I have many memories from my first yoga teacher training course with Donna Farhi, even though it was way back in 2000. One memory is especially vivid, it was a spinal yield and push inquiry – there were three of us, me in child with my head supported on a block, one person lightly pushing a large gym ball to my tail and the other person lightly pushing a smaller ball to my head! Here’s a little drawing of the scenario from my notebook. We were learning the importance of head/tail connection and of cultivating the ability to sequence movement through the spine between head and tail (or vice versa) in asana.
The ‘spinal push from the head’ and ‘spinal push from the pelvic floor’ (tail) that we were exploring, are two of twelve basic neurological actions. These ‘actions’ are usually part of babies’ movement development. Their origins can also be seen in the evolutionary development of the animal kingdom. Developmental movement patterns and basic neurological actions are studied in detail on Body-Mind Centering® trainings. The ‘study’ will involve experiencing the patterns and actions with the ultimate aim of embodiment. I encountered Body-Mind Centering® many times during the nineties – in dance settings – but it was from Donna that I learned how brilliantly certain aspects of BMC® could be applied to the practice of yoga. Curiosity and passion for the work subsequently led to in depth study of the principles of BMC®, on a lengthy training with Linda Hartley.
On the training with Donna, we also spent a lot of time experiencing and learning to teach, a quality of ‘yield’. Yielding underlies the ‘spinal push’ actions. Sirsasana – headstand, is an example of an asana that requires the ‘spinal push from the head’ action with sequential movement of the spine. (see notebook picture)
Yielding also underlies the ‘spinal reach from the head’ and ‘spinal reach from the pelvic floor (tail)’ actions. The ‘spinal reach’ action is slightly more sophisticated in terms of infant and evolutionary development. When we find a quality of ‘reach from the head’, there’ll be a feeling of lightness and alertness. Support for the ‘reach from the head’ action is gained from earlier patterns, these include: the ability to yield, to sequence movement through the spine, to sense connectedness between head and tail, and to allow breath movement to travel through the spine. (see ‘Sequential Movement of the Spine’ video)
You may be thinking that of course the tail, head and spine are connected but in terms of healthy movement and alignment in asana, a dis-connect is very common. For example, students practising trikonasana – triangle, may either have their heads stiffly held in an uncomfortable position, or heads may be dangling. Then, instead of the feeling of lightness, there may be one of lightheadedness and disorientation. I think it was Bonnie Bainbridge-Cohen who said that if we saw a small child or animal with their head dangling, or stiffly held, we’d wonder what was wrong. Yet as adults we do these weird things with our necks, in our daily lives and in asana practice!
I learned from Donna a hands-on technique to help students find ‘spinal reach of the head’ in trikonasana. My students practised this in class recently. Students work in pairs, one student taking trikonasana, without a raised arm. The facilitating student lightly supports the head of the student in trikonasana and brings the heel of their other hand to the crown of the partner’s head. See photo. The reason for not having a raised arm, is to enable focus on spinal reach of the head. When the alignment is good, breath movement can be felt travelling through the spine into crown of the head. Searching for breath movement through the spine can also be a means towards finding healthy alignment. So it works both ways!
Happy Practising Everyone!