligence, we find we become aligned in the natural patterns of movement in our bodies. This alignment is reflected in strength and flexibility in our arms and legs. Also, our organs can function more effectively through the natural massage and stimulation in our movements. So, try moving in 6 directions every day and see if it makes a difference not only in how you move, but also in the way you feel.

Mark Stevens


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