In class last week we did the ‘Saggy Cat’ experiment. We investigated how to bring a more fluid connection between body/spine and head/neck in back bends and certain standing poses – and in our daily lives.
From ‘all fours’ position – on hands and knees – we imagined we’d never practised yoga before and adopted a ‘Saggy Cat’ position. We sagged in the shoulders, allowed the underside of the body to ‘hang off’ the spine and let the throat hang out. Then we drew the front of the throat back and up and in, and noted what effect this had. Various comments included “it’s like a thread drawing my spine into alignment”, “I feel stronger and lined up”.
There’s an interesting little bone under the chin that’s called the hyoid bone. It doesn’t articulate with any other bones but it connects to the tongue, the jaw, skull, shoulder blades, collar bones and breast bone. Because of all these connections, the hyoid bone is a ‘keystone’ for alignment. In the ‘Saggy Cat’ experiment we were activating alignment from this ‘keystone’.
We then explored how we might apply this ‘keystone for alignment’ in various poses – Trikonasana, Shalabhasana, Bhujangasana and Dhanurasana. When this ‘keystone for alignment’ or ‘movement pattern’ becomes embodied, then back bends are practised with much greater safety and neck and back pain in asana can be avoided. Here’s a video where I’m demonstrating fluid connection between my spine/body and neck/head. Fluid Spine movie
During the first year of our lives and in utero, various movement patterns are integrated – these are known as ‘Developmental Movement Patterns’. However sometimes pieces of our development are missed out, or not fully integrated and this can affect how easily we are able to move and learn as adults. But we can re-integrate these patterns and gain greater ease and fluidity of movement.
The patterns we explored in our movement exploration last week, are called ‘Mouthing’ and ‘Pre-spinal’. Mouthing is a water-based and pre–vertebrate pattern. Essentially it is movement initiated from the mouth, with fluid integration of the head and neck. Developmentally it relates to the sucking and swallowing of an infant feeding at the breast. (A few years ago I made the ink drawing at the top of this page – it’s of my sister feeding her baby daughter). Anatomically what happens as the baby feeds, is a drawing back and up and in of the hyoid bone. The rocking movement of the head initiated by this action, develops tone in the front of the body. In class we aimed to replicate this action to find a fluid connection between our necks and heads. Can you see this movement in my video?
The developmental movement patterns have evolutionary parallels with the animal kingdom, for example Mouthing pattern relates to the Tunicate /Sea Squirt. This curious creature feeds, secretes and gives birth through its mouth. The baby sea squirt looks like a tadpole, the adults are more ‘sedentary’.
Pre-spinal pattern underlies the integration of the head and spinal column. Like Mouthing, it’s a water-based pre-vertebrate movement pattern but it’s a little more sophisticated developmentally. Characteristic of Pre-spinal pattern is soft, sequential, serpent- like movement of the spine that’s initiated from the spinal cord and the digestive tract.
At a certain stage in utero there’s a flexible, stiffening rod – the ‘notochord’ – that runs the length of the torso. It lies between the digestive tract and spinal cord, differentiating between the two. Later in foetal developmental it is absorbed, the skull and vertebral column take its place, the discs being a remnant of the notochord. The evolutionary parallel of the Pre-spinal pattern with the animal kingdom is exemplified in the Lancelet Amphioxus. This creature is fish shaped but has no bony spinal column. In terms of evolution, it’s a transitional stage between invertebrates and vertebrates.
In teaching class as described above, my aim is for my students to move with the grace and ease that was instinctive when we were infants, to regain natural, fluid movement and in this way have happier, healthier lives.