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Section 4: Zig Zag Shoulders

Zig Zag Shoulders is a short somatic movement sequence that is quite versatile. It can be done on the floor, sitting, or standing with knees slightly bent, and I’ve included some variations to explore, adding different hand positions, hip hikers, and 2 different head patterns to use. You might include it in a class that focuses on ribs, breathing, neck issues, or TR reflex.

To turn it into a hands-on technique is easy, as shown. You can use this hands-on move to quickly give some attention to TR reflex at the end of a Les 3 or other session when it is needed. Let me know how you use it and what results you get! We offer it to our students in the ES clinical training in module 3.

Ok, full discloser, I am a zig zag shoulders junkie! If my spine and ribs are feeling a bit jammed up after the stress of travel, I beg a colleague to give me this brief treatment, and it gives instant relief!


Zig Zag shoulders somatic movement:

On back, knees bent, arms laying by your side. Palms down to floor, if that's comfortable. Shrug your R shoulder towards the ear along floor, as you reach down along the floor with the L hand, taking the L shoulder down with it.

Reverse back and forth, and breath into the expanded side of the ribs several repeats. Notice how the hips hike/pull down in response. Now exhale as you contract the side that is reaching down.

Head patterns:
A. Let the head incline, roll towards the down-reaching arm/shoulder, so that the neck and spine go with the shoulder movement, "tasseling" the head on the spine
B. Gently incline the head towards the up shrugging shoulder.

The above movement translates beautifully to both a sitting and a standing version. Try standing with knees slightly bent, so the pelvis can respond easily to the side contraction.


Hands-on version for the "A" head pattern:

Place your R hand on the client/student's R shoulder, and L hand (actually 2 fingers works well) hooked under their L armpit. Give a gentle feedback/resistance as they pull down with their L arm, or shrug up with their R shoulder, one at a time, then do both together as shown.



Hands-on version for the "B" head pattern:

Place your L hand on the R side of their head, to give feedback the inclining head, and the shrugging shoulder, as shown.


Note for hands-on feedback:

If you are not trained in regards to the hands-on technique, pandiculation, or are new to this skill, here are some guidelines. You are offering very gentle resistance to your client's contraction, whatever movement it is, just enough to help their brain find the sensation. As they begin their slow, mindful, controlled release, stick with them, and gently "chase" the lengthening phase with your touch, and listen carefully for their natural ending point. Avoid pushing past that which will likely trigger their stretch reflex, and not give you the results that you're looking for.

If you have ideas to share, links for useful reading, or questions you would like me to address, please suggest same!  [email protected]

Take good care of yourself with your somatic skills, do good work, and I'll see you next time.

Laura Gates



Thanks to Ken Bridgeman CHSE for inviting me to write this, and for his input; to Colm McDonnell CCSE, my Essential Somatics (ES) teaching team mate, and to Elise Watkins, one of our ES clinical students in training in Edmonton, Canada. Elise is a former certified Schroth practitioner, and her suggestions from a scientific background and knowledge were so helpful!  


Laura M Gates, CHSE, CCSE was trained in clinical somatics at SSI (Somatics Systems Institute) and certitifed by SSI and Novato Institute in 2007. She is a former professional dancer, teacher, and holds an MFA from Bennington College. Her studies include kinesthetic anatomy with master teacher Irene Dowd in NYC. She currently serves on the international teaching team with Essential Somatics LLC for clinical trainings, and ESMTT (Essential Somatic Movement Teacher Training). She teaches her scoliosis focus workshops at various locations throughout the year.

Lauramgates.com   [email protected]


A bonus movement exercise from a presentation on scoliosis Laura Gates offered at the 2011 AHSE Convention: