Shivers is a beautiful and profound exercise. The movement begins to stimulate an awareness of the legs’ root deep in the body, at the origin of the psoas muscle on the crura of the diaphragm. The vibration created by shivering can release trauma stored in the psoas muscle as a result of the body’s fight-or-flight response. However the shivering action itself is a complex coordination of tension and release, and just getting the body into the correct position to allow this to happen can be very challenging.
Why is this important? In GYROTONIC® methodology, we introduce shivers early on in our clients’ experience of the work as we teach the concept of the 5th Line. The purpose is to alternately compress and decompress the muscles of the deep spine and hip to open energetic pathways. However, most people are VERY tight in the area between the diaphragm and the top of the pelvis. The muscles around and between the ribs are tight since we generally do not breathe deeply enough, tight abs and hip flexors from too much sitting and poor posture will cause tucking, and the shoulder girdle is often tight because we don’t frequently reach our arms overhead and hang. So to drop the ribs toward the floor in the semi-reclined position on the forearms for shivers can be difficult to achieve.
I learned the shivers exercise over 10 years ago and have been teaching it in my training courses. However, it wasn’t until I was working on some personal material for a GYROTONIC® Update just this year that I had a true “AHA!” Moment.
It is my experience that dropping the ribs so that they are balanced over the hip bones is the greatest challenge. Due to the cultural postural cues many of us have heard throughout our lives; various movement training such as dance, gymnastics, or military training; and our heeled-shoe habits, we tend to carry our lower ribs lifted forward and up. Even those who slouch will lift the ribs away from the pelvis when admonished to “stand up straight,” creating a slight shear of the vertebrae. This shearing often occurs at the junction of the psoas and the diaphragm.
I believe we all need to cultivate a better awareness of the role of the psoas. I’ve learned about the psoas through various avenues: Dance Kinesiology, Pilates training, The GYROTONIC® method, Ideokinesis. I’ve read Liz Koch’s work and attended a workshop. I’ve studied some of Thomas Myers’ work and have clear images of his drawings of the Deep Front Line. But it wasn’t until I took a workshop with Phillip Beach, author of Muscles and Meridians and creator of Erectorsize, and simultaneously studied and certified as a trainer of Restorative Exercise™ (now called Nutritious Movement) under Biomechanist Katy Bowman that I began to understand my psoas differently.
The first perspective that changed my own interoception of the psoas is the bolstered Psoas Release position. As taught by Katy Bowman, it is an alignment corrective to facilitate better alignment of ribs over pelvis. In the photo above, notice the bolstering of the entire upper body to the base of the shoulder blades. The goal of this corrective is to release– not stretch!– which takes time. You simply lie in the bolstered position for 10-15 minutes. A regular, nightly practice of this corrective has helped me to soften and drop my ribs, which makes the thoracic flexion of the GYROTONIC® reclined position much easier to attain.
The second perspective comes from Phillip Beach. Previously I posted a short blog about the relationship of the hamstrings and the abdominal tissues from a developmental perspective. I became familiar with his material when I attended a workshop in late 2014. Beach teaches about the various contractile fields of the body, which align nicely with the spirals of GYROTONIC® practice. A part of his teaching arises from the study of human embryology; that the hamstrings and abdominals are in fact part of the same embryonic tissue creates for me a very different sense of the spiraling nature of our tissues/fascia.
This is what occurred for me when I was teaching and performing the exercise. I was cueing the softening of the xyphoid process toward the sacrum and then cued the hamstring-belly connection. In this moment, my shivers became a part of the front of my spine. I truly felt my legs beginning at my diaphragm and the tremors originating deep to my core. Shivers were no longer an exercise created by compressive tension but instead a motion created from the very core of my being.
I’ve shared this with you in the hopes that my experience with releasing tension and understanding the hamstring-abdominal connection may give you another perspective from which to experience and/or teach shivers.
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