For our warm-up exercise, we are starting lying on our backs in neutral spine, with the knees bent, feet in line with hips.
From here, on an inhale we extend our right leg and left arm, keeping the foot flexed and on the floor, and the arm just hovering above of the ear. (Taking the arm to the floor tends to pop the ribs upward.) This should feel (I try not to say that since we all "feel" things differently, but I'm saying it anyway *wink*) very lengthening, with the energy flowing out the fingertips overhead and the extended heel. The oppositional stretch is elongating the middle of the body.
We return to the original position on the exhale by floating the arm down and dragging the heel back into place.
Then, we do the same thing on with the right arm and left leg...
... holding for the stretch, then returning it back to the starting position.
After repeating this 2-3 times per side, we will transition into moving both arms and legs at the same time, being careful not to take the lower back out of neutral position as we do so. Repeat 2-3 times.
The second exercise Pat is demonstrating for us is the Single Straight Leg Stretch. Starting on our backs, we raise the left leg up toward the sky with the right leg pressing into the floor. On an exhale, we lift our head, neck and shoulders off the mat, inhaling to grab hold of the shin or ankle, making sure the lower back is imprinting into the mat. On the exhale, we are gently drawing the leg closer towards our bodies for a soft double-pulse.
Inhaling to switch legs, we exhale to do a double-pulse on the right leg with the left leg securely pressing into the floor. Note that the body does not change position as the legs switch.
Notice that Pat's feet are reaching through the arches without pointing the toes, which makes for less foot cramping. This also feels great with flexed feet for even more stretch in the hamstrings!
**The next two exercises should not be done if there are shoulder or neck injuries.**
The third exercise is Roll Over. This is one of those exercises that requires a good deal of lower back flexibility. Make sure to stay off the neck at all times, and allow the triceps to help out a good deal when learning this exercise. With these inverted exercises, the focus isn't necessarily how far back the legs are going, but how much the spine is being supported in flexion. So, keep pulling the abdominals toward the spine at all times! We are not simply folding the body!
Starting with both feet aiming toward the sky, we lower the legs down just below 90 degrees, then pressing the sits bones (or sitz bones, if you prefer) up towards the sky as the legs swing overhead, feet reaching toward the back wall on the inhale.
We need to remember in this position (I repeat) to stay off the neck and stay on the shoulder blades. We can either keep the legs parallel to the floor, or as Pat is showing, touching the toes to the floor behind our head. *wow*
On the exhale, we roll through the spine, articulating so that we feel each vertebra coming down, increasing the mobility of the spine. Here too, the triceps can engage to keep the roll down from speeding up and the hips from crashing to the mat. The tricep work will decrease as this exercise becomes easier over time. This exercise can be repeated 3-6 times.
The last exercise begins the same as the Roll Over. To transition into the Balance Control, as our feet are behind our heads, the arms swim around to the sides and reach back to the feet.
Holding on to one of the ankles, the other foot floats up as high as we can make it go as we complete an exhale. The tendency here is to roll back down onto the hips. One hint to making this exercise fly is to extend the arms away from the top of the head, reaching the held ankle as far away from the head as possible.
Inhaling to switch legs (reaching the arms overhead along the floor)...
And exhaling to switch legs. Repeat 4-6 times, or 2-3 sets total.
Finishing with both legs back, we roll through the spine, just like in the Roll Over.
So there we have it! These exercises are all great for making the spine feel more mobile and elongated. Thanks so much to Pat for letting me photograph her (Check out her awesome hand-knit socks!) and for demonstrating these wonderful exercises. I want to be like Pat in 30 years: young at heart and young in spine!
"The art of contrology proves that the only real guide to your true age lies not in years or how you THINK you feel but as you ACTUALLY are as infallibly indicated by the degree of natural and normal flexibility enjoyed by your spine throughout life."
~ Joseph Pilates in Return to Life Through Contrology