Should I Stay or Should I Go Now? Stability and Mobility in Movement and Life

When I was in training to teach Pilates I was struck by how different the activities were from standard exercises I had been taught in sports or physical therapy.

The difference was that the Pilates activities required me to often change what part of me was moving and what stayed stable with a strong emphasis on being able to truly maintain the stability as the main focus of the activity.

If there was a choice between moving through space with some muscles while losing the stabilizing contraction or staying stable and not moving any further, the latter was always the correct answer.  No real surprise given that Josef Pilates called his work Contrology, learning to control your body and mind. What I realized, however, is that the function of stability and the interplay with mobility is often overlooked in movement training

I have found in my practice with clients that understanding this idea can greatly increase a person’s exercise or movement ability.

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First, let’s define a few terms in the context of human movement. 

Stability is the ability to maintain the relationship of body parts to each other. There is static stability as when you do a plank and hold the whole body still, and there is dynamic stability where you keep some parts in the same relationship while other parts are moving, such as when you keep your torso stable and aimed forward and upright when you walk across a side hill.

 

Mobility is the ability to change the relationships of body parts, such as when you lift your arm above your head when reach up to get a mug off the top shelf.

Notice that you can, and often are, doing some of both when you move; some parts stay stable while others are moving.

All skeletal muscles can hold things together or move things relative to each other (stabilize or mobilize) depending on the position you are in and how you want to move but because of their position and connections most muscles PRIMARILY stabilize or PRIMARILY mobilize. The ones that mainly stabilize are generally closer into the midline or center of the body or deep around the large joints to add control to how the joint contact surfaces mate.  The ones that mainly mobilize are closer to the surface of the body and out in the limbs.

Generally speaking (some would argue too generally but I like to think big), the muscles whose PRIMARY  function is to stabilize in daily movement can be considered the core. There is debate on exactly who every member of the core group is but to my thinking that means all the way from the inside of your big toe (adductor hallicus) up medial leg to the pelvic floor and on up the abdominals and paraspinal muscles to the deep muscles of the neck at the cranial base along with the deep muscle of the hip and shoulders.

 

So how does this interplay of mobility and stability play out in real life?

Think about walking for a minute. You swing the right leg forward and set your foot on the ground. Now the foot needs to stay there and not slide around because you are about to put all your weight on it to swing the other leg past. So once your foot lands you have to keep it in place on the ground (using ankle muscles), the knee stays straight and the hip has to come forward and stack the femur on the knee because the muscles have to make the leg a stable post (no change in bone relationships at the joints) so you can put your weight onto it.  Now you swing the left leg by and place it on the ground in front and it’s time for the right leg to pick up and move. This means you have to pick up the foot, bend the knee and swing the hip, mobilizing (changing the bone relationships at the joints) of the various parts of the leg. But it’s not the same muscles in the leg that stabilized it that will now move the leg.  Within the leg the various muscles have different jobs, some mainly stabilizing, some mainly mobilizing and some do a bit of both.

This variety of muscle functions is true not just in the leg but throughout the entire body. It is the constant shift of stabilizing and mobilizing that enables us to move in a controlled fashion. It follows that if we improve our control of that shifting and our ability to use our muscles for the job they are best suited (stabilizing or mobilizing) for we can improve performance.

Many of the injuries and problems I see in people related to exercise and training stem from problems in assigning the right jobs to their muscles. Going back to the walking example- think of what happens when it is time to get the weight off the back leg and onto the front one. You can use the large gluteals (buttocks) with their connections from the pelvis to the hip to push the weight forward as the lower leg pushes off the ground while you keep the vertebrae and pelvic floor stable. Alternatively, you can thrust the stomach forward, arch the back and compress the discs as you throw the pelvis to fall forward off the rear leg which you just use like a pole vaulter’s pole.  Both will get your weight forward.

However, the first one is using mobilizers as mobilizers and stabilizers as stabilizers while the other has reversed the roles. If your reason for walking is to strengthen your legs for dynamic activity like lifting and squatting then which pattern is going to achieve that goal? Clearly using the gluteals and leg muscles to move your weight forward puts you on track for that goal. But if you want to compress your discs and strain the pelvic floor muscles and overstretch the hip ligaments the latter is a much more effective choice. You get to decide!

The concepts of stability and mobility and the interchange and control of them is what I consider one of the primary concepts in understanding how to learn and enhance movement in ourselves and our clients.

Next time you exercise try experimenting with:

·         what has to move and what doesn’t

·         how stable you can be

·         what are the fewest muscles you can use to do a motion

·         can you remain stable in an area while something else moves

This type of self-discovery and analysis, where you ask what really needs to move and should or could remain stable in any activity, is a means to really tune in on how to adapt and change your movements and exercise patterns and keep things interesting.  It lets you train the body and the brain at the same time. Neural and muscular training, two for the price of one! Who doesn’t like a deal like that?

Movement is life – have some fun.

 

What is full rest?

Did you ever try looking at a tree and then shift your vision to see the spaces between the leaves? It is still the same light coming into your eye but the conscious shift changes the experience.

I have been doing this with movement and what I see between movements is rest, the time spent not moving. Sometimes it is very long as when I look at my sleeping spouse beside me at three AM. Other times it is mere milliseconds as when a dancer lands a jump and has not begun the next.

These observations made me ask, “What is rest?”

 

The short answer seems to be – no volitional movement through space, as when I drop onto the couch and put my feet up. But what about the offensive lineman down in his stance waiting for the snap of the ball? He would be the last one to tell you he is resting. Even more extreme is isometric exercises where muscles are contracted fully without generating movement in space. In fact, the usual instructions are to fully contract a muscle group by pressing on an immovable object like a wall for eight to ten seconds then “rest” for eight to ten seconds and repeat. So rest, full rest is more than not moving. What else is there to this?

 

full rest movement education

The missing part in full rest is not moving through space AND a coordination so that you are not pulling on yourself internally (that is all muscles can do, pull).

Full rest is both a muscular and neurologic cessation or diminishment, no matter how brief, that results in minimal activity in the body or any given part of it.

Consider this – if movement in a body part, say the left arm below the shoulder, is stopped, but the muscles that can generate movement there are not dialed down to the minimum needed for overall balance, then there is still tension in the arm. Excessive tension, which strains the arm internally. If, during a brief period of quiet in an activity, the motion AND the strain are at minimum then full rest can occur.

 

Good pianists know this. They can play a fast or difficult passage of music but when they get a chance to rest a hand, even just a few beats, they fully rest the hand, losing the tension of the previous passage before they continue. The ones who don’t do this get fatigue and strain in their arms by the end of the piece and the audience can hear the difference.

 

Rest shapes and balances movement. The sharpest musicians, quickest athletes, and most compelling dancers know this, and during whole body movement they let the body parts that are not engaged in active, volitional motion rest, even if just for milliseconds. It makes all the difference in the world in the quality of their performance.

 

So if you or I are not fully resting - we are stopping motion through space but not the tension underlying - then what can we do about it?

I have been working on a technique called ReTensioning that teaches people how to re-coordinate so they really can stop moving and use minimal tension at the same time. Other methodologies like the Alexander Technique, CranioSacral therapy and yoga provide approaches to the problem from different angles but they all look to address, in part, restoring the ability to fully rest. Which makes me realize what a great idea that is! I am going to go take a nap.

 

You Know the Dance But Can You Teach It To Me?

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Movement is a kinesthetic experience.  Getting someone else to independently activate their body in a manner that will generate a new kinesthetic experience is the role of a movement teacher.  In order to be effective, in addition to knowing the movements to teach, a teacher also needs some other skills.  What are they?

In my 40 years of studying and teaching human movement I have thought about this a lot.  In fact, I still work regularly with colleagues and clients in order to continually refine my ability to teach movement. I have come to the conclusion that the critical skills for teaching movement fall into four distinct categories.

1.  A sharp eye for movement.  The teacher is able to clearly and accurately observe what a student is doing - with their individual body parts, the relationship of those parts, their overall movement through space, and the quality of their movements. All parts are connected and a teacher must be able to discern how all the parts are working as each specific movement is learned.

2.  An ability to think a movement through.  You are always moving.  No stopping until you die, i.e., breathing.  Where you just were and where you intend to go affect your movement choices in the now. Consequently, when teaching movement to a student, the context of the movement - what comes before and what comes after - is important.  Selected well, the context can make learning much easier. Done poorly or ignored, things can be much harder.  Look at it this way - you can learn a new word individually but if it comes in a sentence, a flow of mostly familiar words, how much easier is it to learn and retain the new word?

3.  An understanding of the different ways people learn.  Scholars have identified several different learning styles and types, each benefitting from a particular style of information presentation.  Teachers do not need to know all the details of these types but they do need to recognize that a significant percentage of their students will not learn in the same way as the teacher.  A good teacher can and does present information in ways that address multiple learning styles.  A teacher also needs to sort out how to optimize his teaching method to each individual.

4.  A good knowledge of the human structure on which we move - the anatomy and physics of the musculoskeletal system.  Without this knowledge, a teacher might ask someone to do something that is either dangerous or impossible to do.  Most often, the teacher is simply not asking what is really desired because she does not understand the underlying mechanics, which can lead to injury but more often creates confusion and wastes everyones time. For example - asking someone to breathe and “get the air down into the belly.”  Unfortunately, the only way to get air into the abdominal cavity on the inhale is if the diaphragm, the pleura and probably a lung are torn, at which point you have a life threatening situation. (I have it on good authority that it is also incredibly painful.)  Why not just ask the student to stick the gut out and drop the lower ribs in front as she inhales? That is what is really being asked for.

 

Students come in all sorts of sizes and shapes, none of which are the textbook standard body, and a teacher needs to be able to look at a student (see #1 above) and determine how to modify the intended lesson for that individual body structure.  It may mean a different order of progression or body positioning, but is based on asking the student to do things that are actually possible.

There is, of course, much more that great movement teachers do (plan out classes, remember student's names, show up on time, throw a great holiday party, etc.) but being competent in the above four areas is a great beginning.

Strengthening (Cont.)

Stretches are exercises to make tissues longer so things can work better. Tissue that is tight may be muscles, tendon, ligament or fascia, depending on your particular situation. In order to get the most out of the time you spend stretching (and to keep you from making things worse), follow a few basic rules:

  • Go slowly: Ease into and out of a stretch. Some of the tissues don’t have many sense organs so your brain is slow to get the message of how much strain is on an area. Go slowly so you don’t unknowingly go too far.
  • Gentle to moderate intensity: You should feel some stretch but not painfully so. If the stretch hurts it will trigger a reflex that tightens the muscles to prevent you from moving – not useful if the idea is to move more.
  •  Once you reach the optimum point of the stretch for your body, stop and breathe. Breathing makes everything in the body move a little, so each breath adds a very gentle nudge to your stretch.

How far you move will vary day to day and even week to week depending on multiple factors. Be sure you have the right form and feel the stretch in the right place. If you do that, long term progress is inevitable. If you focus on how you are stretching and where you feel it -  instead of being distracted or talking to someone - your brain will acknowledge much more quickly that those joints can do those movements. As a result, you will use the joint more during the day, adding to your speed of progress.

Strengthening

 freeimages.com/CathyKaplan

freeimages.com/CathyKaplan

Strength is defined and maintained in many ways. In general strengthening means being able to do more activity with some part of your body.  Most of the strengthening exercises we use at Great Plains focus on getting particular muscles or groups of muscles to improve functioning by:

  • Getting you to use more of the cells in your muscles at the same time so you can lift or pull harder
  •  Improving the endurance of the muscle cells so they let you do more things for longer periods
  • Making the muscles cells bigger so you have more muscle

Strength increases in response to a challenge – muscles without challenge equates to losing strength. That’s why sitting around makes you weaker. But how you challenge your muscles can make a big difference in how quickly you get results. Too little or too much can slow you down and waste your time. To get the most out of your exercises there are a few general principles:

  • Be regular. Daily (especially same time of day) at first to get things going. After several weeks taking two (2) days off a week is okay.
  • Use good form. Don’t rush through, flinging your body parts around, as you will only use the parts of you that are already strong. Strength exercise should be challenging – to the muscles that need to be challenged, not the ones that are doing fine.
  • Breathe! The whole idea of doing the exercises is so your body parts can be relied on to do what you need done in life eventually. That means they need to be able to do their part while you go through your day. A life where you breathe all the time. You don’t want to have to hold your breath to go upstairs because you trained your glutes to only work when you hold your breath do you?
  • Know that from a therapy perspective there is an endpoint. For most problems you don’t have to do these for life, once the muscles work well again you will use them automatically during the day and that will keep them strong. (Provided you keep moving. If you take up residence on the couch all bets are off!)
  • Things improve stepwise – not steadily. You will have a period of big change and then it will seem like nothing for days and weeks. Then it all improves in a hurry again. It is not a steady improvement. When you think you are not getting stronger your body is actually busy making all the proteins and enzymes and blood vessels it needs to be stronger, but you won’t notice that until it is all done and your system comes online all together. Continuing to exercise during those periods stimulates the body to keep making all that internal stuff you need for strength improvement.

Where’s the Manual – Part 4

 L0014606 Hand from “Anatomia Humani Corporis”, Bidloo, 1685 Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images http://wellcomeimages.org Hand Engraving 1685 (?) By: Gerard de LairesseAnatomia Humani Corporis Bidloo, Govard Published: 1685 Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

L0014606 Hand from “Anatomia Humani Corporis”, Bidloo, 1685
Credit: Wellcome Library, London. Wellcome Images http://wellcomeimages.org
Hand Engraving 1685 (?) By: Gerard de LairesseAnatomia Humani Corporis Bidloo, Govard
Published: 1685
Creative Commons Attribution only licence CC BY 4.0 http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/4.0/

Next on the list of parts to consider are the soft parts and how to help them. These include the ligaments, tendons, muscles, and fascia. To help you remember:

  • Ligaments hold one bone onto another
  • Tendons hold muscles onto bones
  • Fascia surrounds all the pieces of the body and provides a web for them all to interconnect with.
  • Muscles provide the actual force to do anything – they are the only tissue that can change length in a controlled way and also generate force.

Many of the most common injuries are of the ligaments and muscles. When you injure a ligament it is called a sprain, if you injure a muscle it is called a strain. The difference is important because ligaments (and tendons) are tough strong cables but they have very poor blood supply. This means when you get a sprain the area has a lousy system of draining out waste or getting new materials in to rebuild. Consequently sprains swell as the injured tissue leaks fluids that can’t be carried away and they are slow to heal. On the order of 16 weeks to get back to full strength, if you are nice to them.  Muscles, on the other hand, have a lot of blood supply so they swell a lot at first but settle down in the first 4-7 days and they heal fully in 6 -8 weeks or so.

Injuries to muscles and ligaments are so common that there have been hundreds of techniques developed to help these injuries. The most common is massage of many sorts. What the various techniques generally have in common is to stroke, compress and stretch the injured fibers in ways that push blood and nutrients into the area, push waste materials out, and align the fibers so they can heal in a manner that puts them in the best position for their task. There are literally dozens if not hundreds of specific massage systems in use. No one technique is better than another but no one is the best for all injuries so you just have to try and see if it helps you. If not then try a different technique. Most therapists are practiced in several methods and techniques so they can handle a variety of injury needs. These techniques have long been recognized to help speed return of function and diminish the pain of strains and sprains.

Some techniques focus on altering the tensional pattern generated by the ligaments and fascia. The idea is that having the proper length and flexibility in the tissues allows the body to have the best mechanical advantage in movement tasks at any time. Rolfing, myofascial release, and Craniosacral therapy fall in this category. Which specific tissues and how you can assess them varies among the techniques but they all involve a practitioner positioning and holding a client in a manner that applies a force on the tissue in question, usually a light force, for a sustained period so the tissue can change its length.  They all can assist a client in regaining better overall functioning and movement.

Another category works with changing the body’s perception of how much tension to maintain in the muscles and ligaments.  Strain Counterstrain is one of several techniques based on the concept that receptors in the body are set to keep some fibers in muscles and ligaments too short and so the body is keeping discreet areas tighter than they should be relative to the tissue around them. Think of it like having an patch on your jeans that is sewn in a little too short, the entire leg hangs a bit funny even though the patch is just on the knee. In these techniques the problematic tissue is positioned so it can no longer exert any force for 90 seconds or so while the nervous system resets the fibers’ resting length.

The consistent thing with all these techniques is that they require a competent practitioner to help you. While they can in some cases be done by a person on their own body, generally the client needs to relax and have the tissue manipulated by someone else to get the best results. Techniques that help people do things for themselves is the topic for next time.

Where’s the Manual – Part 3

Joints

 Photographer Gabor Granat from freeimages.com

Photographer Gabor Granat from freeimages.com

Last time I explained some of the techniques for moving the bones of the body to improve the mechanical function of a person. This post is about techniques that focus on the joints, the interface between bones. The position of joints and the forces on them are a major component of determining how we can move. For example, if you have one stiff joint, say your ankle or knee, then in order to walk you have to make adjustments through the entire body. You limp. So addressing how the joints are aligned, moving or the tension on them can be a very effective way to address many movement problems.

Joints have a lot of sensors in them to tell the nervous system what is going on – how much pressure at the joint, how stretched are the ligaments, is the compression rising or decreasing and many other things. Many of the techniques that treat the joints are aimed at taking advantage of changing the output from these sensors so the body can make a larger change. Specific joint techniques include Ortho-Bionomy and Positional Release and mobilization. Plyometric training and vibrational plates are things people may do themselves that take advantage of joint movement.

Ortho-Bionomy and Positional Release are methods of determining and changing the resting position of joints to relieve the overall strain in the body. The practitioner will gently move one or several joints at a time testing to find optimal release and then keep the client there for a short time, usually 30-90 seconds, until the overall effect has been achieved. This is repeated for various joints in the body until the problem has been solved. The specific tests, treatment positions and order of treatment differ in these techniques but overall this is how they are applied.

Mobilization is much as described in the last post, the practitioner grabs a bone and slides it in the joint. The difference is one of focus, in this case the practitioner is looking to use the bone as a lever to stretch the ligaments and other structures around the joint so there is more freedom in it. This can be very effective for things like a frozen shoulder or a tight hip but it does make the joint ache for a while afterwards if done correctly.

Plyometric training is strength training that makes a client do rapid, repeated movement at a joint in alternating directions. Think of hitting a tennis ball with a racquet – first your shoulder joint has to move back as it meets the force of the oncoming ball then it has to push forward to hit the ball back. This back and forth force training strengthens the structures of the joint, neural control of the muscles around the joint and balance and coordination of the rest of the body to keep the joint in the right place in space. It is an important part of rehabilitation after joint surgery.

Vibrational plates have gained popularity recently as a way to improve strength and function by vibrating the body and challenging the sensors in the joints and affecting the endocrine system. The jury is decidedly out on whether they help in a significant and lasting manner but the reasoning behind them has some validity. They do feel interesting and may show value yet, but how best to apply them to training is far from clear at this point. And the machines are very expensive.  Workplace studies have long recognized that excessive vibration of the body at certain frequencies and amplitude is hazardous to long term health but manufacturers generally design their machines to avoid frequencies and amplitudes we know are harmful.

Where’s the Manual – Part 2

 Photography by DCarson924 at www.freeimages.com

Photography by DCarson924 at www.freeimages.com

In working with the human frame the various techniques can be roughly subdivided into ones that work with the bones, ones for the joints, ones for the soft tissues (muscles, tendons, ligaments etc.) and ones to improve the nervous system’s control of the whole affair. There is overlap in these but it’s a useful way to learn the major focus of techniques.

In this blog I will take on methods of changing bone alignment, the relative position of a bone to the ones beside it. Of course that means a change in the joints also because that is where bones meet one another, however, these techniques focus more on the bone position rather than the joint relationships. (I will write about the joint relationship techniques in the next post.)

The most familiar to people is having the bones of the spine moved, the stock in trade of Chiropractors. Technically it is called manipulation or mobilization and involves putting a force directly to the bones of the spine, or vertebrae, to move them. How much force and in what direction is where various techniques differ. Some will use a high velocity thrust to “crack” the back and often times an audible “pop” or “crack is heard and/or felt. (There is no good proof of what causes the actual noise but it probably comes from a variety of causes depending on the situation.)  Other techniques use grades of mobilization which involve various degrees of a softer force applied to the area of concern. This is applied repeatedly until the movement of the bone is achieved. Still lighter and more focused force can be used with a small tool called an Activator. This is a small spring loaded hammer used to put gentle but focused mechanical force on a small area (about ½ inch across) to push on a specific part of a vertebra. All of these involve the practitioner actively applying force to move the vertebrae while the client is passive. The techniques are fast and can frequently provide quick pain relief. Because they are passive techniques they often require the client to be seen several times before the changes stay with the client for prolonged periods.

Muscle Energy is an Osteopathic technique in which the practitioner positions the client in a specific alignment and then the client performs a gentle contraction against the resistance of the practitioner. Due to the positioning and the direction of the contractions the bones are then pulled into a better orientation. This results in the bones moving as well as retraining the muscles to help it maintain the improved orientation.  This takes more analysis and skill on the part of the practitioner to do well than mobilization but often requires fewer sessions to maintain the desired changes.

All of these techniques can be applied to the other bones of the body and are very useful in restoring full function in areas with many small bones such as the hands and feet. Each of these techniques has its advantages and shortcomings and the challenge for the practitioner is to know which the best is for the client.

Where’s the Manual

 Photography by pll www.freeimages.com

Photography by pll www.freeimages.com

Most people don’t read them anyway but when you need to find out how to take care of something you own it is nice if it comes with a manual on how to fix the thing. Too bad our bodies don’t. The good thing is that there are a lot of different ways to take care of the mechanical problems our frames encounter. The bad news is that most of us don’t really know what they are or how they work.

 

In the next few posts I will be explaining some of the techniques used to help the human mechanical structure work better and how these techniques fit into the context of helping our ability to handle imbalance. Let’s get started.

Like any repair manual we will start with the parts list –

Bones –

These pieces provide the hard parts to do movement – they are the levers so you can actually get things to move through space. There are around 210 of them in an adult human; the exact amount varies by age and individual. The places where the bones meet are called joints (or fulcrums if you think of the bones as levers.) The bones do a lot of important things beyond just providing levers but we are going to keep it simple here.

Ligaments –

These are the tough cables that keep the bones connected to each other. You don’t want one end of a bone sliding off its contact with another bone if you want to get anything done. Sliding the end of a bone off of where it should sit on another bone is called a dislocation and is very painful. Why? Because you had to damage the ligaments in order to give the joint enough slack to let things slide. When you damage a ligament the injury is called a sprain.

Tendons –

These are the fibrous tissue that holds a muscle to a bone. They are made mostly out of the same material as ligaments and contain a lot of little sensors for sending information to the brain about how much force they have through them and other information to help your brain know what is going on in them. When someone “tears” or “pulls” a muscle it is often in the area where the tendon and muscle are joined. In some places the tendons are long cables like the ones going down your forearm and wrist to your fingers and in other places they are very short and broad as in the attachment of your quadriceps on the front of your thigh to your thigh to the middle of the femur is sits upon.

Also note that tendons and ligaments aren’t just attached to the surface of the bones but they have fibers that go into the substance of the bone itself. As a result it is not uncommon to actually pull a piece of bone off when a tendon or ligament gets pulled on too hard.

Muscles –

These are the guys who get all the press coverage for doing the work. And in a strict physics sense they do. Muscles can generate force but only by actively making itself shorter. That’s it; a muscle cannot make itself longer once it has shortened. Once you bend your elbow with your biceps muscle it cannot push the forearm back out to straighten the elbow. In order to make the elbow straight the biceps has to quit working (relax) and then you have to use other muscles like the triceps to pull the elbow straight. Because the biceps is attached to the bones above and below the elbow it will get stretched out when the triceps moves bones to get the elbow straight but the biceps is coming along for the ride, it is not helping to lengthen itself. That is why stretching can also be a strengthening exercise because you have to contract one muscle to stretch another. Hatha yoga is a good example of this.

Here is the big thing to remember about what muscles do – they only pull on things, usually bones. This idea is often forgotten by trainers and therapists to the detriment of their client.

Important as they are, muscles are useless without the other parts. If you just had muscles you would be a quivering mass that slowly flopped through the world. Or, as the creatures with bones would call you – lunch.

So, the brief summary of the hardware is

Bones, which are stiff and hard, are connected to each other and kept in the correct relationship to each other by Ligaments. Bones also have Tendons attached to them and on the other end of a tendon is a Muscle which can shorten itself and thus pull a bone through space and stretch out the muscle that moves the bone the opposite direction.

When people have a mechanical problem with moving it is usually because one or several of these components are damaged or the coordination among the parts is out of whack so things are not in the right place at the right time to create the needed movement. Interventions like massage, Muscle Energy, manipulation, myofascial release, and many others that do not begin with the letter M, all aim to change how one or more of these components functions and/or the coordination between the components. In the following posts I explain some of them for you.

Are We Even?

I can confidently say that we are not even.   Nowhere close to it.   And thank goodness because if we were all even and balanced we would be dead.

It has been some time since I wrote about how our visceral and musculoskeletal systems are organized mechanically but the upshot of those posts was that the mechanical neutral of one is not in the same place as the mechanical neutral of the other. One of them is never at complete rest. One dominates and then the other but it’s a constant push-me pull-you arrangement. (Not the only ones we have in us but the largest in sheer size and strength)  The trick to having a comfortable life with this arrangement is in how well we slide back and forth between these intrinsic sets of forces in our organism. How are they bound together to each other and how can we exert the most efficient control over the generation and transfers of force to do what we want to do? Big questions for sure but I think important ones to consider if one wants to make life easier.

So let’s start with the easy stuff by looking at one concept underlying all this – Balance or more accurately – Imbalance.

 Photographer Taro Taylor www.freeimages.com

Photographer Taro Taylor
www.freeimages.com

Consider a tightrope walker. Up on a thin wire that sways and twists our daredevil friend takes a step out and shifts and wiggles a little until she has balance – the forces to swing left are equal to the forces to swing right, the push of her weight down is equal to the push of the taut wire up on her feet and she rests quiet and still on the wire. But that will not get her any further. She is balanced but to move ahead she has to become imbalanced. She has to use her muscles to create pulls on her bones that are not countered equally by gravity pulling her foot down or by the resistance of the air in front of her leg so she can step forward. In doing so she shifts out of balance and puts new strains on the wire that she counters and matches to find a momentary balance from which to launch a new round of imbalances again and again until she reaches the firm platform on the other end of the wire that will be much more forgiving of her small imbalances. Like all of us, she has to consciously create and manipulate imbalance to move through space. The thin, movable wire gives her a narrow and unforgiving set of choices to work with to find the correct imbalance. Her control and mechanical ability to use her body to carry out her thinking for such a long time makes her feat so admirable.

Imbalance is how we move through space. Being even is not a good thing if you want to participate in the world. The key is being able to control our imbalances, selecting just enough force in the correct direction. This is linked to how well the mechanical structure in our body is able to carry out those selections accurately and effectively. The generation, control and implementation of our ideas that propel us through life depend on our ability to deal with imbalance.

Problems with our ability to move as we wish often stem from our inability to control the imbalances we need to create or deficits in our structure to generate the imbalances we need in the way we need them.  The Alexander Technique, which I have described over the last six posts, is one way of addressing how to deal with the control aspects of imbalance in a very effective manner. There are also many very effective ways of enhancing our ability to manipulate imbalance by improving the mechanical structure of the body. Over the next few weeks I will look at several techniques for improving the mechanical ability of the body to move. Some of them may be familiar to you by name but I want to look at how they can be used when seen through a lens of enhancing our ability to manipulate imbalance. I have found in my practice that sometimes I get very different results than would be expected once I change my reason for using a technique from restoring static mechanical balance to improving the ability to generate imbalance.