One basic way to describe each yoga posture we do in the 26/2 series is through the relationships between body parts. Body parts either move away from each other or toward each other.
But when you are dealing with several different body parts at once and a range of possible relationships between them, things can get complicated fast.
The limited number of words a teacher can say during a 30-second posture might not completely resolve this confusion.
So, with more words than can be managed during class, I’d like to share a few helpful pointers, specifically about the relationship between your chin and your chest in the yoga series we do at The Hot Yoga Factory.
Two things can change the relationship between your chin and your chest. You can move your jaw, or you can flex or extend your neck.
During our yoga class, it’s flexion or extension of the neck that we’re paying attention to.
- In FLEXION, your chin comes closer to your chest, and your neck bends forward.
- In EXTENSION, your chin moves away from your chest, and your neck bends backward.
So what about when you hear the cue “Tuck your chin” or “Chin to chest?”
In postures like:
The end of Standing Head to Knee
you are creating forward flexion down the entire length of your spine, and your chin tuck initiates this. A few tips:
- Put one index finger at the end of your chin and the other in the dip between your collarbones. Try to make your fingers touch. For these three postures, that’s the connection you’re looking for.
- Look down with your eyes to help initiate and deepen the flexion.
- Put in effort, but don’t overdo it with your neck. In all three of these postures, you are trying to create evenly distributed flexion down the entire length of your spine, so let the mid (thoracic) and lower (lumbar) back do their fair share of the work.
- Even as you’re creating front side compression in your cervical vertebrae, think about lengthening along the back of your neck. Think space, not crunch.
In postures like:
Wind Removing Pose
it’s a slightly different motion, with the most flexion occurring in the very uppermost vertebrae. Instead of rounding the entire cervical spine, you are trying to remove the natural gentle forward curve out of your cervical spine and flatten it down onto the floor. The back of your head remains on the floor.
How about when we say “Chin up?” How far up? How much extension, how much of a backbend are you going for in your neck?
Well, that depends.
Pranayama Deep Breathing (exhale)
First part of Half Locust
your chin is as far away from your chest as you can manage without pain and with calm breathing. In these poses, “Chin up!” means chin way up, eyes looking up and back.
Now here’s where the confusion can set in:
Sometimes when we say, “Chin up!
” or, “Chin forward!” we do not want you to bend your neck backward.
We are just trying to get your chin level with the floor, your neck in line with the rest of your spine with the natural curve maintained in your cervical vertebrae. This cue is given because of a tendency to tuck the chin and begin to round the spine in these postures. If your chin is already in a neutral position, you don’t need to do anything further to bring your cervical spine into alignment.
This is true for:
The inhale of Pranayama Deep Breathing
The side bending of Half Moon
Parts 2 and 3 of Awkward
Balancing Stick (chin no longer parallel to the floor because of how your body has pivoted, but neck still in neutral)
Toe (you shift your gaze by moving your eyeballs, not by moving your neck),
Third part of Half Locust
There are a few postures that merit a few more words:
Hands to Feet: In this posture, you eventually want a long, straight spine, chin “neutral.” Sometimes, as you are trying to get your face closer to your shins, you might notice your chin tucking a bit. That’s fine; eventually, over days, months, years, you’ll straighten things out.
First part of Awkward: When you hear “Chin up! Chest up!” in this posture, it means bring your chin to parallel. Your spine is bending backward through your lumbar and thoracic spines, but that ends at your shoulders. Your neck is in a neutral position.
Standing Bow Pulling: You are doing a backbend (extension) all the way through your spine, but because your body is angled down, your face is parallel to the front mirror, chin parallel to the floor. “Chin up,” means look forward, not up.
Standing Separate Leg Stretching/Final Stretching: In the final expression of both of these postures, your cervical spine is not in flexion or extension, but in the initial descent of both, there will be some extension in your neck, in an effort to keep rounding out of your spine. Once your head is almost on the floor (Standing Separate Leg Stretching) or once your torso is almost on your legs (Final Stretching), you can drop your head down to bring your cervical spine in line, chin neutral.
Triangle/Spine Twist: In both of these twisting postures, your chin is neither tucked nor extended as it turns. In Triangle this can be especially confusing. Your chin and shoulder might touch, but that is because of movement in your shoulder and simple twisting – not flexion – of your cervical spine.
That should be enough food for thought for now. As always, please feel free to ask teachers questions before or after class!
–Ellen Olson-Brown, The Hot Yoga Factory Chelmsford