A lot of times when we work with the hands behind the head, elbows bent and out to the side, we talk about “cradling” our head in our hands. It’s time to get away from that, and I’ll tell you why. First, it implies that the hands are going to do all the work and the head just lays limply like a newborn baby. Second, it encourages the cervical spine to come into exaggerated flexion as we rely on the hands to do the “pulling.”
Both of these habits take away from the main objective in most flexion-centric Pilates exercises – maintaining or moving into and out of asmoothcurve of the spine. Luckily, there’s an easy fix. Remember the push-pull action that we’ve talked about a few times? Today’s cue is a new application.
The pushing action comes from the head and neck, firmly pushing back against the hold of the hands. Give it a try. Just sitting in a chair create that classic, laid back image. Lean back, clasp your hands behind your head, thumbs pointing down, elbows to the side. Adjust the placement of the hands so that the thumbs are resting just below the base of the occiput and press firmly into the muscular insertion there with your thumbs. Finally, push the head back into the hands while firmly resisting (the “pull” of the push-pull in this scenario) the head with your hands. Immediately, your cervical spine lengthens.
Recreating the reciprocal forces while lying supine is a bit more subtle, so if your clients struggle to find the cervical length here, sit them up and walk them through the seated, leaned back process. Once they feel it in this more exaggerated scenario, they will have a better chance of utilizing the subtle push-pull to find the length while lying down.