Saturday, December 3, 2005

instantaneous axis of rotation

An instantaneous axis of rotation is a place where we maintain a stable and central axis.

Expanding upon the concept of a core point two inches below the navel, there is a core line that extends from the inner arches of the feet all the way up the body, through the deep front muscles up the neck and ultimately into the center of head and then fountaining out the top.

Optimal posture, in standing, sitting, and movement, involves a flow through these core muscles so that there is no impingement of muscles creating pain in motion around a joint. This involves proper alignment of the body so that gravity doesn't compress the joints more than they are meant to be.

The definition of an instantaneous axis of rotation, according to [a website that no longer exists], is "the ability for any joint complex in the human body to function without internal derangement during normal human activities...Normal neuro-mechanical function allows pain-free motion about a joint."

Basically, we want freedom and full range of motion around each joint, and this involves keeping a sense of the core line and allowing the extremities to move freely, but integrated, around it.

Thursday, December 1, 2005

above down, inside out

The dantian, or navel point, is located in the lower abdomen two inches below the belly button. It is supposedly the center of gravity, from which all movement and power originates.

In Pilates and yoga both the navel point is crucial; it's where that nebulous "core" or "powerhouse" is located. When in Pilates classes you're told to bring your navel towards your spine, you're creating a "container" of sorts--you're activating the lumbar multifidus, the deep spinal muscles under the erectors, and the transversus abdominus, the deep abdominal muscles under the "six-pack" rectus abdominus. Those two vertical muscles sandwich the core, and the horizontal "lids" of the container--the respiratory diaphragm and pelvic floor--give the core the potential for dynamic movement. That container allows free movement of the extrinsic muscles around the body at the same time as building up, springlike, power for movement.

In yoga, the navel point is referenced when bandhas, or yogic locks, are spoken of. Pulling up the rectum and genital muscles is the first, or root lock; pulling the navel point towards the spine activates the second, diaphragm lock. Activating the second lock will automatically activate the first. The third lock is at the neck; it involves straightening the neck by bringing the sternum slightly up towards the chin (another important Pilates move--during the all-important "Pilates hundred" as well as other abdominal exercises, it's encouraged to lock the chin as if holding an egg underneath it).

Basically, when you activate those three locks in yoga or Pilates, you're creating a bunch of horizontal "lids" as well as solidifying the sides to the container by using those deep core muscles. When the body is stabilized in this way, it's like you create a super-solid grounding within yourself--you give your center a context, a definition, and from there you can have infinite power and outward expansion. Plus, having a physical sense of core here also forces energy to come up the spinal pathway, freeing up all sorts of blockages and, in yogic theory, opening a person up for spiritual evolution.

In kundalini yoga, it's said that when you move and speak from the navel point, you can be 100% behind an action or statement. The navel point is the place around which your fetus shaped itself--the center of your physical orbit, and where, if you re-connect there, you remember yourself. A strong navel point will create an open heart center, so moving from there comes first. 

Wednesday, November 30, 2005


The body operates under the laws of physics--that of gravity and momentum, inertia, reaction.

Seems pretty obvious, but we forget sometimes that gravity is the single largest external contributing factor to pain in the body. Misaligned parts cause shortness in compensating muscles and an equal and opposite set of over-stretched muscles corresponding.

It's said that in this particular age of humans, the evolutionary contribution we are making is the development of the rational mind, the faculty of critical thinking and creative intellectualism. That said, many people have difficulty staying in the body as all their focus goes into their heads. If you look around, particularly at people who spend a lot of time thinking, you'll see it in their physical bodies--heads that are held fixed still and thrust in front of the upper body. The rest of the body, borne down by the subconscious compensations necessary to remain upright in gravity, adjusts accordingly--one pattern might be that the chest sinks, bringing the heart into a subordinate position to the head, the shoulders come forward to balance out the hump in the upper back, the stomach pooches forward, and the legs hyperextend.

Other patterns are possible, depending on the psychological makeup of the person and/or other factors both internal and external. The point is, gravity will assure a global effect of any imbalance in structure or function in the body. It makes us accountable.

The tendency of the head to dominate is one of the reasons why yoga emphasizes so much the lifting of the heart, the leading of the heart in motion, at the same time as the belly (identity) is stabilized. This puts the head automatically in its rightful position--as active and alive, receptive of vital energy from below it, but ultimately as an instrument--where thoughts serve the person, but are not ends in themselves.


About allowing the breath to do the work when we move...

We pay so little attention to the breath, but it's the interface between our inner and outer worlds, and thus it shapes the form we inhabit, the effect of that interface. The inhale demonstrates our reaching out into the world, pulling in life and owning our vitality--it's why it's called "inspiration." The exhale shows our ability to let go and ground, allowing the universe to hold us.

One interesting exercise I remember from my Rolfing training was walking around the room, and first imagining that our insides were completely water, then letting that go, and imagining that instead we were walking around and the environment was completely water. Those of us who preferred inhaling liked the first scenario better; those of us who liked the exhale better felt more comfortable walking around in water.

It's not really relevant here why people prefer one or the other (there's some long explanations about cranial waves in flexion or extension preference, but it could just be karma or astrology). Inhale-people tend to have ribs that are more lifted in the front, and more barrel-like looking at them from the side. Exhale-people have ribs that are more depressed in the front, and flatter looking at them from the side. This is connected with mood as well--inhale people breathe more into the chest and tend to be more upbeat but less grounded, and exhale people are more belly-breathers and tend towards depression or self-absorption.

These are tendencies that will often dominate when we are not conscious of breath. Our fears and our patterns will direct and maintain our posture. When we are conscious of breath and begin to allow it to unfold and lead us, rather than remaining an effect of fear of looking within (inhale people) or looking without (exhale-people), our attention turns that fear into a challenge to stretch beyond, a place to find joy and creativity and expansion.

Here's my reasoning. I am an exhale-person, with depressed ribs that look very flat from the side. I adore exhaling and can breathe out forever, and when I'm not aware of it my tendency will be to sink down into my exhales and barely breathe in at all. However, when I start looking at this pattern and saying hello to my breath, then my inhales become intriguing, and as I explore expanding my ribs the glorious stretch to intercostal muscles rarely used becomes a place of bliss--a place where I haven't been aware that I can grow my universe. It just feels good, it feels like a stretch that I don't get on the exhale. And that goes both literally and figuratively.

So--we let the breath do the work when we move, in yoga or in daily life. And when we start paying attention to the breath and allowing it to lead us, it's like giving control over to the soul rather than the ego and personality--letting spirit guide us rather than the instrument, going beyond our fears and defense mechanisms and transcending the perpetuation of patterns.

Thursday, October 27, 2005

Menstrual brain changes

This BBC article basically talks about how research shows that activity in the frontal brain in areas where emotions are controlled increases in women during PMS. It's suggested that because of surging hormones, the brain attempts to increase emotional control, and women who experience PMS-driven irritability and outbursts of anger lose this control by not having enough activity in this frontal brain area.

Rudolf Steiner and his anthroposophical medicine might have some pretty cool things to say about why some women would experience not enough frontal brain activity to control the increased emotions and some would have enough. Basically, he talks about how the body has two poles--an upper, cephalad, pole, and a lower digestive-metabolic pole. The relationship between these two poles is regulated by a rhythmic system. When there's stress in the system, and particularly in the reproductive organs or digestive area (lower pole), what happens is that food coming into the body isn't adequately stripped of its foreign matter, a necessary step occuring at the cephalad pole that prepares the food for infusion at the metabolic-digestive end with a vibration that the body will find digestible. So the result is that energy from the cephalad pole will be pulled down to finish the job, and the result can be migraines or other difficulties in the head--hence the connection between migraines and reproductive-system problems.

We could also draw the conclusion that the same thing happens in the case of PMS--stress in the reproductive system draws energy down and the cephalad pole doesn't have enough juice to control the emotions.

I've read somewhere, I think probably in Christiane Northrup's writings, that the emotions that come up during PMS are honest releases of stuff that's repressed--so even if one seems crazed, that's stuff that needed to come out and can be taken as communication to the mind by the body. I am thinking that this emotional repression, which occurs in the second chakra (located below the navel, this energy center controls emotion) is the stress that causes this whole cycle to begin--bringing the cephalad energy down and creating loss of control so there is SOME way for the body to release the pent-up emotion. Oh, body wisdom, it's so lovely!

The answer, of course, is to express emotion! Go punch a pillow today!