Tuesday, November 19, 2013

How to sit up straight

Do you find it hard to sit up straight in a chair--is your tendency to try to hold yourself up until you get tired, then slouch back down?

You are probably holding yourself up with the wrong muscles--superficial instead of core muscles, the rectus abdominis (the six-pack superficial ab muscles) and the erector spinae (outermost muscles extending in long strips along the spine). These muscles cannot hold you up, as they aren't postural muscles; once you tire your posture will collapse.

Here's an easy way to engage your core muscles, which can hold you upright in a much more relaxed and grounded way. 

Think about the two bones in your arm. The ulna extends from little finger to elbow. The radius extends from thumb up the inside of the arm. Our tendency, sitting all day and working at a computer, is to forget about the ulnar side of the arm and to act as if the whole arm is just one radius, so we rotate that around and get carpal tunnel pinching. The same problem is behind tennis elbow, climber's elbow, etc. 

The ulnar side of the arm connects you to your core. So think about reaching your elbows down and out, like your elbows are wingtips and you're lifting them up. Feeling the stretch that goes right to the muscles between your shoulder blades.

Next, place your feet flat on the floor and feel your toes on the ground. Push the ground away with your toes. This activates core muscles in your low back (multifidi) and in the front (transversus abdominis, the extensor in the front of abdomen). 

It should feel easy to sit straight.

You don't have to keep it up all day long. But when you remember, push with the toes and reach with the elbows, as a nice reminder of what it feels like to be connected.

Monday, November 18, 2013

How to lengthen postural muscles

Tonic muscles, or postural muscles, are those that act to create posture--they help you oppose gravity and stay upright. Because these muscles are often overused or traumatized, they are often shortened or tight.

Vladimir Janda identified the following as tonic muscles (from this site):

  • gastroc-soleus
  • tibialis posterior
  • hip adductors
  • hamstrings
  • rectus femoris
  • iliopsoas
  • tensor fascia lata
  • piriformis
  • thoraco-lumbar extensors
  • quadratus lumborum
  • pec major
  • upper trapezius
  • levator scapulae
  • scalenes
  • sternocleidomastoid
  • upper limb flexors
All of these muscles are focused on in the Rolfing 10-series.

The key to lengthening postural muscles is to identify a vector for that muscle--most often, just get a sense of up-down. When you put your awareness on a postural muscle--say the bicep--project the length of the muscle out into space. Straighten your own arm, and push against the back of your forearm to try to bend your own arm. First put all your focus into only the muscle. Feel how the tricep struggles. Then think of the vector of your bicep and extend it out into space, projecting as if your bicep is very long. And notice how the muscle becomes very solid and almost relaxed even as you push against yourself. You have become about five times stronger simply by changing your focus.

The key to lengthening hamstrings is to change the relationship of your feet with the floor. Have your hamstrings lengthen through your heels and into the earth, and notice how they relax as you walk.

All the postural muscles deal with your presence in space, the relationship between inside and outside. They can be considered space muscles, not body muscles--and your way of looking at space can maximize their efficiency.

So as you're walking around during your day with a soft, peripheral gaze, think of extending vectors from each of the long muscles that support you upright. See how it feels.

Saturday, November 16, 2013

Peripheral vs. focal vision

One of the main organs that controls how we organize our posture is our eyes. We orient in space through our vision, and oftentimes, because the dominant eye moves to our own sense of gravity, we develop a tilt of the head--a postural lesion.

We can soften the dominance of one or both eyes by closing the eyes and noticing the feet. The baroceptors of the feet, which sense the ground and organize to it, get more sensitive without the vision setting up a clench of the ankles, a preparation to move toward what we are focusing on. Eyes closed, the feet relax--and that relaxation affects the entire posture, from knees to hips to shoulders and neck.

Of course, you can't move that efficiently with eyes closed. So you can try, instead, to change the gaze to a peripheral, broader one, instead of a focused one. Notice that when you soften your vision and widen it to reach into the periphery, your ankles remain unclenched--you have increased flexibility of your tibia (large leg bone) on your talus (ankle bone)--you're grounded rather than contracted. Notice how your hips respond when you change your gaze from focused and narrow to peripheral. The hip joints become more relaxed as your gaze softens and broadens.

Peripheral vision is about having what you look at come toward you. You become the wall--there is no more me vs. the other. It creates something called "postural empathy" and engages the mind on a subcortical level, which involves an awareness of pure space, an openness to all that is, without having to define it.

Focal vision, on the other hand, is about having your eye pop out to what you look at. It engages the mind on a cortical level, and thus makes associative judgments of what you see based on what you already know--linking images to your past history and existing knowledge.

If you want to get beyond your old patterns and habits of being, if you want to re-organize in present time, go to the periphery with your vision. Broaden your gaze.

The first session of Rolfing is about the relationship of the shoulder girdle (often referred to as G') to the pelvic girdle (often referred to as G). The relative position of G' to G will affect your breathing, your gait pattern, as well as the contraction pattern of your lower back muscles. G', in the chest area, is where we mirror relationships with others; if your shoulder girdle tends to be forward of your pelvic girdle, you might also think about bringing more peripheral vision into your awareness, as a peripheral gaze brings G' back and will change the entire breathing and walking pattern.

Tuesday, September 3, 2013

Principles of Motion

I don't know the source of this because it was a handout from my kundalini yoga training, but I love the info--it's a great reminder...

1. Breath
Allow the breath to do the work.

2. Gravity
The physics of gravity–forces of up and down (ferris wheel); levers, pivots, joints and muscles
Laws of physics momentum:
- law of inertia: objects that are at rest, stay at rest. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion, in a straight line, unless an external force changes the direction.
- momentum: resistance (mass + friction)= motion
- law of reaction: for every action there is an equal and opposite reaction.

3. Above down, inside out
Move from the navel point. Your core or natal nervous system is at your navel point. The actual navel center is two inches below the umbilicus (belly button). When you move and speak from here, you can be 100% behind the action of words.

4. Instantaneous axis of rotation
Maintain a stable and central axis.

5. Develop deep roots
Maintain a solid base. Establish the roots and set the navel point before moving or positioning the wings. Begin correctly. End gracefully.

6. Be aware of clear alignment.
Restrictions of big joints result in pain in smaller joints.
Wherever there is a restriction, there will be a compensation. (Physical, mental, spiritual)
Areas of hypo-mobility tend to be compensated for by areas of hypermobility.
If there is an area of weakness, other areas will compensate by contracting and restricting movement, in an attempt to stabilize the base.

7. Align all aspects and facets
Maintain awareness and focus by keeping the mind on Sat on the inhale and Nam on the exhale. Be aware of your thoughts and the architecture of the mind.
Flexibility begins in the mind.
If you start a posture correctly, with clear intentions, you will most likely end the posture correctly.
Maintain a specific dristi (eye focus in a specific direction)

8. Strengthen what you want to stretch and stretch what you want to strengthen.

9. Smile
The goal of yoga is happiness! Reflecting the goal on your face firmly establishes your desired outcome.
Maintaining this facial mudra, will let you know when you are using too much effort or when you have created excess discomfort
Smiling stimulates the immune system

10. Keep the outcome in mind.
The purpose to practicing yoga is to attain the attributes of a yogi. Beyond the polarities and into the blissful abyss.
You are the goal, be the person you want to be
Let go of what is not the essential you
The only time is NOW. The past is over, and the future is pure fantasy.
Utilize a command center beyond the body and mind. Use your reserve energy guided from the viewpoint of your Soul.

11. Vitality naturally becomes virtue.
Move from the navel.
Keep the heart open and the head follows.
A strong stable navel, will allow a full breath and diaphragmatic motion, allowing the heart to naturally open.

12. Commitment creates momentum.
Let go of patterns, stay focused, and go _through_ the exercise.
Do you best, with every breath, in every exercise and every kriya.
“Seize the Day.” Most exercises are 3 minutes or less. Get the maximum effect per second. Juice the moments, allow the Now to happen. Let go of the past, forget and future. Be here now!

13. Transformation is the path
We tend to fold on our preexisting creases. 

Monday, September 2, 2013

the shape of breath

We take on average 20,000 breaths a day. Because of this, the way we breathe is the single strongest reinforcement of postural patterns we take on in our bodies--thus, it is what creates the shape of our bodies.

The diaphragm is a flattish dome-shaped muscle that lies underneath the lungs. When we want to breathe in, the diaphragm contracts and pulls down, causing the chest to expand and the vacuum created to pull in air to fill the lungs. When we breathe shallowly, a shape of the body (barrel-chested) begins to be reinforced and the diaphragm may begin to flatten. This in turn creates less of a massaging effect by the diaphragm on the muscles and organs around it, and the result is less tonus and less ability to perform their functions.

The diaphragm interacts with a number of other horizontal structures throughout the body, acting in some cases like a lid and in others like a base in dividing the vertical lines of the body into compartments of support and energy transmission. When the diaphragm flattens or becomes less horizontal, all the other horizontal structures (the pelvic floor, thoracic outlet, and even the feet, knees, the palate in the mouth, and the tentorium--membranous structures in the head) are affected and in turn become less effective at massaging what they sandwich in the body.

I was thinking about how sometimes we get into yoga poses and are straining so much to force ourselves to look a certain way that the breath stops--or alternately, the breath becomes strained because the pose done in that way isn't correct for that particular body. The ability to breathe should become fuller if a pose is performed the way a body should perform it, because hatha yoga's intention is to horizontalize the diaphragms--to maximize the efficiency of the internal support network within the body.

Another context for the same idea: when I drive and get irked by other drivers my breathing becomes shallow--as if somehow, if I didn't breathe, I would block out the irritating thing that had just happened. But through not breathing, that's how the experience gets trapped in--and I become the irritation, because by not inhaling it in completely I don't give myself the opportunity to exhale it out. When trauma occurs, or something triggers you, breathe more deeply--and that's what creates the neutrality for the event to not stay in the body.

It comes from creating internal support. Everything we do should support the breath, and it in turn will support us.