After I worked with the trauma exercises a few times exactly as they’re described in Berceli’s Trauma Release Process (see previous post) I wasn’t too keen on the warm-up exercises. The first six exercises are basically to fatigue the muscles so that it’s easier to get them to release. They’re also pretty tough on the quads and REALLY hard on the knees. Initially I thought I’d just give the same instructions I’d give my students for modifying those.
But I’ve been working with muscles and movement for nearly three decades so I know there are other ways to get muscles ready to release. I started experimenting with a couple of different lead-ins to the release exercise itself. First I tried a series of yoga poses that I do regularly that deeply stretch a lot of muscles in the thighs and groin as well as fatigue the quads. When I shifted to Berceli’s seventh exercise–the release piece–I had a huge release on the first two inch lift where the previous times I only experienced some quivering in the first two levels.
Next I tried doing the hip release work from my Robert Masters-based movement work and then some yoga and psoas stretches. Again, enormous release right from the beginning of the release process. Instructions for these releases are in my booklet, Restoring Fluidity and Freedom of Movement.
I thought I’d give you two different yoga series to use as warm-ups for the release. If anyone really wants my modifications to the original series I’ll provide them in another post. Various poses are known by more than one name in different traditions and over time I’ve just made up names for some so don’t worry if you recognize some of these as having a different name. Instructions for the release itself are below the two sets of yoga poses.
Modified Chair Pose
I don’t recommend this if you have knee issues. Stand with your legs and feet together. On an inhale, bend your knees and lift your arms straight out from your shoulders with your wrists bent so that your palms are facing outward and your fingertips point to the ceiling. Don’t bend your legs any farther than your place of comfort. While you hold continue deep breathing. Start with just a few breaths and try to work up to holding 20-25 long deep breaths. Take as much time as you need to increase the hold — months if necessary. If you feel any pulling or discomfort in your knees discontinue.
Downward Dog variation
Get on the floor on hands and knees. Plant your hands firmly and make sure that the pressure on your palms is extending to the top of the palms (just below the fingers). Once you get into the pose keep checking the pressure — if you rest on the base of your palms you’ll overextend your wrists. Once your palms are set, inhale and then on an exhalation lift your hips toward the ceiling. Make sure that your back is straight and long.
Do not lift your shoulders toward your ears — keep them down so that your neck is long and free. Bring your heels as close to the floor as you comfortably can without forcing and then lift your right foot and wrap it around your left calf/ankle. Continue long deep breathing. Start with about four deep breaths and over time work up to 20-25. After four breaths bring the right foot down and lift the left foot and wrap around right calf/ankle. Hold four breaths (working up to 20-25).
Prayer to Cobra
When you complete the second side on downward dog, come down into prayer/extended child’s pose. Your bottom should be on your heels. Bend forward from the hips and bring your head as close to the floor as you comfortably can. If your hamstrings or low back are tight, try folding a blanket or getting a bolster to place behind your knees so that you can rest instead of tightening your legs to hold the pose. Stretch your arms out on the floor in front of you, extending as far as you can. Take a couple of breaths in this pose. Then on an inhalation slide your nose forward along the floor and push up into cobra pose when your head is between your hands. When you exhale bring your nose back down to the floor and slide back into prayer pose. If you’re using a bolster and it moves, just don’t go all the way into prayer pose. Start out doing just three or four. If you can, work up to 12-15. If you’re not familiar with these poses or the movement isn’t comfortable, do just a cobra or a camel pose as your backbend.
Side Umbrella Pose
Stand with your feet about three feet apart. Turn your left foot so your toes are pointing out to the side. Angle your right foot toward your left at about a 45 degree angle. The heel of your left foot should be pointing toward the arch of your right foot. Turn your torso to face the left leg. Clasp your hands behind your back. Inhale and stretch upward so your back is nice and long. As you exhale bend forward from the hips. Keep your back straight for as long as you can. The ultimate aim is to bring your face down to your knee/lower thigh (and your back won’t be as straight) but do NOT go any farther over than you can go with comfort. When you’ve bent as far as you comfortably can hold for a second and check your balance. If you feel secure, lift your clasped hands and try to bring your arms up and over your head. For many people it takes a long time to get anywhere near the full pose. It’s worth practicing because it is a fabulous stretch for the low back, hamstrings and pecs. However far you can go into it to begin with you WILL be getting some stretch and that’s what will help the muscles open. Hold for 4-12 breaths (start low, work up). On an inhale feel as if a pulley from the ceiling is lifting your hands and let your whole body glide up. Turn your feet to face front and then change to the other side and repeat all.
Wide-leg Table Pose
When you complete the Umbrella, turn your feet back to face front and walk them out, heel, toe, heel, toe as far as you comfortably can and/or until you have a good stretch on your inner thigh. Inhale to a straight back and exhale, bending forward from the hips. Place your hands on the floor so that your back is flat and parallel to the floor and your arms are like the legs of a table. Start out holding for about 4 deep breaths. Over time try to extend until you can hold for 15-20 long, deep breaths. Do not stretch beyond your comfort zone and do not hold too long. To come out, walk your feet in, heels, toes, heels, toes until you can comfortably bend your knees and roll up.
Standing/Moving Forward Bend
Stand with your feet a few inches apart. Make sure you’re well balanced on your feet. Inhale and straighten, stretching your spine long. Exhale and bend forward from the hips, keeping your back straight. There are several levels at which you may do this one, depending on your flexibility. For the most flexible, bend all the way down and grab your big toes; keep your legs straight. On the next inhalation, straighten your arms while still holding your toes and lift your head. On the exhale, grab behind your ankles and pull your chest as close to your thighs as possible, head down. When you inhale, grab your toes and lift your head again. Continue this movement pattern with the breath. Begin doing four and work up to do 15 reps. If you’re less flexible, you may have your hands on your shins or on your knees instead of holding your toes. If necessary have your knees bent (but try to keep legs straight). When you inhale keep your hands on your knees or shins and straighten your arms and lift your head. When you exhale, grab behind your knees or shins and pull yourself down as far as you can go with comfort. Continue this movement pattern with the breath. Begin doing four and work up to do 15 reps.
This group of poses have been my saving grace for tight, out-of-balance hips and psoas. I know they open that whole area so I wasn’t surprised when they turned out to be great triggers for the release.
Sit on the floor with the soles of your feet together, your hands holding your feet together and the outsides of your thighs facing or on the floor. Push your knees down as close to the floor as you comfortably can. If your inner thighs are already screaming, lift your knees a little higher. Make sure your spine stays straight and if that means you need to lift your knees a bit more, lift them — always take care of that spine. If this position is as much as you can take, just sit like this and breathe deep. If you can take a bit more, bend forward from the hips keeping a straight back and place your elbows on your inner shins, adding a little pressure to stretch the inner thigh a bit more. If that’s as much as you can take, stay there and breathe deeply. If you have a lot of flexibility keep the pressure from your elbows and continue bending forward to bring your head as close to the floor as you comfortably can. Wherever your stop, take long deep breaths and hold for at least four. Over time work up to hold for 10-12 breaths.
Eye of the Needle (for hips)
Lie on your back with your knees bent and your feet flat on the floor. Raise your right leg and place your lower leg sideways across your left thigh just above the left knee. You should now have a big triangular hole between your legs. Put your right hand through that hole and grab behind your left knee. Put your left arm around the outside of your left thigh and grab behind the left knee. If your hips are really tight you might need to just stay here. If you can, lift your left foot off the floor and bring your legs a little closer to your chest. At the same time press outward with your right elbow on the inside of your right leg. If that’s as much as you can take, stay there. If you can go farther, lift your shoulders and head and with your hands pull the left leg closer to your chest. Wherever you need to stop, hold and breathe deeply. Start with four breaths. Work up over time to doing 8-10. Switch sides, left lower leg across right thigh, left hand through the hole to grab behind right knee, etc.
This one is a little more demanding for the hips. If they’re really tight, stick with the previous pose until you’ve loosened up. Sit on the floor as if you were going to sit cross-legged and stack your lower legs so that your right lower leg is directly on top of your left lower leg. If necessary let the knee of the top leg lift but if you can, keep your knees down. If this position is already stretching your hips as much as you can take, stay like this. If you can do a little more, inhale to a straight spine and exhale bending slightly forward from your hips. Place your hands in front of you on the floor. Stay there if that’s your maximum stretch. If not, continue bending forward to bring your head toward the floor. If you can go all the way over, rest your head on your hands on the floor in front of your shins. Where ever you stop, breathe deeply. On each exhalation try to stretch a little more. Hold for 4-6 breaths. Over time try to extend the hold for 8-12 breaths. Inhale back up. Switch legs so that your left lower leg is on top. One side will usually be tighter than the other so don’t be surprised if you can go more deeply into this on one side than the other.
Unless you have pretty flexible hips and pretty good knees, either skip this one or do the easier variation below. Sit on the floor and place your right foot as high up on your left thigh as you can get it. Then put your left foot as high up on your right thigh as you can get it. Place your arms behind you and slowly start to lie back. Then bend your arms and rest on your elbows. If that’s as far back as you can go, stay there. Otherwise, continue back until you are lying all the way down with your legs still in lotus pose. Hold for four breaths. As you practice, expand to 15-20 breaths. Inhale as you use your arms to assist you in sitting back up. Switch the legs so your right leg is now cross on top of your left and repeat all. To modify, bend your right leg and place on the floor as if you’re about to sit cross-legged– outer thigh facing down, right foot on the floor, aiming toward the general vicinity of your left hip. Bend your left leg and place the foot on your right thigh as high up as you comfortably can. Go through the same slow process of lying back in stages. Check in at each stage to see if you need to just stop. If you can, lie back on the floor. Same breathing instructions. Inhale slowly up with an assist from your arms. Change sides and repeat.
I also generally add a lunge pose variation that’s much like what I learned as Half Cobra only without raising the arms. I also do a pigeon pose series that has about four different positions. I don’t want to try to explain it with only words and I don’t have pictures, so do these if you know them, don’t worry about it otherwise.
I recommend that you buy Berceli’s book and use his photos to assist in doing this piece.
When you complete the warm-ups (one or the other or both of the series above), sit on the floor in the opening position of cobbler’s pose (see above) and then lie back in a reclining cobbler’s pose (you can do a search and easily find pictures of what this one looks like). Hold for a few breaths and let the muscles relax. Your arms can be wherever they’re comfortable; resting on your stomach, over your head or at your sides. Then lift your pelvis about two inches off the floor and hold in that position (soles of feet still together, knees still open to the sides) for a minute. Then lower back down and lie in reclining cobbler’s pose for another minute. Sometimes I stay here a bit longer as it really helps some of those muscles release. Your legs may begin to quiver. Let them.
Next, raise your knees about two inches and hold in that position for two minutes. This is the point at which I start getting some big releases when I do the yoga poses first instead of his warm-ups. With his warm-ups there’s more quivering at this stage.
Bring your knees another two inches higher. Hold. Let any quivering, shaking, etc. keep going. If there are any releases let it continue. When the release stops or after two minutes of quivering, bring your knees two inches higher. Stay there and allow the quivering, shaking, etc. to go on as long as you can. If you need to, stretch your legs out on the floor to rest before continuing or at any point when you feel tired.
Place the soles of your feet flat on the floor and have your knees somewhat apart. The quivering should begin again pretty quickly. Let the shaking move on up into your pelvis, low back, shoulders, etc. Sometimes my head and arms also start moving around. Allow this to continue as long as you can; even 15 minutes or beyond. If you’re body is feeling fatigued, stop at any point. With the warm-ups I’ve been doing, I actually have releases in other areas of my body starting with the first two inch raise of my knees.