The spine model in the Harrogate Yoga studio is currently adorned with pink tape – all along and around the front surfaces of the vertebral bodies. The pink tape represents the ALL (Anterior Longitudinal Ligament) – an important mid-line structure in the body. There are four ligaments that run the length of the spine and many other shorter spinal ligaments, but Amy Matthews (my teacher) declares the ALL to be her favourite – I think it’s mine too!
In class recently, we sought to visualise the ALL – from the anterior surface of the topmost vertebra down to where the sacrum meets the coccyx. The ligament then continues along the anterior surface of the coccyx to the tip of the tail – here there’s has a new name – the Anterior Sacrococcygeal ligament. An analogy for this is where a street changes its name at some point – even though it’s continuous – like East Parade becoming Westmoreland Street (you’ll know what I mean if you live in Harrogate!)
Students studied the spine with its pink tape and then lay down and imagined/visualised the ALL in their own bodies as a flexible ribbon. Next I asked them to interlace their fingers and bring their hands behind their heads, with forearms around their ears. We paused until able to visualise, or sense, a ‘gathering in’ from the ‘flexible ribbon’ to provide support for a ‘baby sit-up’. The aim was to come into the sit-up with the greatest amount of ease – minimising effort from the abdominal muscles, by ‘gathering in’ along the length of the front of the spine.
A little later in class we practised Cat/Cow – again with the image of the flexible ribbon. In flexion (Cat), we visualised the flexible ribbon gathered in, for extension (Cow), the flexible ribbon lengthened. With this awareness, there is greater possibility for a feeling of connection, support and fluidity in flexion and extension of the spine.
The peak pose of the class was Ardha Chandrasana. There’s a lot going on in this asana. The position of the feet, legs and pelvis are fundamental – it is vital that the heel and sitting bone of the standing leg remain in alignment when transitioning into the pose. Many students will need a block, or brick in order to retain integrity in alignment. Without a block, if a student is tight in the hamstrings, he/she may lose the lateral line in trying to bring a hand down too far in front, thus allowing the hip of the standing leg to move out to the side and back. If this happens it can feel pretty unpleasant in the hip joint. Once the foundation is secure, an opening out from centre is necessary – the other leg reaches back and the arm reaches up to vertical. But sometimes a student may extend too far and lose balance. This is where the ‘flexible ribbon’ comes in – if we can once again imagine a ‘gathering’ in of the ALL – especially on an inhalation with breath into the back of the lungs – integrity and ease in balance can arise!