A - Start with a few Cats (Cat-Cow in American yoga speak). From all fours, hands under shoulders and knees under hips, dip and then arch the whole spine, from the tailbone to the crown of the head. Breathe while you move and notice which way your breath tends to go - are you breathing in while you lift your head or while you curl it? Try it the other way round.
Next, you need to know how to measure 7 seconds. You might say 'One elephant, two elephant...' or 'ONE and-a TWO and-a THREE' or 'One Mississippi...' Most people I teach are at 7 seconds by the time they have four or five elephants. Try it out with an Online timer.
Raise your head so your face stays flat to the ceiling - your point of view doesn't change at all. You just lift a tiny bit - only your head and upper shoulders come up. There's a nice detailed description here. Keep breathing naturally.
|Easiest version for legs and arm- bottom knee down, arm swept overhead|
|Top foot in front of the other makes balance relatively easy|
|Feet stacked and top arm resting is the most challenging|
D - You don't have to have a pilates ball balanced on your back, but it helps to feel the stability you're looking for. As before, keep breathing throughout the exercise, come up for 7 seconds, relax when you bring the knee and arm back down, do 4 of one diagonal before you change to the opposite diagonal. Some people naturally raise the same arm and leg. It's much more difficult to keep the ball balanced, and this isn't the exercise we're doing here.
|Spine what you might call 'flat' or 'neutral' - not dipped or arched|
Once the basic version of this is easy for you, you can work on moving the arm and leg at precisely the same movement and at extending further, but not lifting into an arch - keep the arm and hand on a level.
When you're happy doing 4 on one side and 4 on the other of exercises B, C and D you can add a few more till you do a maximum of 4 and 4, then 2 and 2, then 1 and 1. It's all the 7s - always doing 7 seconds and a maximum of 7 on each side.
Don't do them on tired muscles. Judge when you're pushing it and do them regularly till they're easy. This is not a feel-the-burn thing. This is a happy back thing. The whole thing will take between 10 and 15 minutes, depending how long you rest in between each one.
This little routine was inspired by the work of Stuart McGill and his team. Their work is infinitely more detailed than this little blog post and fascinating. Google around, there's tons out there - here's one place to start: Stuart McGill back exercise pdf.