The most basic of Somatic movements is the Arch and Relaxation. The Arch and Relaxation movement brings awareness to the lower back muscles and teaches your brain how to release its hold over those muscles.
When the back is constantly in an arched position or has been overworked through exercise, gardening, or any number of activities, we can be left with very tight back muscles which leaves us guarding the area to prevent further tension. When this guarding happens the center of the body loses its freedom of movement.
To undo this tension, lie on your back with your knees bent, feet about hip width apart. Having the knees bent lowers the back closer to the mat. With your hands on your belly, take a deep breath and feel your hands rising. A deep, belly breath. As you inhale, push the breath further down to expand your belly and allow the pelvis to roll naturally down toward the tailbone. As you roll down, feel the lower back lifting up, slightly arching up off the mat, and contracting the back muscles slightly. As you exhale, let the back melt back down to the mat, releasing and lengthening. Inhale, arch, feel the contraction of the back, exhale and relax back down, letting the back release and relax.
Once you can feel the back releasing, modify the movement to Arch and Flatten. Begin the same, by inhaling and arching, but now, as you exhale, contract the muscles in the front of the body, the abdominals. Flatten the back to the mat and allow the pelvis to tilt up, lifting the tail bone off the mat. Allow the chin to go along with the movement and notice how it naturally follows. . As you inhale and arch, the pelvis rolls down toward the tailbone, your chin will drop down toward your chest. As you exhale and flatten, let the pelvis roll up as the back flattens and the belly drops. The chin will lift up toward the ceiling.
Illustration by Jordan Wieben www.jordanwieben.com
If your back is very sore, you will want to keep the movement small to start. Even imagining the movement and the contracting and releasing of the muscles, as you lie on the floor with your knees bent, will begin to train the brain to soften those areas of constant tension. By increasing your awareness you can rewire your brain for freedom of movement!
Imagine how freeing the center of the body will improve your riding. The center of the body is the shock absorber to the motion of the horse. When the center is tight it will relay tightness to the extremities, the hands and shoulders, as well as the legs and ankles. This tightness will then transfer to the horse.
These simple movements, when done slowly and mindfully, will begin to undo the muscle tensions of the lower back. Muscle tensions that can keep us in the "green light" pattern, as I mentioned in a previous blog post.