Archive for balance

Centering Ones Self

Centering-Centrate-Centralize

In posture and activity, stabilizing and or moving from and into a center point can be great feedback.  You start noticing what is your attitude of your body, breath/prana, and your mind.  Where do you stand or sit from?  Where do you move from and into in your life?  What are the effects of the postures we take–both physically and mentally?  How could we organize our postures of our body, breath/energy and our mind?

It is this latter question we wish to speak of at this time.  The other ones are of great interest also and we will allude to them as well.

Coming to this center means finding a balance point within these three systems of the:

  • Body System
  • Breath or Pranic or Energy System
  • Mind System

Body System

Let’s look at posture.  Sitting posture is one place to start.  Sitting for meditation is a great place to start.  To sit well can be a lifetime endeavor.  As you will see or know, all these systems (body, breath and mind) relate closely to each other.  So only for convenience are we separating them out here.

Sit with the head neck and trunk straight.  This is a popular guideline in meditation.  On this site there is an outline (here) for how to arrange the body to sit.  We will not go through that detail but add some other points and emphasize some previous points.

Center All Spinal Junctions

  1. Where the head meets the top of the neck (O-A joint)
  2. Where the bottom of the neck meets the upper back (Cervico-thoracic joint)
  3. Where the bottom of the rib spine meets the top of the low back spine (thoraco-lumbar joint)
  4. Where the bottom of the low back spine meets the sacrum or pelvis (lumbo-sacral joint)

Let’s pick one of the above areas to talk about a bit more.  The thoraco-lumbar joint on many people who try to sit erect or even stand erect is often not placed in the center of its excursion/range. or of it’s tone.  Often I see many people place this area in to much extension.  That means we are leaning backwards too much from this area.  Leaning backwards is part of not leaning forwards.  It is just that this T/L junction placed into too much backward or extension movement.

To understand or appreciate this over extension of the T/L junction we need to see this over effort as a compensation.  It is usually in part taking place in the adjacent areas above and or below.  That means the rib spine or Thoracic spine is too forward or flexed.  The same can be true of the waist spine or lumbar spine (it can be too forward or flexed).

The effort at straightening up in sitting  in this example is just taking some common postural dysfunctions in order to elucidate the issue of centrating the junctional areas of the spine.

This over extended T/L junction causes tension and impedes normal tonic flow of information both grossly and subtly.  This means it is crimping this area like you would crimp a garden hose–it interrupts the flow along the spine.  (whether we talk about a facilitated/inhibited vertebral segment or talk about impeding pranic flow–in principal they are coming from the same problem–postural imbalance of not centering properly)

How to center at the T/L junction

Easiest way to come to center is to first explore the two ends.  So sitting like the above is moving the T/L too far forward–flexing too much and relaxing or over stretching the posterior elements, tsk, tsk.  You are trying to arrive at something in between after you literally flex and extend this area.  You can see that extending at the T/L junction allows one to nicely lift the chest.  If the thoracic spine is stiff and bent a bit forward in flexion, then lifting the chest at this area is a compensation for a problem above. (a dysfunctional compensation for many)

So as you explore moving in flexion and extension at the T/L, make the movement excursion smaller and smaller.  Find this in-between place.  Check the lower ribs that meet the belly to see that they are not lifting nor depressing.  The erecting of the trunk comes from the anterior rotation of the pelvis and less activity of the  lumbar lordosis than many perform.  The centering of the T/L junction is supported by activation of the belly.  The front lower ribs and the front of the pelvis maintain the upper trunk from leaning backward at this junction.

The belly is not rock hard.  Proper diaphragmatic breathing continues and is a check that the belly tone is just right.  If you are breathing only in the belly like an infant, then you are not breathing efficiently.  (Belly breathing is a good first start vs chest breathing.  It is only a starting point, not an end point.  Get instruction if needed.)  Breathing now should be felt more three dimensional.  The belly in proper tone that helps centrate the T/L junction, allows the breath on inhalation to expand laterally and slightly posteriorly.

This centrating or centering the T/L junction often places people with a forward head posture in an exaggeration of their postural dysfunction/problem.  Also many people with a forward head over extend the T/L junction as their compensation.  Then when they try to correct the forward head they over lengthen their O-A junction, by incorrectly doing the turtle movement or head retraction to stand tall.  (isolated cueing without respecting the pattern of compensations is a recipe for failure and adding tensions in order to be correct, which in this case is incorrect.)

Weight of the body is placed through or slightly anterior of the hip joint axis

Most people sit straight with the too much activity of their muscles along the spine, the paraspinals.  First let the weight go through the pelvis with a properly rotated pelvis (slightly forward) and ones normal lumbar lordosis (similar to in standing).  Allow the hip joint to be flexed while the lumbars are in their normal lordosis.  The sacrum is also anteriorly nutated.  (meaning that the lower lumbar spinal segments are supported in extension because the base of the sacrum, the top, is slightly forward.)   This hip position will automatically activate the hip extensors, slightly.   Also the hip flexors are involved in stabilizing the spine.  There is a symphony of balancing activities going on here.   Some of which we have a better idea than of others.  (probably there is more to say and these things said will be revised over time.)  Here the hip extensors are acting eccentrically in a tonic fashion.  (meaning that you are not extending the hip per se but you are using these muscles to control flexion–eccentrics are lengthening contractions, like when you do a push up and lower your body your elbow extensors are controlling the elbow flexion activity vs extending the elbow at that time.)

Breath, Energy or Pranic System

In Yoga the Pranic System is more familiar.  It is often misunderstood.  The breath is on a continuum.  There is gross breath that everyone knows.  Then there is subtle breath.  We now get into “weird” territory for many.  One thing to think about is if you have a dead body and try to just push air into it there is no effect for life.  It does move the chest up and down, but that seems to be it.  There is a life that is carried by the breath, that yoga speaks to as the prana.  Other systems talk about the chi.  What ever you call it the Yogis have spent a long time (thousands of years) in refining and teaching it.

One starts with the breath and establishing diaphragmatic breathing.  There will be a separate post on this later.

There are junctions in the pranic system, just like there are junctions in the physical system.  (imagine that)  These junctions are described with the terms of chakras and marma points.  (as well as other designations)   Just think of them as meeting places of energies of a more subtle nature.  (meaning of subtle here is just a descriptor of less easily noticed, that’s all)

Bandhas and Mudras

In yoga, one way we learn more about the pranic system is through practices of the Bandhas and Mudras.  They are simply a way of channeling these energies.  They have strong effects on the neurological system.  A common Bandha is Moola Bandha.  At the gross level it is tensing of the anal and pelvic sphincters.  It is interesting to note that more and more people are utilizing the pelvic floor activity in functional movement training and diagnostics.  It is a area that is included in describing musculoskeletal coordination in ontogenesis of children or child development.

This means that proper stabilization of various movement patterns have this activity of the pelvic floor being recognized now in mainstream function.  Well the yogis have refined it to a great detail.  I don’t say I understand it completely in that way.  It is just an experience which I wish to share.

When sitting for meditation we will activate this Moola Bandha.  Also the Khechari Mudra (tongue lock) is utilized.   Another Bandha that is helpful is activation of Uddiyana Bandha (stomach lock).  These bindings/redirecting of energies will not be technically taught here.  There are some erroneous claims and methods of applying them.  I only wish to mention another way of working with them once you have some basic experience with them.

Method of working with Bandhas and Mudras

In order to make ones posture steady and stable–and absolutely still these methods will compliment your postural work of coming to center more deeply.  You will be using these Mudras and Bandhas to align your centers and use these energy centers to align and centralize yourself.

  1. Activate the centers with the traditional practices of learning the above mentioned Mudras and Bandhas
  2. Next subtle activate these same Bandhas and Mudras.  This means that in the first step you grossly contracted the muscles and felt and saw the effects.  This second step is were there is only a slight activation that would be barely noticed.  You practice at this level until you feel it easily.
  3. Next you make it more subtle.  There is no perceived body activation now, there is only the sensation of the area within the mind.  It is as if the mind’s awareness becomes activated in that area, which actually is felt as calmness and great stability there.
  4. Next you will find that these Bandhas and Mudras will seemingly spontaneously activate.   You will experience a deep stillness and sharper focus inward.  The outside focus of sensations and thoughts, etc just subsides.

Mind System

Bring the mind to it’s center.  Easier said than done.  To stabilize the mind and bring it towards it’s center we withdraw it from the outside and bring it inside.

  1. First get your minds attention
  2. Second withdraw the mind from the outside sensory input–we do this by quieting the body through relaxing it.
  3. Use the Breath as described above
  4. Increase ones breath awareness with further refinements
  5. Increase the minds focus with sound like a mantra as replacement for the thoughts that just percolate into our awareness
  6. Then slowly shift to observing even the mind as it watches this breath and sound and thoughts that arise
  7. Slowly expand your capacity to remain in this place of observing the mind’s focus
  8. Slowly as you further deepen this state of observing, you will at times loose the focus of the mind
  9. You will enter into a deeper stillness and silence
  10. This stillness can be expanded all on it’s own
  11. At some point there is just nothing
  12. Not sure what continues as one holds or is held in this later step

I have an inkling that there are connections between many of these levels.  These connections are not linear or incrementally progressive.  You can fall in and out of them in both directions.  That is why slowly training the mind in an incremental way is so important.  Otherwise it’s like a chutes and ladder game then–it’s good sometimes and then no good other times.  This change is a part of the journey.  Is it always?

As they say come to that center and find out.  Also enjoy the comings and goings.  Life certainly can be such a drama.  We can over do it and under do it.  This center can create stability and life which is lived as we are.  Lived both from the inside and outside.  Such fun stuff this life stuff.

OK, now let’s go practice.

Strong Posture

Stability in Movement

Ability to maintain your structure in balance with ease and grace.  Look at the picture of a Mountain woman.  See the ease of alignment in this snapshot of posture.  Note that the posture is not static.  It allows for efficient organization for a task–whether it be active or passive in nature.

Posture is not holding a position.  Posture is a recognition of stability that can be expressed statically or in movement. The different factors that go into posture can be easily perceived from first looking at a static arrangement.  A posture that is easeful, graceful and efficient is strong.

Elements of a Strong Posture

  • Proper alignment of the structure
  • A balance of weight and forces efficiently throughout the structural arrangement
  • Balance of the facilitation and inhibition of the neuromusculoskeletal system
  • Allows for ease of multi-directional movements
  • Breathing
  • Leads towards a pleasant mindedness

Proper Alignment

There are many excellent models to demonstrate this integration of the structure in space.  The body can be looked at as an assembly of parts that we place in a certain relationship with the adjacent part.  This reduction of the structure to parts has advantages for ease of learning.  One of it’s main disadvantages is one is often left with trying to do and hold a particular alignment.  Again not always bad, just incomplete if one stops with the postural process at this point.

So keep all the parts aligned–OK.  Well first of all we all are a bit different.  Our structures have limitations in range of motion or flexibility.  So keeping your head with chin tucked and your chest up can be a problem for some.  If you have a flexed thoracic or chest spine that is rounded forward, you attempt to move the chest UP, can lead to increasing your lower back to thoraco-lumbar backward bending curve.

This pattern of our individual differences can and does lead to increased mal-alignment vs improved alignment.   These compensations we all make are often unnoticed.  They are silent in our sense of our posture.  If we have an experienced practitioner with us they can point this out.  Sometimes a telling view of (unknown) tagged photo, reveals these postural mis-alignments.

Our ability to feel is often more limited to our ability to see.  (Not true for all).  So seeing it helps.  Having a skillful eye give us feedback can be very revealing.

Also training our sensory positional and movement feedback system becomes integral.  One way to aid in this training is to start appreciating where you feel weight throughout the different areas of the body.

Balance of Weight and Force

Actually we start with developing a feeling sense of where the body is aligned.  The above sense of alignment is based on seeing our alignment usually.  This next aspect is complimentary and uses not the visual sense but this ability to sense weight and pressure.

Often we can start at the feet.  Always start with a question also.

Where do you feel the weight on your feet as are standing?

Do you feel more weight on the front or back of the foot–or is it even feeling?

Now for background on this section–it is important to notice that the question is on what you FEEL, not on what you Think you feel or just notice what your mind in your head would estimate, etc.  This discrimination of feeling vs thinking/knowing, can be actually hard for some people to distinguish.  They haven’t paid attention to what they feel in weight or pressure or force for a long time.  Their response is on what they think it should be.

Also when someone says they feel the weight evenly on their feet–you might observe that they are leaning backwards more and have more weight on their heels and very little on the front of their feet.  Are they wrong in what they said?

Absolutely not!  That is important to understand.  The question asked above was based on what they felt.  It was not based on what they are doing.  Do you see the difference here?  Intellectually I am sure you do.  As we work together I find that many do not really “get” the difference.  It is important to understand this distinction between knowing and feeling of weight when we are trying to develop greater and broader ways of sensing.

Remember doing is based on feeling/sensing information.  You can not button your clothing or zip your zipper if your finger tips have been numbed from the freezing cold.  Do you remember how fumbling your actions were then?

OK.  This training of posture is more than just standing tall or lengthening, etc.  There is as much training here as with any skill acquisition.  It can be made simple at first.  In relearning it doesn’t have to become laborious.  But in teaching it well you would be served well by knowing and feeling all these aspects that underlie sensing, learning and doing for creating strong yet dynamic postures.

Balance of Neuromuscular Facilitation and Inhibition

This can be a very long section.  Let me give a simple example of what I mean here.  In classes I teach, I will look for someone who stands in a classic sway back and has more of their weight obviously on their rear foot.  We will go through the above section of feeling weight, etc.

Next I will simple muscle test their elbow flexors as a group in standing.  Their elbow flexors 99/100 times test weak in their sway back and back weighted position.  Then simple manually help them stand in an easy neutral.  So there isn’t an extension pattern bias in their posture.  Retesting their elbow flexion results in demonstrably stronger elbow flexors.  Wow it seems like magic.  It is amazing every time.  The flexors are suddenly stronger.  Why?  I propose that the extension pattern in their first stance was inhibiting their flexors.  Simply balancing out this inhibition of the flexors through postural readjustment allowed more normal function of these same flexors.  No weeks of strength training needed.

This balancing of facilitation and inhibition patterns exist throughout posture and movement.  A lot of positive training changes can be accounted for from this model and this type of work.

Ease of Movement in Multiple Planes

When working to improve posture we must look at how it functions in movement.  Often when I just correct someones posture, they do it by holding something more.  They are trying to just do it better.  Standing better in the above example often is demonstrated by being stiff in ones posture.

If posture is looked at as a transition between movements, then we can become less stiff quickly.  If we have a forward head position.  Say we just correct it my doing that popular turtle movement of retracting the head and neck.  Well there are many things to feel in this relationship.  We will not cover the method of helping someone with a forward head posture per se at this time.

The idea is not in the simplistic and isolated cue of correction.  I want you to focus on how easy it can be to make these corrections if thinking about movement.  Now you have simply placed the head more over the upper back.  (I know this is artificial without addressing the other relationships–but bear with me, thanks).  Ask them to move the head by turning to look left and right.  Again work on this isolated cue of correcting the posture, but just add movement and then posture.  Repeat the posture with the movement.  Slowly or quickly sometimes the posture will become more easily repositioned without the previous stiffness.

There are many other ways of working with posture and movement together.  It becomes more dynamic.  I’m sure many are doing this combination.  It just can be refined more and more with all of these points together.

Breathing

This is a key in life.  Right?  Not only because if you don’t–then you can’t (continue life).  But breath here helps coordinate all the aspects of the bodies reflex mechanisms with the voluntary mechanisms.  There is much to say about breath.   The most important is to establish normal diaphragmatic breathing rhythms in the new postures.  If you can breath well you can do well.  You will even be more sensitive in what you are aware of in posture and movement.

Breath is key not only for life itself, but in living of this life

Notice when someone stops breathing.  They stop feeling.  They become stiffer.  Posture implies movement.  Breath is the support of this movement.  Stop the breath or breathe shallowly and your posture and movement becomes shallow and imbalanced.

Pleasant Mindedness

Oh, this is so important.  In training, especially posture we not only hold our bodies but our emotions and mental focus.  Non of this is bad.  Just simply try encouraging:

Have a pleasant mind or

Are you enjoying?

Immediately I find them smiling and relaxing and enjoying.  Wow, this is also magic.  Having a pleasant mind while training is like breathing.  It makes all the difference in learning and acquiring new skills.

Now find out about your posture and work with some of these aspects.  Include those that may not be as familiar or used as much.  If there is any way I can help, just let me know.  If you are in the Northern California area, please consider a consult at one of my offices.

Feeling balanced today?

Observations

Have you noticed that your balance may not be as good as it use to?  Is your assessment based on one leg, with or without eyes closed?

Testing one leg balance is quite popular in therapy, fitness and yoga–the repertoire in function and activities of exercise and asana often demand it.  What is surprising is to try it with the eyes closed.  Later in the post you can see a test the two physical therapist came up with.  I’m sure we have used these tests in the past, but take a look at the comparative performance scale–quite humbling for some of us.

I have been testing it more frequently in the clinic to see the range of different populations response–it is a definite eye opener (pun intended) for many.  Without that visual orientation our performance for balanced is generally and markedly affected.  Try it out!

Testing for Equilibrium

Marilyn Moffat and Carole B. Lewis, physical therapists in New York and Washington, respectively, agree with Mr. McCredie that “balance is an area of physical fitness that is often overlooked,” but they seek to correct that in their recent book “Age-Defying Fitness” (Peachtree Publishers). They define balance as “the ability of your body to maintain equilibrium when you stand, walk or perform any other daily activity” like putting on pants, walking on uneven ground or reaching for something on a shelf.

Dr. Moffat and Dr. Lewis suggest starting with a simple assessment of your current ability to maintain good balance. With a counter or sturdy furniture near enough to steady you if needed, perform this test:

1. Stand straight, wearing flat, closed shoes, with your arms folded across your chest. Raise one leg, bending the knee about 45 degrees, start a stopwatch and close your eyes.

2. Remain on one leg, stopping the watch immediately if you uncross your arms, tilt sideways more than 45 degrees, move the leg you are standing on or touch the raised leg to the floor.

3. Repeat this test with the other leg.

Now, compare your performance to the norms for various ages:

¶ 20 to 49 years old: 24 to 28 seconds.

¶ 50 to 59 years: 21 seconds.

¶ 60 to 69 years: 10 seconds.

¶ 70 to 79 years: 4 seconds.

¶ 80 and older: most cannot do it at all.