Here's the idea behind this movement based therapy:
In the revolutionary Somatics, Thomas Hanna demonstrates that so many problems we accept as inevitable over time-chronic stiffness, bad back, chronic pain, fatigue, and even high blood pressure -need never occur if we maintain conscious control of nerve and muscle, a state which Hanna calls sensory-motor awareness. This gentle, lifelong program can help almost anyone maintain the pleasures of a supple, healthy body indefinitely, with only a five-minute routine once a day.
The Cat Stretch is a short routine (8 exercises) which can be done in 15-30 minutes. We began with the very basic movement, Arch & Flatten. This is done by laying on your back, knees bent. Inhale and arch your spine (belly sticks up) exhale and relax back to neutral - no pushing. The idea is to reconnect your brain with your movement. You want to move very minimally: less is more.
The second exercise we learned is called the Back Lift. I've always avoided doing this one because it is so uncomfortable on my neck. Here's how it's done:
Lay on your belly with your L arm down by your side and your R arm bent and hand up by the head, palm flat down and cheek resting on the back of your hand. Now, this would be ok for me except now you turn your head to face your R elbow and rest your L cheek on the back of the R hand. This feels like a really big neck twist to me and caused a sensation of strain. But I did it anyway (carefully) and by the end of the exercise I was feeling better.
Here's how our teacher, Jodi, broke it down.
1. Laying as described above (L cheek on back of R hand), lift your head and look over your right shoulder for a breath or two. Come back to resting the cheek on the back of the hand and relax your neck completely (no bounce backs). Repeat three times.
2. With your L cheek resting on the back of your R hand lift your R elbow by drawing your R shoulder blade toward the spine. Return to neutral and completely relax. Repeat three times.
3. With your L cheek glued to the back of your R hand, lift your head and arm and look back (tiny twist) over your R shoulder. Return to neutral and rest completely. Repeat three times.
4. Rest your neck by turning it to center and taking Crocodile Pose.
5. Return to L cheek glued to back of R hand.
6. Lift your L leg toward the sky, leaving your head, arm and shoulder still. Repeat three times.
7. Integrate all movements together. Lift your head, R arm and shoulder, and L leg, keeping your L cheek glued to the back of the R hand. Try not to clench your jaw or use unnecessary force. Repeat three times and then relax in Crocodile.
8. Repeat all these steps on the L side.
By the time we were done my neck was ok to turn so far to the right. I was amazed. What is different about Somatics is the practice of actually moving into the contraction (in this case my chronically tight R side of neck), thereby resetting the muscle's spindle cells and allowing them to release.
Each time I have practiced the Back Lift this week it has gotten easier on my neck.