Your cervical spine [neck] should hold its natural curve with your head balanced directly above your shoulders when sitting, lying and standing. In some cases, a small pillow should be used when lying on your back to put your head and neck in a comfortable position.
It is standard practice to lengthen the back of your neck and bring your chin in towards the chest leaving an egg to orange size space between the chin and the chest when one lifts one’s head and / or upper torso from the mat. Once your head is in its correct alignments and the shoulder blades are stabilized the upper torso can be lifted (stretched away from the low body) by contracting the abs and sliding your rib cage down the back towards ones gluts.
It is essential and a common mistake by people to hyper over extend the cervicales (neck) when lifting the torso while performing upper torso lifts and rotations while starting the exercises face down. It is important that the head and therefore neck remain in their natural alignments to ensure that the neck vertebra don’t crunch and cause tension or discomfort as well as rebalancing and strengthening the muscles out of sync of the body’s natural form. The body’s natural form is that the neck should be a continuation of the spine.
The spine should be in its natural alignment when we sit, stand and do many Pilate exercises, correct neck alignment is as follows: the ears should be in line with the shoulders in neutral however, when one performs certain exercises such as the ab prep or other forward flexion exercises the head needs be tilted down as if one has started to nod, even though the chin is lowered the ears must remain in alignments with the shoulders, the intention is to create a spinal curve
In terms of back bends, neck extensions we look to extend the neck as a part of lengthening the spine – many people mistake back bends and neck extension exercises as a need to tilt the neck or look forward / up back rather than lengthen the neck, as always we seek correct alignments. In pilates we want to grow, we want to lengthen. I encourage people to aim to extend the crown of their head as far away from the core of one’s body as possible, extension rather than lift. This way we minimalize the risk of breaking the flow between the spine and the shoulders. Keep Your Head in Line with Your Spine:
How to train the neck
Keep the Front of the Neck and Throat Relaxed on Your Inhale
Try not to lengthen through the torso (to life the chest or lengthen the upper back). The aim to send air into the rib cage does not include lengthening through the torso. The “pipe” to facilitate the expansion of the lungs and rib cage is via the neck and therefore it is essential we concentrate on relaxing and lengthening the neck muscles. Yoga also follows this philosophy as they aim to close the through chakra as a method of filling the body with air. If you watch yourself breathing in the mirror one can see if ones front neck muscles are contracting and therefore restricting ones breathing or lengthening and relaxed and therefore enhancing ones breathing and posture. Think about your neck and throat being an open tube that air can easily flow in and out of.
Lightly touch the tip of the tongue to the roof of your mouth on your inhale, and drop the tongue away from the roof of your mouth on your exhale. This helps facilitate proper use of the diaphragm (suction and push), and as the tongue drops on the exhale, you may notice that the muscles in the front of the neck soften and relax a bit. Be careful not to over exaggerate this technique as we are also looking to control the diagram by controlling its force in sending air into the abdominal wall.
There are 2 main accepted breathing techniques for releasing the neck. The first being the forced Exhale of breath out of the mouth while the lips are purse as if one is playing the flute. The second being the “Haaaa” sound which is said to engage the core muscles and release the neck muscles at the same time. In my experience it depends on the student as to which technique one encourages.
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