by Dominika Borovansky Gaines
Flexion and Extension are primary motions of the spine. In the GYROTONIC® lexicon they are known as Curl and Arch. In GYROTONIC Step 1 to Progression 1, these two motions are the first to be taught as part of the 7 Spinal Motions.
We are born in flexion and develop extension as we begin exploring the world around us. In a healthy body there is a balance of strength between both.
One of the beauties of the GYROTONIC system is the cultivation of a supple spine. As the home of the Central Nervous System, a lengthened and flexible spine is of vital importance to our health, keeping nerve pathways functioning optimally and free from impingement due to moving vertebrae.
I have never been very good at Arching, and from a young age had a stiff spine. I have a very vivid memory of being about six years old and playing with a friend. We were outside in the grass and she began doing backbends from standing. I made an attempt and was halted immediately by the stiffness of my spine. It surprised me but I simply accepted that I was tight and let it go. Years later I took gymnastics and again the Arch appeared, this time as my nemesis. I was unable to do many of the skills that were necessary and I learned quickly that I would never be Olga Korbut (yes, I’m that old!).
I found that I was a good sprinter, long jumper and high jumper, and I played many sports. I also loved dancing, where my natural coordination and musicality allowed me to progress in spite of my lousy arabesque. (Ha! Great rhyme!) I knew I’d never be a ballet dancer and set my sights on modern dance. Now here was something I could do. My lack of arching ability hardly hindered me at all and I was able to explore and relish all the other planes of movement.
Eventually I found my way to GYROTONIC exercise, and I loved it! All that spinal movement and fluid, dynamic motion made me SO joyful. I loved how the equipment provided both resistance and support. But then came certification and the requirement to take GYROKINESIS® as part of the course work (yes, I’ve been doing it that long!). Is it kosher to say how much I hated that part of my training? It was hard and demanded a lot of my body; I had to move places that were stuck–and without the assistance of the friendly Pulley Tower. I persevered and coped and avoided certain exercises in GYROKINESIS class.
Over time, Arch and I got a little friendlier but I continued to be very challenged by the extension work toward the end of GYROKINESIS class. Fortunately with repetition, and also because I had to teach the movement as part of my class, I began experimenting with ways to guide this movement so that it wouldn’t create spasms in my own back.
So here I am, 50+ and figuring out how to Arch. Now that’s not to say that others haven’t tried to help me understand this movement sooner; my pal Lisa Perry has been patiently coaching me for 15 years. And to be clear, I am able to “arch” but have relied too much on cervical and lumbar extension, with little movement in the thoracic spine. But there is truth in the adage that you’re not ready till you’re ready. For me and Arch that’s definitely the case.
Last year I was introduced to Hanna Somatics through some workshops at our studio. In the classes we did various gentle movements cycled with complete relaxation and breathing. When we did prone work with head movement, I found that I was able to extend more easefully. So I incorporated a version of this exercise into my GYROKINESIS classes. Then I had the amazing good fortune to be witness to Lisa’s baby boy as, over a period of several months, he discovered his own upper spine, neck and head. And I began to mimic him. Holey-moley! Arching was cool!!!
In my Advanced GYROTONIC Quartet where we explore all things somatic, I developed a sequence using the Yoga Tune Up Coregeous® ball as a support (images above); the ball helps facilitate better awareness of rib rotation and scapular glide during prone Arch and Curl and leads into the larger movements of kneeling, quadruped work. It is now my favorite part of the class. (You can listen to an audio cast of me guiding the class through the sequence here.)
The final piece of this puzzle is my recent understanding that the reason I am Arch-challenged is due to my startle reflex. I had significant stress-related trauma in my childhood (my family are political refugees) and this caused my nervous system to tighten my spinal muscles as a way to “freeze” in a position of fight-or-flight. (Follow up blog to come.)
It’s been a long, slow process befriending Arch. Many times in the past I thought we were friends only to discover that I was misunderstanding her. But she has been patient with me and I think we are now on the path to a deeper friendship, one of exploration, adventure and joy.
Thanks to model Anne Doheny
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