In this practice we will be working with the head and neck as we either take it up in arm balances or back in back bends.
In previous practices we have supported the neck from the muscles that run along the front of the spine. Here we will focus on the muscles that run along the back of the spine, the erector spinae, while keeping the larger, more superficial muscle of the neck, the trapezius, soft and wide.
Consider the following directions as you go through the sequence:
- Allow the soft palate to release and dome towards the head as you allow it to lengthen towards the cheekbones.
- Soften and lengthen along the muscles at the front of the spine towards the tail.
- Soften the atlanto-occipital joint at the base of the skull.
- Soften and create freedom between the thoraco-cervical joint and the manubrium.
- Soften and widen the rear intercostal wall—the inner surface of the rib cage and intercostal muscles behind the back of the lungs.
- To lift the head or take it back, initiate movement in either the bridge of the nose or the cheek bones, lifting them away from the top of the sternum.
- As you take the head back, keep the back of the neck and the base of the skull long and wide. In essence, you want to lengthen the front of the neck without unduly shortening the back of it. Just as you are moving the bridge of the nose/cheekbones away from the sternum, you are releasing the back of the skull away from the upper thoracic spine.
- As the head goes back, resist the temptation to push the spine forward, deeper into the body. Keep the intercostal wall soft and wide.
Shavasana (Corpse Pose)
- With a blanket under the head, fold a belt up once or twice and place it under the head where the skull and the top of the spine meet.
- As you settle into the pose, soften the base of the skull. Release forward from the belt and back from the bridge of the nose and the cheekbones to find and soften the atlanto-occipital joint.
Uttanasana (Intense Stretch Pose) with the head supported on blocks
Shirshasana (Head Stand) prep
- Set your mat up against a wall.
- Place one block lengthwise on its lowest height sticking out from the wall. Rest a second block against it at an angle.
- Come into a forearm stand preparation with the elbows on the ground and the palms flat against the flat block. Rest the head lightly on the slanted block, adjusting its position to adequately support the head.
Salamba Shirshasana 1 (Head Stand 1) with blocks
Back Bend over blanket roll
- Lie back over a blanket roll across the very bottom of the shoulder blades.
- Set yourself up so that shoulders do not reach the floor.The idea is to be opening up the upper chest.
- The back of your neck should be long and free. If it is not, either take the blanket a little lower down your back or put something under your head.
Adho Mukha Shvanasana (Downward Facing Dog Pose) with the head on blocks
- Stack the blocks up so that your ears are in line with your upper arms
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand) with bolsters
- Stack bolsters up against the wall so that you have one bolster lengthwise tal enough to support your upper back.
- You might have to experiment with the placement of the hands so that you can rest your upper back against the bolster with the head dropped looking forward without collapsing in the shoulders.
Adho Mukha Shavasana (Downward Facing Corpse Pose) over a bolster
Back bend over a bolster and blankets
- Place a bolster across your back. Fold two or three blankets up in quarters lengthwise so that you have a long ridge of support that can go under your spine. Place the blanket stack across your bolster.
- Lie back over the bolster and blankets with your head supported on the set-up and your arms reaching overhead towards the floor.
Adho Mukha Vrkshasana (Hand Stand)
Pincha Mayurasana (Forearm Stand)
Supta Virasana (Reclined Hero Pose)
Paryankasana (Couch Pose) over blankets
- Take the blanket and bolster set-up that you used earlier and lie back over it to take the pose. You may need more height. Your hips will not be on the ground.
Ushtrasana (Camel Pose) on chair
Dhanurasana (Bow Pose)
Ushtrasana (Camel Pose)
Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Bow Pose) from bolster on chair
- Place a bolster over a chair and come into a fully supported version of the pose. Depending on your proportions, you may need blocks under your hands or feet. If you are using blocks it might feel more stable to set yourself up with the blocks against the wall.
- Stay in this supported position for a minute or two. If this is enough for you come up, otherwise, practice taking your own weight and lifting up off the chair. If you are a tall person, you might find that the back of the chair gets in the way. Manage the best you can.
Ardha Halasana (Half Plough Pose) over a chair
Shavasana (Corpse Pose)