Neck pull is one of the advanced exercises of the classical Pilates mat sequence. When I wrote the exercise instructions for neck pull, I was very lucky to have the opportunity to take photos of Alisa Wyatt demonstrating the exercise beautifully. After I wrote the instructions for neck pull I sent the piece to Alisa. She was kind enough to write back sharing wonderful insights from her studies with three of our great Pilates masters. Whether you are learning neck pull or teaching it, I'm sure you will appreciate these notes.
From Alisa Wyatt: Here are my notes from training with Romana [Kryzanowska], Jay Grimes, and Kathy Grant:
Romana used to say, "Place your hands at the base of your skull and use them to pull your head out of your body, like a champagne cork out of the bottle." She would also say, "Press your head into your hands and vice-verse so they work together to pull your spine long and fix your necks! Keep pressing as you roll down & up!" Jay talks about the way the pulling the neck long with the hands gives the spinal vertebra space so that you can achieve the 2 way stretch. While the heels are reaching away, the hands are helping to pull the head the other way.
When Jay assists me in this exercise, he always uses the strap over my feet and gets behind me to push as I go forward so I get a full stretch with my head between my knees (that's the reason for the legs hip distance apart). Then he presses his knees into my upper back and pulls my body tall by grasping under my armpits--this lifts your back up in the most wonderful stretch. Then, he presses one hand on top of my head, steps out of the way and presses the other fist into my abdomen as I roll down. The hand on top of the head is really key to the 2 way stretch and is quite vigorous but feels great as you push your spine long into it.
Kathy would stand next to me and have me hold the curl in the places I am weak while pressing my head into my hands and lengthening--torture! Jay and Romana both say the neck exercises come from Joe's [Joseph Pilates] boxing experience. Boxers must have a very strong neck to withstand the whiplash of getting hit. Finally, Jay says that Joe always used a strap over the feet so you can pull against it and engage the whole body--you only come up as far as you can keep the strap taught. With or without the strap, it's important to press the heels and legs down into the mat.
Thank you, Alisa!
Alisa Wyatt is a highly respected Pilates instructor and teacher of teachers. She has published beginner, intermediate, and advanced classical Pilates mat exercise DVDs. Her website is AlisaWyatt.com.
See Alisa Demonstrate the Full Neck Pull Exercise