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Spine Like a Chain, Freeing the Shoulder Girdle

Back-lying, knees bent, learning to gradually lift and lower the pelvis and spine. This variant of a classic Feldenkrais lesson cultivates awareness especially around the middle and upper spine and ribs, the shoulder blades, sternum, and C7 (seventh cervical vertebra) region.

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Recorded live in a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) class, this lesson is copyright Nick Strauss-Klein, for personal use only.

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If you use a folded towel for head support when lying on your back, be sensitive to how thick it is during this lesson. You may find you want or need less as the lesson goes along (a thickly folded towel may interfere with allowing your head to shift comfortably while lifting your pelvis).

If you’re new to this genre of lesson (lifting the pelvis) or have trouble getting comfortable with how high you’re prompted to lift it in this version, consider jumping ahead in this collection to try out Spine Like a Chain, with a Bias. It has some different goals but may be an easier introduction to this kind of movement.

Early on I talk about “dropping the tailbone” to the floor. This is a directional cue (toward the floor), not intended to be a quick drop.

I try to avoid language that limits our self-image, such as the “rib cage” and “girdle.” In this context I use it because this lesson is in part designed to free us from the self-image of even having a shoulder “girdle”!

Cultivating extra curiosity about the movements of your sternum, both in external space and relative to the rest of your own body, can be very useful in this lesson.

This lesson is found in our Freeing the Spine, Chest, Shoulders, and Neck collection.

If you haven’t already explored them, this collection has several lessons that are closely related, including Spine Like a Chain, with a Bias and The Ultimate Self-Hug.

Like most of our lessons, this one can be studied out of context, but you may find additional learning value by approaching it in the order of the collection it’s in.

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28 Comments

  1. Sigurdson Chris on March 19, 2018 at 8:08 pm

    Thanks. After a day of driving and sitting in a chair this was really helpful. Really helped a sub-acute neck problem too.

  2. Wendy Saffell-Clemmer on September 29, 2018 at 2:34 pm

    I really enjoyed this lesson and was able to convince my husband to try Feldenkrais ATM for the first time. He was amazed!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on October 1, 2018 at 2:41 pm

      Love that together we made a new Felden-fan! Thanks for spreading the word in your own home!

  3. Julie on March 6, 2019 at 2:36 pm

    My neck, shoulders and upper back feel released, warm and wonderful. One of my hamstrings cramped after lifting my pelvis multiple times, so I moved my feet further apart and that adjustment helped. I’ve noticed that I need to stretch my calves and hamstrings after these lessons, even though I rest often. If I don’t, they are very tight the next day. Am I doing something wrong?

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on March 7, 2019 at 11:17 am

      Hard to say from a far off computer, but if you have discovered a value to resting even more, it sounds like the answer is no, you’re not doing something wrong! It also sounds very wise that you are experimenting with the width of your feet while lifting your pelvis. You might also explore how close your feet are to your bottom (how bent your knees are).

      Finally, the first four lessons in our collection called Lessons for Better Posture, Walking, and Running may also help, as well as the lesson called Breath, Belly, Back, and Hips.

  4. Mike on March 21, 2019 at 3:15 pm

    Thanks Nick. This is an incredible lesson. And after some time away reminded me of the many simultaneous benefits of Feldenkrais — on nervous system as well as muscular skeletal system. Much appreciated!

  5. Stuart Falconer on July 15, 2019 at 3:43 pm

    Hi I love your lessons. One question I have is when my legs are extended when I’m lying flat on the floor are my legs supposed to be rolled to the side or am I supposed to be on my heels. My legs don’t want to sit on my heels very comfortably. When I put them on my heels there’s a large space between the floor and my knees. Should I keep working with my legs in the heel position or should I just let them lay over on their side.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 21, 2019 at 5:14 pm

      You can let your legs roll outward into external rotation. Usually that’s an option with more ease and comfort, and we’re interested in the rests being as truly restful as possible. Also, consider exploring Legs as Free as a Baby’s, or returning to it if you’ve done it before. It may be helpful.

  6. Sarah on July 22, 2019 at 2:32 pm

    What might you say is the overall purpose of this lesson?

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 29, 2019 at 9:41 am

      Hi Sarah. The title and the italicized lesson description are pretty direct about my intentions, but also there’s basic Spine Like a Chain goals for this classic type of lesson. Maybe you’re asking about that? When we organize ourselves to lift and lower our backs in this precise way we’re exploring a sophisticated coordination of our major postural muscles in the context of thrusting the legs into the ground, and moving our bodies upward and forward. This relates to (and is intended to improve) what we do on our feet all day long when standing, walking, running, etc. Please reply again if you have more questions.

  7. Andrea Herrera on May 15, 2020 at 6:06 pm

    I have lots of curiosities!! 1) When you lift the pelvis high and all the weight is on the C7 area, I feel like my neck wants to tuck in to my chest. Is that correct/safe?
    Also, I love how you mentioned that muscles tend to want to “impulsively tighten” because that is my life: muscle memory.for every tense situation whether it be positive or negative, my neck muscles want to tense. Once you become aware with the “lulling” that they are tense, how do you get them to relax??
    Finally, I loved all the breathing stuff, not sure I understand how it relates to the rest, but I trust Moshe and you. But in regular life, and exercise, lifting weights, etc. what is the most ideal way to breathe? some say belly breathing should be 100% goal 24/7, others say, no. I’m just curious on your opinion if you don’t mind.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on May 18, 2020 at 10:16 am

      1) Going slowly and gently enough to listen for safety and comfort is always essential, and yes, it’s a biomechanical “normal” to let the back of the neck lengthen more (and therefore the chin tucks) when you lift your pelvis high.

      2) You growing awareness is the primary tool of learning to let go of compulsively tight muscles. It takes almost a “zen” attitude when encountering strong longtime tightnesses: noticing they’re tight in new contexts in the lessons, and not really trying to do anything (just noticing, moving gently, and enjoying/emphasizing movements that seem to ease things even slightly). When we “try” (even “trying” to relax), we tighten! So don’t try, just pay attention and go kindly. Those longtime compulsions will improve over time, and along with everything else.

      3) Breathing: as in all function, what we’re looking to improve is your capacity to adapt and respond well to the current moment. So the most ideal way to breathe is…”it depends”! 20 years of Feldenkrais study have made me exceptionally wary of any authority that tells me there’s a 24/7 100% goal. That’s always an external authority. I study Feldenkrais so that I can better sense and rely on my “internal authority.” I know what satisfying, productive breathing feels like when I’m sprinting. And when I’m meditating. They’re quite different!

  8. Andrea Herrera on May 18, 2020 at 2:42 pm

    Thanks so much. THese will be my goals. Your insight and I really respect your insight will help me continue to go on and progress and have success in winning against my “compulsive muscles”. thanks and God bless you again and always!

  9. Guido Setton on July 4, 2020 at 9:37 pm

    Hello Nick, I have a generic question: i really like this lesson, so i have done it several times. I also explored a few others but this is my favorite and since i tend to have tension in my neck and upper back i really feel i get a lot out of it. Unlike other practices like Yoga, etc, it seems that in Feldenkrais you can do this or that lesson freely. Is there any generic concept/guidelines about repeating the same lessons many time versus exploring new ones? or it is more an intuitive process in which are all invited to follow our instincts?
    Thanks!
    Guido

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 5, 2020 at 2:51 pm

      I think the answer is closer to the intuitive process you describe, but I would add that there is great value to a “survey course” of lessons (while also returning to favorites as often as you wish). I’ve tried to create ways to branch out from favorite lessons by progressing through the collection you find them in, and also by exploring the lessons mentioned in the Context and Related Lessons tabs, which you have access to as a donor. Thanks for your question and your financial support of the FP!

  10. Guido Setton on July 6, 2020 at 1:07 am

    Thanks a lot Nick! I understand what you say. And also, i think that exploring different lessons will work somehow improving and creating new patterns of movement. I had a teacher of Wing Chung many years ago who told me that we learn these kinds of things, not so much in a lineal sequence but randomly like filling the holes of a gruyere cheese. I suspect this applies to Feldenkrais too! Thanks again

  11. Jonathan Burton on October 23, 2020 at 9:40 am

    Thanks Nick, that was a soft but powerful ATM! I really liked the direction to have inaudible breathing, it gave me much needed room in my throat and jaw and gave me an idea to release the fist like pressure in my sacrum. Enjoying deep diving into the Feldenkrais project through your website, thanks for the offering!

  12. Adelaide Simmons on April 29, 2021 at 2:52 am

    Revisiting spine like a chain during a bought of the night wakes (insomnia). This is the first time I’ve done your version of this lesson. I’m on my third year (give or take) of doing ATM lessons. When I started Feldenkrais, my lower back would protest loudly whenever I attempted spine like a chain…I hated it, it was so hard for me. In my sleep deprived mind, I decided to give it a try-such a difference, so much less tension, more gentle awareness. Thank you for your excellent teaching and this precious resource!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on April 29, 2021 at 11:27 am

      Thanks! I think a lot of listeners resonate with your experience of this genre of lesson. It’s challenging at first for many people, but you’ve developed the experience and found the self-care you needed to make something great out of it!

  13. Lorraine on May 11, 2021 at 3:39 pm

    I am really enjoying this series of lessons. Each is a gem in itself but together they add up to more than the sum of the parts.

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on May 11, 2021 at 3:58 pm

      Well said! I think so, too. I’m very conscious in the collections and miniseries about the sequence of lessons. It’s remarkable how our learning experience can accumulate!

  14. Karyn on July 7, 2022 at 10:38 am

    Dear Nick, this is one of favorite lessons and especially if the tight neck coming back. My husband and the rest of my family practise with your lessons almost daily and we have regular ‘feldy’ discussions about what we learnt or what helped and mostly about how much better we feel after every lesson. So I am deeply grateful to you for this project. Feldenkrais is about the only practice that really releases and changes stuckness and I have tried EVERYTHING. Lol! -) So a big wonderful thank you to you!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on July 8, 2022 at 3:00 pm

      Amazing! Thank you for your inspiring words. I love how the Project works, and comments like these keep me motivated! Thanks for sharing Feldenkrais with your whole family!

  15. Anne Wirt -Weightman on September 25, 2022 at 10:25 am

    Hi, this lesson was wonderful for allowing my thoracic spine to become more mobile. My lower spine (pelvis/lower back) is still tight and comes down in a chunk and feels a bit painful. Is there a lesson I can do to help this area to become more mobile?
    Thank you

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on September 28, 2022 at 4:24 pm

      Sure, a couple ideas: 1) If you like this lesson genre and haven’t done our simpler, smaller version of it, try Spine Like a Chain, with a Bias. But perhaps that may be too direct an approach. You could also try 2) one of our folding lessons (use our lesson search for “folding”). Finally 3) try one of the early lessons in our Pelvic Clock “Primer” course. These are nice, gentle ways of mobilizing the pelvis and lower back that work well for most people. As always, follow your ease and comfort toward the learning path that’s best for you right now.

  16. Trudy Jacquelin on March 7, 2023 at 4:16 pm

    I have been working from home now for 3 years, so find that the movement i used to do whilst in an office has diminished over that time. I have also not been as committed to Nick’s classes as I was when I first started working from home, even though I am a donor! Go figure…….
    Anyway, an increasing neck issue over the last month has pushed me back into taking these wonderful Classes and I started back with this one today. The sense of comfort, calm, peace and relaxation that Feldenkrais always gives when you do the Classes is palpable.
    This Class has sure set me back on the straight and narrow. I began the Class with a very stiff pelvic area and could hardly lift it, but by the end of the Class, I could raise it all the way up to the C7 area with little or no effort.
    The profoundness of Feldenkrais of LESS is MORE is never a truer word spoken. Thanks Nick for expanding your website and building it to a point that it has become so much easier to navigate and participate. I sure appreciate you and your team to make such an effect in peoples lives, even at a distance. (I am in Australia) This technique truly is amazing! God Bless Moshe and your teaching ability to keep it going. Thank you!

    • Nick Strauss-Klein on March 7, 2023 at 4:58 pm

      Isn’t it sweet to return to studying Feldenkrais when we need it? We love just “being there” for folks when they’re looking for support. Thanks for your comment, and for supporting us!

  17. Gina on March 31, 2023 at 10:46 pm

    Awesome lesson. It is starting to open up my shoulder girdle area that has been very held. I will do redo these lessons to keep bringing awareness and ease to myself.

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