Welcome to Module 3! In this module we’re going to tackle some important stuff related to posture, confidence, and natural beauty. Get excited.
So far we’ve worked to build a strong foundation. We’ve talked about the importance of Breath patterning as a fundamental aspect of all movement. We’ve talked about Core-Distal patterning as the key to clear movement that connects to the world.
Now we move on to one of my favorite patterns: Head-Tail patterning.
So what is Head-Tail patterning?
This pattern organizes the body through the movement, support, and clarity of your spine. But I want you to think beyond just the bony parts of your spine. Think about all the important stuff that is located and goes on between your head and your tailbone.
At the head level you see, hear, and taste—not to mention there’s all that gray matter in your brain that allows you to think and process information. Moving down the body are your life sustaining, vital organs: heart, lungs, and digestive tract. At the tail end you’ll find some other important parts that deal with reproduction, elimination, and intimacy.
Talk about essential elements to your overall wellbeing.
Before you worry about buff legs and toned arms, it’s wise to spend some time strengthening and coordinating your spinal patterning. Don’t get me wrong, I really like my arms and legs, and appreciate what they do for me. But before I focus a lot of attention on those areas I want to ensure that the vital parts of me are working optimally.
Enter Head-Tail patterning.
At its most basic level, this pattern is quite simple: What happens at the head changes and affects the whole spine down to the tailbone. What happens at the tail changes and affects the whole spine up through to the head.
One of my favorite ways to show this is with my trusty ole’ friend, Hector, my Head-Tail snake.
Notice what happens when I put Hector on a smooth surface and move him from his head. See how the movement ripples all the way down to his other end? The same thing happens if I initiate the movement from the bottom. His whole body adapts and moves with each initiation.
This means Hector is healthy in is Head-Tail patterning.
Now let’s say Hector had some issues to work on. Maybe he has a really focused 9-5 job and spends a lot of time at the computer. As a result he has what we’d call a “holding pattern” in his ribcage. It’s a result of lots of shoulder tension and a disengage core. His upper torso is stiff and immovable. Watch how that affects his spine.
If I very gently hold what would be his “rib area” (if he had ribs) with my fingers and initiate some movement from either his head or his tail you’ll notice that the movement just stops at that holding place. Everything else is just dead and lifeless.
Tell me, do you want to be lifeless? Are you interested in being a spineless, gutless, or heartless creature?
That’s why Head-Tail patterning is so critical. It makes sure we’re alive and vital in all our vital parts.
Head-Tail patterning can help with digestion, elimination, chronic shoulder tension, neck pain, and headaches. But even more than just improving the health and vitality of your body, Head-Tail connectivity makes you look and feel more... well, alive. It’s one of the secrets to expressing your authentic, beautiful self.
Try this out:
Hold yourself in a nice, straight, and rigid manner. Think military posture for a moment. Stand up straight, soldier!
Now go for a walk while holding this static posture. Go ahead, I’ll wait. Take a few moments.
Notice how you feel.
Now, come back and stand tall and think about your 3-Dimensional breathing for a moment. Think about the fluid nature of your breath. Picture the open highway between your head, core, and tailbone.
Okay, now we’re going to do our best hippie impersonation. Just go with me on this one.
Allow your spine to softly flow back and forth in a subtle s-like wave. Nothing’s rigid... everything is just a little... groovy. “Hey man, peace. Love.”
Go for a little walk feeling this easy, breezy spinal dance. How do you feel now? Finally, let’s take this improvisational play a little further.
Imagine you are a wide-eyed kid in a candy story.
Open your eyes as wide as you can and begin exploring the space as if there were hundreds of delicious candies and treats all around you. Look up, down, behind, and way over there. Keep exploring and then pay some attention to your whole spine as you do this.
Imagine your spine is almost snake-like in that your whole torso carves and adapts to travel along with the excitement taken in by your eyes.
Okay, you can rest. Tell me: How do you feel now?
Maybe you feel a bit silly, but hopefully you also feel a little less tense. Maybe it was even—dare I say it—a little fun?
Head-Tail patterning really brings out your curiosity and desire to explore the world. As babies, this pattern is actually supported by what’s called your rooting reflex. This is the reflex that allows a brand-new baby to turn her head to her mother’s breast in search of milk. That turn of the head develops and strengthens the whole spine and eventually leads to rolling over.
Head-Tail is a pattern of playfulness and fun. And I believe the world would be a better place if we all tapped into that fun a little bit more.
In the following two lessons we’re going to dive into some really practical applications of Head-Tail patterning, including posture and pain free sitting.
But for the remainder of this lesson I want you to just enjoy some of the basic Head-Tail exercises that allow you to sense that whole spinal relationship. Take some time to notice any place in your spine where you might be holding or stopping the flow of motion.
And keep a sense of playful exploration as you move—it really makes a difference.
Exercise: Heel Rocks for Connectivity
This exercise is actually a great one for sensing all three of the first patterns: Breath, Core-Distal, and Head-Tail. I decided to include it here because I personally love to use this experience as a way to gently “wake up” my whole body, especially my spine.
Start by lying flat on your back. Keep your legs close together so your heels are directly in line with your ischial tuberosities (sitz bones). Feel the weight of your heels rest firmly in the ground and allow the rest of your body to give its weight fully to the earth.
Now simply begin to rock your feet from your heels. There is a huge difference between rocking by flexing and pointing your foot like this—versus pushing and grounding from the back of your heels like this. We’re going for the second version here.
As you rock from your heels send your attention to your body and notice any holding patterns. When this exercise is done right you’ll feel motion in every part of your body. It’s almost like your body is the water within a horse’s watering trough. As the horse laps the water at one end you can see the ripples all the way through the water. In the same way you want your body to almost ripple from the rock of your heels.
Common areas of holding include the ribs. You can see as I create tension in my rib cage how my head and shoulders stop moving. I could do the same thing by gripping my butt or quads. It stops the motion. The other common holding areas include the neck and head. To help with this you can gently place your hands on your head to ensure the head is included in the movement.
This is another one of those “weird” exercises, but it really is one of the best ways to train your body for full connectivity. So, weird or not, do it a couple times each day.
For anyone familiar with your basic Cat/Cow yoga sequence you’ll love this. Start on your hands and knees—with your hands directly under the shoulders and your knees right under the hips.
Take a deep breath in. As you exhale feel the belly button reach toward the spine and begin curving your spine by reaching your head and tail toward one another—your mid-spine reaches up toward the ceiling.
The whole point of this experience is to try and move the spine at the same time. We don’t want to leave any part out.
As you inhale again send your head and tail in the opposite direction feeling a subtle curve along the whole spine. Don’t kink your neck by leaving out the upper torso. Feel the whole Head-Tail connection as you move.
Continue on, changing with each breath, going back and forth from cat to cow.
Now for the +. Come back to a nice neutral spine. Extend one arm out to the side. Follow your hand with your eyes—what we call eye tracking. Thread your hand under your body and past your other supporting arm. This is working your Head-Tail connection through rotation—which is super important for a healthy spine.
Plus, the stretch feels amazing. Repeat a couple times before trying it on the other side.
Exercise: Head-Tail Swimming
Get down into a basic child’s pose position. Rest your arms just out in front of you and rest your forehead on your hands. Gently start swimming your head side to side allowing that back and forth motion to ripple through the whole spine all the way to your tailbone. Don’t stress if you can’t feel the motion throughout your spine yet. Just know that the goal is to be like Hector the snake—you want to eventually sense the motion of the head through the whole spine.
Move for a few moments and then rest.
Now repeat the exercise but this time start by swimming your tailbone back and forth. See if you can feel the wave of movement all the way through to your head. You will notice that the movement of the lower part of your spine and tailbone is much more subtle than the bigger movement of the head and upper torso. That’s okay, but you still want to sense something happening throughout the whole spine as you continue to work on this.
There you go—a little insight into Head-Tail patterning. Remember, this pattern is important for anyone who struggles with chronic tension in the back, shoulders, or neck. It’s also important to support and tone all those vital organs for optimal health. Finally, it is an essential element in supporting your arms and legs when it comes time to move on to more complex movement.
So, take some time to have a little fun, explore the world, and bring some aliveness to your spine. It’s one of the key aspects of revealing your true self to the world and enjoying what the world has to offer.
Catch you next time.
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