Tutorial #3191

Flexion Connection

25 min - Tutorial


Build a better relationship to your abdominals with this tutorial by Karen Sanzo. She shows a few ideal connections that will allow you to feel a deeper flexion connection. She looks at different exercises, working from your neck all the way down your body.
What You'll Need: Reformer w/Box

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Oct 13, 2017
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Hi, I'm Karen Sanzo. And this is me, and my Amy, on the mat even though this is a reformer. Because we're gonna be doing a couple exercises that address flexion. This is a tutorial, and it's called the flexion connection. And although we could make this tutorial be two hours long and a full workshop, we're just gonna make it be about 10 to 15 minutes, showing some ideal connections about how you can make a deeper flexion connection.

Sometimes it's not about more abs, sometimes it's about building a better relationship. So for the sake of you to see Amy on it, I have this carriage all the way back, just so she can sit like she's sitting on a chair so we don't have to move things around so much. So she's just going to sit here, the crown of her head to the ceiling. What I'm going to do first to create any type of connection, I'm going to put my hand right on top of her head, and I'm gonna gently press down as she grows up. And I want to see what happens to her spine.

Now she's actually doing very well, she's not too arched, she's not too tucked, and I'm not really pressing her very hard. So what I'm going to do now, is I want her to over arch, so I'm gonna have her take this back forward, and I'm gonna press her head, and I think that feels a little bit yucky right? So her spine can't support this, and this is gravity coming down. So I'm gonna touch her tummy here, and I'm gonna build up the trunk in the front and I'm gonna gently press down on her head here. So believe it or not, even though she's lengthened, when the abdominal and the rib packaging comes back, that's actually the first flexion connection that happens.

It's fighting the desire to over extend. The next piece of this exercise, I'm going to have her nod her head forward all the way down, and we're going to find this first bump here, this C-7, and then right above that, I mean way above that, is this occipital ridge and this occipital bone here. So from C-7 to the occipital bone, when she stacks herself back up, that's where you want the flexion to come in your neck. You want to keep the occipital bone away from C-7. So that's a nod, that's a head nod combined with a cervical nod.

So I'm gonna have her stay there for a second. You may think this looks like she's jamming her chin to her chest, but since she has a shorter neck, you'll see when she comes back up, it's not jamming it. So each individual person is a little bit different. To make this relationship a little bit more clear, I'm gonna take my pointer finger and put it right on the bridge of her nose, okay, just like you had a pair of glasses there. Because the bridge of the nose, if you follow the bridge of the nose all the way back, that's the occipital bone.

So sometimes when people have a forward head like this, they don't need to just drop their chin, they need to take their whole skull back. They need to think, occipital bone away from C-7. So she's not pulling her chin down, she's just not wrinkling it or shortening. Sometimes we get a little challenge here when people wear bifocals, and their heads lift up like this and they look down. They don't think they're doing a lot, but sometimes over time this will create a lot of shortening in the upper cervical extensors.

So we have a flexion connection in the deep neck by keeping the bridge of the nose, I often call that in some of my other workouts keeping your face back or your eyes softened in your skull. And then we'll go into the flexion where the head flexes, and then the neck flexes, and then the occiput is away from C-7. And now she's gonna continue to flex her trunk forward. Mm-hmm, and she's gonna pause right here. Please press your hands onto your thighs and press your feet onto the floor.

You just saw that lift up. Now I'm gonna take my hand and put it on the crown of her head. As I say please resist me here, don't let me push you. You should feel a flexion connection in your trunk a little bit. Okay. Now I'm gonna have you go forward a little bit more, bend your elbows a little bit.

Good. So notice this shape in her spine right here, please resist me, that's it. So do you feel how this is lengthening and the front of your torso is pulling backwards. So that's a force here, I'm not pushing very hard but I'm pushing enough that she can kind of feel that. Now Amy when you stack up, kind of bring this part of your rib package back, pause, go forward again 'cause I want you to really get this.

Way back here, like behind your belly button somewhere. There you go. And then stack up, stack up. And I don't think it was about her pulling her belly in more, I think it was about the connection of your ribs staying back. So let's do that one more time.

So the crown of the head is here, lengthened. The bridge of the nose stays back, the cervical spine curves, or the occiput flexes first. I see that C-7, I keep this elongated here. Take a big inhale, feel these back ribs. Exhale, go forward more.

Mm-hmm, very good. Now feel where you're tight, most of use are tight in this position here. Take your hands down towards the floor now, just roll yourself forward. She's rolling, keep going, mm-hmm, keep going, keep going, and pause right there. Now put your hands onto the floor with your fingertips.

Good. Now push your feet forward, push your hands forward. There you go. See how that sits her back here. So now, sit your buttocks down, there you go.

Pause. So now breathe into these back ribs because an inhalation inflection makes a better flexion connection because posterior lateral rib, she's down there shaking her head yes, posterior lateral ribs expand. Watch, I'm gonna press on the crown of her head again, and that's going to make this elongate. And then she's gonna unwind, dropping the buttocks down first, very good. Pause.

Now come back further than you think you have to. Yes, even further than you think, there you go. Now, now you really feel, now your back right? And then unwind your spine, come back up, and then you'll have that little neutral there. Now don't shift forward, just bring your chest back, shoulders back, there you go, head back.

Yeah, does it feel like you're falling backwards? Mm-hmm. Yeah, but if you know, you'll tell your friends, they'll all comment and say no, now that's more flexion, okay? Let's do that one more time, a little bit quicker. Alright.

So inhale. Right, I'll try not to touch her so much. So think of the bridge of your nose puling back, that's it, rounding forward. Good, so it's not really a full chin tuck, it's just the face packaged back again. She's going to start to breathe in a little bit more.

There you go, letting the arms hang. Again, what are we doing here, what are we teaching? Flexion. So it's not that I don't care about division of her shoulders of course, but I want her to get this flexion. Feet press down, right, feet press away.

Even go further, press your finger pads down. Good, and then push your hands away and your feet away, and fill all this up back here. There you go. Two big breaths, in to the posterior lateral ribs. Good job.

Notice how the whole shape of her spine, her head is down but she's not just hanging it in a blah fashion, the front of her neck is actually working. So start to come back up now Amy, sit your buttocks down. Mm-hmm. Come back further than you think you have to, and don't be in a hurry to lift the head. Oh fabulous, there you go.

And then you're going to stack up. Mm-hmm there you go. And when you get up here and you feel like you wanna lengthen your chest, then alls you do is grow your collarbones long, right, without sticking your ribs out, then you lengthen up like that. Okay, so that's a mobility of flexion connection. So now let's take that to spine stretch.

So hop on off. I'm gonna put on these straps, I mean the springs here for a little spill here. I'm gonna move her forward into the gear that she would normally be in, and just have a seat for spine stretch. Good, yeah, so that works really well right there. So for all your clients that wanna do more reformer than mat work, just put them on the reformer and do mat work, and they'll think that their doing reformer, right, okay.

So take your hands out in front of you, yeah. For this connection here, you remember that you had to be further back than you thought, right, there you go, right, and actually this little shoulder rest gives you like a little position where you can be in there, okay. So take your arms out in front again, now, I'm gonna be here, I want you to press down on you hands but don't do anything. Press me a little bit harder. Good, and as you do that kinda shift your ribs back a little bit, there you go.

So now you're starting to feel that. Now lengthen your occiput away from C-7, nod your head down. Still press me and then start to come forward into spine stretch. So I'm gonna let go now, but you still think I'm there. There you go, and now you're going forward and down.

This is beautiful. Good. Now I'm gonna press on the crown of her head again, and she's gonna resist me, don't let me push you, resist me forward. So I'm pressing into her head, her head is growing into me, opposition, right. Now don't come up from your head, come up from way down here. Remember you have to go back further than you think and then the arms come down to parallel, boy is that good.

Making a deep flexion connection, okay, one more time. Inhale (breaths in), exhale, pause (breathes out). Let's inhale forward this time, just for the heck of it. So yes, you see how that almost inhale kinda lifts you up like that. Imagine that your hands are pressing down on mine.

Imagine the crown of your head is pressing into my finger that used to be there, good. Go ahead and pull your toes back. Go ahead and reach your feet long and your finger tips long. Yes, and then unwind your spine coming back further than you think you have to. I think that's such a key point there, when you watch people stack up their spine, is that sometimes they stack up way high up, so they actually stack up in extension, right, rather than flexion.

Feel okay? Okay. Scooch your bottom forward a little bit. Now, let's see the relationship between spine stretch forward and open leg rocker. Now don't worry, she's not gonna do it on the reformer, because we're just gonna get the rocking connection. So first, come forward just a little bit more, even, let that's, yeah, I think that's good like that.

So go ahead and do spine stretch. So we're actually making this connection. And take your hands to your ankles much like you would do open leg rocker, okay. Now try to pick your feet up with your hands. Your not gonna be able to, but I just want you to feel the work in your deep belly right in front of your hips, right.

Feel the connection here, mm-hmm, there you go. Just hold that. Now pick up just your right leg coz you'll be able to do that with your hand, pick it up, there you go. And then switch, yeah. No, your doing it right, you can feel how your doing it.

And can you feel the low down flexion at the hips. So a flexion connection isn't only about your trunk. Its about your arms integrating with your trunk, about your legs integrating with your trunk. Okay now, bend your knees, this is going to be perfect, watch. Bend your kneed and put your feet right on that foot-bar.

Yeah, okay. So now we're kinda like stomach massage etc, all these pieces here now. Take one leg up, mm-hmm and take the other leg up, good. And then can you feel, so you have to keep that belly pulled in, have to keep the crown of the head going forward, keep the breath going in your back lungs. Very good, very good.

Just like that. Now, stack up your spine, mm-hmm, crawl your hands up your legs, and now start to tip over backwards, just a little bit. So flex from the bottom, pause. Mm-hmm. Now, your gonna flex a little bit more down there, I'm gonna keep cure, here, good. And now I want you to think of a 100 beats in your ribs going, uh, your trunk going forward as your ribs come back, right here, where my, yes. Good.

So that almost gave you a flexion cramp, have you ever had a flexion ... we've all had flexion cramp in our tummy. Take this leg up, grab that shin, good. Now just hold that there. Act like your gonna pull this leg out of your hip. There goes that belly right.

And then your gonna think a 100 beats, but your not, yes, very good, and then take the other leg up. Mm-hmm, there you go. Now pull the legs up, mm-hmm, good. Lengthen ... did you feel yourself wanna lengthen your occiput a little bit, there you go. Now deepen the abdominals, good.

And now pull your legs out of your hips, there you go. Pull your arms to the ceiling, there you go, get quivery, get your legs, now close your legs, lets your arms go and stay there, and then grab your legs, open your legs, breathing, very good, and then lower one leg down, and then the other leg down. Very good. Wooh. (exhales) Spine stretch to open leg rocker-ish feeling.

Now, moving on to reformer exercise, lets look at reformer, I mean, rowing facing front. So we're already in this position. Let me put you on one red spring or blue. What do you want red or blue? Lets go red.

The red is good, okay. So, lets have your legs out long in front, grab your straps here, okay. So you already know, from your previous exercises, do you want handles instead? Nah Just gonna find a comfy position there, now. From the exercise that we just did, spine stretch, you already know right that yeah she kinda got herself a little further back, right.

Yeah, so that's really good. Now again you feel like your leaning way back, but your really not. You'll go back and watch this now. So from here, lets put these straps kinda underneath your arms here. There you go, put em right there on your thumbs.

That's it, good. And then you could almost feel where the straps are on your ribs there. See if you can breath wide and laterally, almost into the straps. Good. Yeah, is that okay on your thumbs like that, just to kinda get this feel here, okay, so.

Press your arms out straight and just pause right there, okay. So this is just spine stretch again arm. So the arms are pushing up. Go ahead and wrap your fingers. Its nice like your gonna give it a little fist, there you go.

So as your arms are pressing forward from your serratus muscle, right, then these ribs have to stay back, yeah, just like that. Feel how active that is in your arms, good. Bend your elbows in and pause. Inhale, arms press away (inhales), exhale pause, grow tall (exhales). Feel my hand right here, good.

Bend your elbows in. So not moving the trunk while the arms are going forward, you feel this flexion force in your trunk, good. Elbows bend in. Now take your hands down on to the mat, mm-hmm. You can switch your hand position now, good.

Now scrape your hands along the mat, spine stretch forward. Reach, good, I'm just gonna guide her hands here. Now, as she comes back, lets see. She knows she has to stay back further than usual. Pull that belly, ribs back, ribs back, ribs back, more more ribs before the head, there you go.

And then bring yourself up and then bend your elbows in. We won't even do the full thing, that's really good. Okay, arms pressed down. So inhale, go forward. So inhale.

Press the arms, that's a big inhale into the ribs (inhales). Exhale, stack up your spine Amy, but your still active in your arms, you still have active arms. Good, I see that, I see that, very good. Ribs back, low ribs back, that's it. Now stack up the trunk, that's it.

Now leave the ribs there as you stack up, you can act like your collarbones are gonna broaden, but don't change your ribs. And then now lets take the arms up in the air, hold. Take the arms back down in front, and then bring the elbows in and we can do a gazillion different variations, but let's just do this first part. So, press down, inhale forward. Exhale, stack your spine, ribs come back first.

There you go, active arms. Feel how strong those arms need to be. Good, now take the arms up to the ceiling, pause. Big lengthen flexion connection here. Now take that position and spine stretch it forward as your ribs and waist pull back, is that good?

Good and then unwind yourself all the way back up. Nice job. Okay. We'll take those away. Come and lie down on your back. So in those flexion connections, we are making a relationship between the rib position and the spine.

Challenging with arms and the straps with the spine stretched forward. So the next logical sequence will be against gravity, right, so kinda like a 100 beat. So we do this exercise all the time. But I'm gonna have you grab the arms and your straps, move your shoulders a little bit away from the bar. I'm gonna put her on four reds, just kidding.

I'm gonna keep her on one red spring, come on in. Now I'm gonna have her keep her knees a little bit further into the chest and if her low spine flexes, that's okay, because what tutorial are we doing? Flexion The flexion. So just having your knees fully into your chest will kind of put your back into flexion. Arms come to the ceiling.

Now, hold the knees into the chest, just pull your arms about half way down your thigh. So there's one red spring on there, is that a good tension for you? Okay, and then come back up. She's moving her arms, not her trunk. And just by moving her arms down, she's feeling the integration between her arm work and the trunk.

Okay, arms come back up and pause. Hold the arms low to the smidge. Okay, lengthen your occiput. Lift your head, look at your knees. Now before you, think curl up, I want you to curl and press your arms simultaneously I'm gonna pull you.

There. Hold. Breathe. Good, and as you lower down, lower your back ribs, still press into the straps, keep your head, keep your head, good, now lower your throat if you will, and then your head. Little bit harder than just loading the arms and then curling the trunk, can you feel that? Just a little bit, okay. So keeping the knees into the chest, I'm not gonna help you now, okay.

So your gonna low your arms, lengthen the occiput, mm-hmm, pull the arms and curl the trunk simul ... yes. Now stay there, breath in back ribs, exhale. Good job, your doing a good job keeping this length in. One more time. Breath in those back ribs, almost like those back ribs are pushing down, and then exhale, lower, stay loaded, lower, there you go.

So it's just as important how you come out, than how you go in. Okay, lets do it one more time. Feet are in, it loads the low spine flexion. Occiput lengthening is also when you say chin to chest, or lift up, but I really want you to think of it as, that occiput coming away from that C7. Its queuing the back body instead of the front body, if you will.

Whoowee! Come on! Come on! There's a little bit more in there, yes, snuggle those back ribs down, feel those back ribs, look at this right here, big inhale (inhales). Big exhale, and then slowly slowly lower yourself all the way down. Very good, nice job. Your welcome. Come on up to kneeling, one more here.

So lets put her in knee stretch position. So again some of these flexion connections ideas just come from clients that get caught up in doing some exercises or classes maybe that happen kind of quickly and sometimes we have to go back and regroup. So nothing takes the place of good, strong foundation. So, hands on the bar, two red springs. Exercise is called knee stretch.

So want the arms to be straight, I want the shoulders to be active. Now, she knows just from this work out that we've been talking about that we've been really paying attention to the position of these back ribs, okay. Posterior lateral ribs. You know if we took the spine out and the skeleton, you'd see that the back ribs, you know, are above the pelvis. So, she's sitting back, she's nice and far, broad shoulders.

Now I'm gonna give a couple different cues here. Resist my hand pushing your head. Feel that connect through the whole front of your body. Right, we've done that before. Now another cue I'd like to give, is to stay there and I'm gonna push the carriage, okay, but don't let me push the carriage.

Feel how that has to, yes, feel how that has to scoop it. Don't let me push it, come on, don't let me push that carriage. Hold it in there, hold it in there, good. And then rest, feel where that. So that's your return, okay.

So I'm gonna touch her head, and have my hand on her sacrum. She's gonna push that carriage out, push push push ... And then resist it in. Come in to the stopper, come in to the stopper, good, sit back, there you go, push out, good. Keep this shape, keep this shape.

Push push push, use that butt, use that butt. Good and then switch to pull. Knees stretch as you feel that in your thighs. Again, push. Nice active arms.

And then sit back, sit back, sit back. Good, double time now. Out switch to in, out switch to in. I'm gonna keep my hand here because that feeds her body something. And she can feel that.

I'm pressing her kinda hard. Good, one more time. You got it, and rest right there. Offset your arms. Flexion connection with a little offset, okay, so that we can feel a little bit of a bleak action here.

Crown of the head, your doing really good with this crown of the head. Can you feel that with the crown of the head? Yeah that's the most. Yeah that is. For her body, when you do it to somebody, woah man, it just made her kinda get all trued up I like to call it, okay.

So feel the crown of the head. So knee stretches again, offset arms. Now you keep doing this. Even though the legs are going back at the parallel angles, I want her to think that she's returning her knees to the right. I just want her to think that she's returning her knees to the right.

Feel the oblique action, anterior Yes Yeah, anterior chain there, good. And then offset your arms there to the other side. (inhales) okay so, yeah ooh, you've got it. Now your thinking, legs pull to the left. Even though their not moving, okay, your just cre...

Yes, now I'm pressing her head and she is really lengthening through these ribs here. Last one, bring it on back, and rest. Nice job! Thank you. Okay so there's some little tidbits, some little ideas, and you can take some of those thoughts of that flexion connection into some other positional things about building a relationship to your body like that, okay. Thank you, thank you very much.

Thank you guys, see you next time.


4 people like this.
I loved this tutorial, i loved your latest reformer class (and all the previous ones)... I'm addicted to your energy, Karen!! And to your teaching style. Thanks a lot :)
2 people like this.
Thank you Karen and Amy that was really great! I like the cueing of lengthening the occiput rather than chin to chest, it really did feel as though there was more length in the back of the neck.
1 person likes this.
i love the way u teach karen, and the precision of cueing. When I look at teachers like u I happily realize I have a lot more to learn, and incredibly this thrills me a lot instead of scaring me. I would reallly love to get that prepared and skilled. (ps forgive my poor english )
1 person likes this.
This was extremely valuable to me as an instructor and a student of Pilates. The cues, both verbal and tactile are something I plan on incorporating in my own practice and teaching. Thank you!
1 person likes this.
Hi Karen, so first I want to say that I loved all of this tutorial. I agree we all need to go back to fundamentals to clean up the movements. Having worked with osteopaths I am now far more aware of people's cervical spines. I also use the cue of the occiput, but if a persons neck is already in too much extension, this cue, can create negative issues, namely headaches, jamming at the OA etc. My point is that we need to teach Instructors to look at people's structure first, and then decide what is the best cue. One cue is not good for all bodies.
I loved the reaching into the crown of the head, and the tactile touch of those back ribs. Thanks so much.
1 person likes this.
Awesome tutorial Karen, you are incredibly good and clear in teaching and giving verbal and tactil cues! Thank you sooooo much, that was brilliant!
1 person likes this.
Kathleen M
1 person likes this.
woo! I'm connected! :D Great tutorial as always Karen.
1 person likes this.
Great tutorial on seeing and feeling all of the connections of flexion. All of the tactile cueing very helpful. Thanks for including the push and pull connection to knee stretch. Felt so much more connected to this exercise. Love your videos Karen Sanzo!
1 person likes this.
Great tutorial and cues, thanks!
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