Sometimes, as you watch a diver pause to become centered just before lifting off, can you feel that moment of readiness in your own body? And as the diver takes off, body in perfect alignment, do you feel that dynamic tension and release in your own body?
Can you feel inside yourself what it would be like to samba like Cheryl Burke or skate like Kristi Yamaguchi? Can you imagine it?
Imagination can make us step outside the routine of our lives and take action to manifest the potential within us. It begins to inform the choices we make. It can lay the groundwork for our success and for our failure.
You can hear it in the way athletes discuss their performances. Winners often say something like, “I saw myself making every move perfectly.” I’ve heard the favorite who didn’t make it say, “I just couldn’t see myself making that last turn cleanly.”
The same rules apply for you and me in our yoga practice. Some of the following stretches serve a dual purpose. All of them increase the strength and flexibility of the neck, which is vital to our ability to drive safely. The final one demonstrates the power of the imagination.
Do this series sitting up tall. No slumping!
Keeping your back straight and shoulders relaxed. Take a deep breath and, as you exhale, drop your chin onto your chest. Breathe deep, full breaths as you pay attention to where you feel the stretch. If you’re not feeling a stretch, press your chin gently into your chest. Send the breath to the stretch and imagine the tension easing with every exhalation.
Inhale and lift your head. Continue to inhale as you gently allow your head to fall back. Keep your mouth closed. Notice where the stretch is now, and send your breath to that area with deep, full breaths. Lift your head back up on an exhalation.
Inhale again with your head vertical. Keep your shoulders level (it’s very easy to let one lift up unconsciously) as you exhale and let your head fall gently to one side. You could do this in front of a mirror the first few times. Breathe to the tension. Lift your head back to vertical on an inhalation. Repeat to the other side.
For the final neck stretch, keep your head vertical and level as you exhale and turn it to one side as far as you can. Keep your shoulders facing forward. Breathe into the stretch. Take note of what is visible directly in front of your eyes. Inhale as you turn to face front again.
Here’s where the imagination kicks in! Close your eyes and without moving a muscle imagine turning your head again in that same direction, only this time you’re able to turn your head all the way around and look at the wall (or painting, or person) directly behind you. In your imagination, turn your head back around to the front. Now, repeat the instructions in the paragraph before this one and see what’s in front of your eyes this time.
Most of us will have turned our heads farther the second time. If it didn’t happen this time, try again tomorrow. Success depends on really imagining, not just thinking about it. Now repeat the whole sequence in the other direction.
Here is an additional exercise to build neck muscles. Hold the two ends of a long scarf, belt or tie in one hand and place the loop around your head at forehead height. Pull gently but firmly away with your hand (left, right, front and back in turn). Resist with your head.
The spirit in me salutes the spirit in you. We’re all in bodies together.