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.