Let me give you some important exercise instructions for neck pull: It is: an abdominal muscle strengthening exercise, a spinal articulation, a hamstring stretch, and a back strengthening exercise. But it is not a neck pull, really.
Neck pull is an advanced classical Pilates exercise that builds on the roll up. For these exercise instructions, we are lucky to have Alisa Wyatt demonstrating for us. I think you will be able to see where the exercise is coming from quite well. Even if you are not at the advanced level, you will still get a lot out of observing Alisa's form. Be sure to see the notes in step 9!.
Start position is on your back with your hands behind your head.
Take a moment to release tension in your hip flexors and feel you whole back-body against the floor.
Let the back of your lower ribs release toward the floor.
Legs can be shoulder distance apart or together. Find out what works best for you. Even if your legs are apart you have to engage the inner thighs and inner hamstrings and connect to your midline.
If your legs are apart, the feet are flexed. This is the way Joseph Pilates shows it in Return to Life. Some people like to work with legs together, feet softly pointed. This position can help you work your midline.
2. Head and Shoulders Curl Up
Inhale: Leave your shoulders down as you lengthen along your spine and out the top of your head as curl your head and shoulders off the mat.
Let your chest be wide but also soften back as you go.
Knit your ribs together in front as you engage your abs to come up.
3. Continue the Curl Up
Exhale: Pull your abs in deeply to continue your roll up.
Notice there is no neck pulling going on here... at least not by the hands. If you think of your head reaching through your shoulders and leading the movement it can have a neck pull feeling - in a good way. Basically, it's all abs allowing the length through the spine and neck.
Your legs are engaged and so is your whole powerhouse. Press the backs of your legs down to the mat, energy through the heels.
(If you have trouble getting up, try a few roll ups with bent knees, feet on the floor and hands assisting behind the thighs)
4. Arc Over Your Legs
Continue the exhale to take your curved spine/lifted abs all the way over your legs.
Make sure your chest has stayed open and your elbows are back
5. Roll to Upright
Inhale: Bring your pelvis back to upright and then begin stacking your spine from the bottom up until you are sitting straight up on your sitbones with your head floating easily on top. Shoulders have stayed down away from your ears the whole time, right?.
6. Optional - lean back
This part is optional. If you feel strong and you are comfortable with the exercise, do it. If the exercise is fairly new to you, skip to step 7.
Continue the inhale and tip back with a flat back, increasing the angle between your thighs and torso beyond 90 degrees. Don't go too far. Control the move and be sure your legs don't fly up.
The point is to lengthen your spine in both directions - connect to the floor and use that to get an amazing lift through your back-body to take you up and back. Don't just lean the upper body back so that your ribs pop open.
Keep the connection down the back of the legs and through the heels.
From the lean back you go into the roll down of step 7.
7. Roll Down
Exhale: Roll your spine down onto the floor.
Think of your low abs first all the way down behind your pubic bone and continue lengthening your spine as you unfurl along the mat.
8. Complete and Repeat
Continue to exhale until you are all the way back to the start position.
Inhale: Repeat the exercise 3 more times.
This exercise is difficult. You can also take a breath cycle or two to collect yourself, find your scapular stability, re-engage with your midline and then repeat the exercise 3 more times.
At this level, the Pilates principles have to be working for you. If you can get the flow of the exercise going with the breath it is going to feel a lot better.
*See the special notes below in step 9.
Alisa Wyatt has contributed wondeful notes on neck pull that she got from the great Pilates master teachers she has studied with: Romana Kryazonowska, Kathy Grant and Jay Grimes - all of whom are Pilates Elders. These notes will definitely enhance your understanding of neck pull exercise - and shed some light on the name! See: Notes on Neck Pull