Exercise & Movements That Inhibit the Symmetrical Tonic Neck Reflex

Baby on the floor

Every baby is born with primitive reflexes. The symmetrical tonic neck reflex (STNF) is visible between 6 and 9 months of age. The STNF helps the baby rise up to his hands and knees and prepares him for crawling. Progressing through different reflexes is essential for nervous system and muscle system development. The STNF should disappear by 12 months of age. People who still exhibit the STNF after that time can experience poor core muscle tone, poor hand-eye coordination, slumped sitting posture and an inability to sit and concentrate.


The STNF helps the infant to work the muscles of the upper half of the body independently from the lower half of the body. The reflex has a flexion component and an extension component. When the head is in flexion, the arms bend and the legs extend. When the head is in extension, the arms extend and the legs flex. A primitive reflex is considered retained if it is present in an older individual. If the STNF is retained, the child may "bear walk" on his hands and feet instead of crawling on his hands and knees, scoot on his back or skip crawling altogether. Exercises that simulate normal rhythmic movements of an infant can inhibit retained primitive reflexes.

The Stretching Cat Exercise

The stretching cat exercise is also known as child pose in yoga. First, begin on hands and knees. Then, slowly sit back on the knees. The arms should be straight with the head on the floor. Hold for 10 seconds. While inhaling, return to the starting position. This should be completed 10 to 20 times per day.

The Cat and the Cow Exercise

The cat and the cow exercise is also an exercise common to yoga practitioners. The person begins on his hands and knees. While extending the head and neck, he arches his back downward so that the stomach hangs down. Hold the position for 10 seconds. Then, flex the neck so that the chin comes to the chest. Meanwhile, arch the back upward like a cat. Hold the position for 10 seconds. The exercise should be done 10 to 20 times per day.

The Cross-Crawl Exercise

This exercise simulates the movement of a child while crawling. Begin on the floor on the hands and knees. Keep the head and neck extended as if looking forward on the horizon. Then, raise the left arm straight forward and the right leg straight backward. The arm, body and leg should form a straight line. Hold for 10 seconds. Return to the starting position. Repeat the movement using the right arm and the left leg. Complete 10 to 20 times per day.