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Stress, Breath, and the Modern Dysregulated Breathing Apparatus

Our breath and the breathing apparatus is one of the primary systems in the body. It is so important to the regulation of our autonomic nervous system, that I generally start with the breathing apparatus as the template for establishing a normally responsive nervous system.

Stress and a dysregulated breathing apparatus is epidemic in our modern stress-reward culture. Understanding what is a normal parasympathetic breathing system versus an induced sympathetic breathing pattern is a key aspect of restoring parasympathetic response. Let’s define a normal parasympathetic breath and the paradoxical breathing of sympathetic arousal.

Sympathetic arousal is an important survival strategy. Stress loading our sympathetic threshold is also very important for the human animal. The problem is when the system loses its ability to restore a normal parasympathetic response after sympathetic arousal. This is the major contribution to dysregulation in the autonomic nervous system.

During normal parasympathetic breathing organization, the four major diaphragms are moving in synchronization. They follow the lead of the thoracic diaphragm. During the inhalation, the thoracic diaphragm is moving downward in concentric activation. Concentric activation is defined as the muscle fibers moving towards one another, or shortening. This action creates the negative pressurization of the thoracic cavity. In turn, atmospheric pressure then fills the space to balance the pressure, filling the lungs. The lungs are like a sponge and respond to pressurization.

The pelvic diaphragm, when moving in sync with the thoracic, is moving downward as well. However, the pelvic diaphragm is eccentrically lengthening. The muscle fibers are moving apart, or stretching.This combination of the thoracic diaphragm moving downward acting in coordination with the pelvic diaphragm creates intra abdominal pressurization, or a positive increase of pressure. When the diaphragms are moving in sync, thoracic and intra abdominal pressurization are functional opposites. 

During the exhalation phase of our breath, the thoracic diaphragm is moving upward in eccentric activation and the pelvic diaphragm is moving upward in concentric activation. The exhalation phase of our breath is the sweet spot for our nervous system. The reason for this is the pericardium, the tissue that supports the heart also shares connective tissue with the thoracic diaphragm. When the thoracic diaphragm is moving downward, during inhalation, this puts stress on the pericardium, heart rate increases, and the nervous system starts to arm the sympathetic response. Conversely, when the thoracic diaphragm is moving upward, during exhalation, the pericardium restores a neutral position and safety returns to the system. 

This physiological principle is utilized in most yogic and martial practices. For example, at the bottom of the exhalation a pause is experienced. This is referred to as the control pause. At this point in the breathing cycle we have full access to the skill sets we have developed. Archers utilize the control pause to find the stillness between heart beats so that when the arrow is released it may find its target.

Paradoxical breathing patterns are a necessary survival strategy. There are two different modes of paradoxical breathing. One is sneezing or coughing. Here the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms are moving apart. Both thoracic and intra abdominal pressurization are positive. Have you noticed that when you sneeze there is a reflexive closing of the eyes? This is a protection mechanism for the increase of cranial pressurization. The second paradoxal pattern is the startle reflex.The startle reflex is a pattern of bracing for perceived or impending harm and/or trauma. The primary characteristics are the sharp inhalation with intra abdominal pressurization. Here the thoracic and pelvic diaphragms are moving towards each other. The survival strategy of the startle reflex is to brace and support the internal organs from impending harm. 

It’s important to note that during an event that evokes the startle reflex there is a vast amount of neurological data embedded in the memory and association to that event. There are three phases to that event: before, during, and after. Before the event, the nervous system is registering something is about to happen. The mind questions what is about to happen.During the event – Iit is happening now! The mind is in real time interpreting the unfolding of the event. After the event, the story is created. The mind is questioning what just happened. This is when we interject constructed thoughts around the circumstances of the event. Differentiating between which phase of the event is keeping the autonomic nervous system in an upregulated or sympathetic response can be key in the therapeutic process. 

There are many types of breathing patterns that can strengthen the breathing apparatus and sympathetic threshold. In order to receive the full benefits of any of those techniques, the participant must start with a normally responsive nervous system. Meaning that throughout the breathing cycle, and challenging paradoxal patterns, the nervous system has capacity to quickly restore the parasympathetic mode. When the participant is unable to do so, that particular breathing pattern is reinforcing the copying strategy utilized to compartmentalize and create perceived safety. This is the primary aspect why people blow up with different kinds of breathing and movement practices. Their coping strategy becomes overwhelmed and the safety of their container becomes compromised. To keep the container safe we can use incremental progression to appropriately challenge and restore safety into the system.

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White Paper: Functional Assessment of the Pelvic Floor

The pelvic floor is often overlooked and misunderstood during movement assessment. The pelvic floor is integral to both breath and movement. This is good news, as it allows us to use movement to assess the pelvic floor. This is important because of the sensitivity of the pelvic structure. More invasive approaches like direct palpation of the pelvic floor compromises safety of both practitioner and client. Starting with movement assessment builds safety in the nervous system. In addition, movement assessment also allows pelvic floor assessment to be accessible to practitioners where direct contact with the pelvic floor is out of their scope of practice.

There are a few principles of movement assessment to consider with pelvic floor assessment. These include functional assessment, the biomechanics involved, and how to keep the container safe. Differentiating how the nervous system is responding from structural response becomes the foundation of functional assessment. Next, we need a clear understanding of the biomechanics involved. Because the pelvic floor is fundamental to the breathing apparatus, the pelvic floor is virtually participating in every possible movement.  And perhaps most important, how we keep the container safe. The pelvic floor is a sensitive, limbically driven, aspect of our structure, and we must use caution so that we do not overstimulate the nervous system.

Download the paper in its entirety below.

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Anatomy and Kinesiology: Moving Beyond the Obvious to the Profound

I’d like to talk with you about an anecdotal experience I recently had with a client.

I had a runner come to me who was experiencing knee pain. If I had stopped in my assessment at simply looking at the function of the knee, I would have missed the primary driver of the compensation pattern.  Because I linked the relationship of the Anterior Kinetic Chain, and the core cylinder, I was able to correlate an internal oblique issue to the medial knee.  It’s not uncommon for ligaments to compensate for the burden when muscular function is impaired.  My ability to move beyond the obvious to a deeper level of inquiry – which is what we learn in Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment™ Seminars –  allowed me to get to the more profound root issue for my client.

Anatomy and kinesiology are two disciplines that give clarity to the interdependence of the structure and movement of the body.

Anatomy is the language used to describe the parts. These parts then fit together into systems that synergistically make up the whole organism.

Kinesiology is the language of movement. Through kinesiology, anatomy is given a context. If the language of movement is a symphony, the role of anatomy is to describe the source of each note of music.

Anatomy charts provide the fundamental foundation for understanding the names of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, fascia, and so forth – the structure. Kinesiology then defines how each aspect of structure works together to create movement.

One of my teachers, early on in my career, imparted the importance of the breath, movement, and structure as being interdependent.

Movement is a translator to how the structure organizes, movement can’t lie. When the body is experiencing pain, the brain reorganizes movement so that we move around our pain instead of through it. This avoidance is a compensation to keep us in a perceived safe zone. As practitioners, our ability to see deviation in movement is paramount to assisting our clients. Often the walking gait is the lens through which we look during assessment. The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains provide a map of the gait.

The use of color in The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains illustrations imparts upon the teacher/student or practitioner/client, how the body organizes during movement. The kinetic chain charts further define how the body organizes in the optimal manner during gait.  Why the gait?  The gait is universal to human movement. From birth, our nervous system is prewired for developmental movement with the intention to get us upright and biped.  If you have interest in a more in-depth conversation on the walking gait, see my blog on the Master Template.  The synergistic organization, or sequential muscular activation, gives context to efficient movement and helps us to identify potential dysfunctional relationships that may not be obvious at first impression to the client or practitioner.

When the synergistic organization of our movement becomes less than optimal, or compensated, the result are over and underworked players. Synergistic dominance is the relationship between these over and under worked players. As a practitioner it is useful to have reference tools – like The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains Poster Set or Desktop Edition to help us dig deeper into the function and dysfunction presented by our clients.

Please leave a comment below about a powerful experience you had either as a client or practitioner where you or they went beyond the obvious to the profound!

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Putting the “Dynamic” into Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment – DNA

While manual muscle testing can be a powerful tool, movement is infinitely variable.  Because manual muscle testing attempts to put movement into a confined box with fixed positions, it has limitations. I have a problem with classical conventions that say “this movement is xyz muscle.”  Muscles do not work in isolation. Muscles work synergistically with bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles, fascia, and skin. We can isolate movement; we cannot isolate structure.


The idea that if you put the body in a specific position you are testing xyz muscle is limiting. Some 15+ years ago I was seeing a Physical Therapist for a shoulder injury. My colleague brought out a two volume encyclopedia of manual muscle tests. Each muscle had three divisions. Each division had three positions: open, closed, and middle. That equates to nine possibilities to assess a particular muscle in the structure.


In the assessment process of DNA™, we take the process a step further. Instead of merely taking a “snap shot” of movement, we assess the complete “movie” of movement.


Movement has three components of players. One side of the tissues are in concentric action. This is the work production phase. The other side are the tissues that are lengthening. This is the eccentric phase of movement. This is often referred as the deceleration phase of movement. The third aspect of movement are the stabilizers that provide support for the movement. This is analogous to isometric movement though it is dynamic in application.


These three aspects of movement form a dynamic triangle that can respond to a changing environment. For example, the core subsystem in the Lateral Kinetic Chain creates a dynamic triangle that supports the pelvis/lumbar. The lateral hip stabilizers, adductors, and the opposite quadratus lumborum work together synergistically to maintain an upright axis of the spine when load bearing in the stance phase of gait.


Would you like to learn this paradigm shift in movement assessment? Please join us at a DNA™ seminar.

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DNA Demystified

Dynamic Neuromuscular AssessmentTM seminars take the skills you already possess and puts them into a context that will make those skills more effective.

When you employ what Joseph calls The Five Essential Skills with the corrective strategies you already use, the results of your work will have a quantum effect with your clients.

Essential Skill #1 – Hybrid Movement Assessment:

  • Learn to seamlessly transition between direct muscle testing strategies and indirect muscle testing – Manual Muscle Testing redefined
  • We will change the paradigm of testing muscles by assessing the response to movement. Can the nervous system and structure appropriately respond to the movement environment?

The Intrinsic Kinetic Chain has many players that cannot be evaluated with direct muscle testing strategies. Hybrid Movement Assessment strategies are essential for evaluating the players in respiration – a key element in assessing clients.

Essential Skill #2 – Completing the Feed-back Loop:

  • Afferent sensory neurons relay information about how movement is responding to the movement environment: this is feed-back motor control
  • Efferent motor neurons are the motor instructions to the periphery: this is feed-forward motor control
  • Using both feed-back and feed-forward movement completes the proprioceptive feed-back loop

Compensation is learned through the feed-back loop. Adaptation is need and response, two sides of the movement equation. Motor learning requires the integration of both feed-back and feed-forward communication to and from the brain.  Feed-forward motor instructions allow the motor control center of the brain to capitalize on compensation patterns. DNA’s movement assessment strategies uncover hidden compensation.

Essential Skill #3 – The Functional Compass:

  • The functional compass provides a map for movement potential
  • Movement happens through non-linear spirals
  • Joints act in compression and distraction
  • Joint assessment using the functional compass evaluates the spectrum of movement potential

Shock Absorption of the Deep Longitudinal Kinetic Chain is interdependent with the ability of the joint capsule to translate compression to distraction over its range of motion. When the joint loses its ability to respond appropriately, compensation will show up as a symptom in ligaments, tendons, muscle and fascia.  DNA’s joint by joint assessment strategies give laser focus attention on the root cause rather than the symptom.

Essential Skill #4 – Functional Dysfunctional Movement:

  • This is analogous to non-painful dysfunctional movement
  • Movement functions can appear to be available with direct testing strategies
  • Hybrid Movement Assessment uncovers hidden layers of compensation

Movement functions can appear to be available with direct testing strategies. Challenging those movements with Hybrid Movement Assessment will uncover hidden layers of compensation: “just because you can doesn’t mean you should.”

Often, our clients are reinforcing compensation through their daily movement. DNA’s assessment strategies identify these patterns so they may be appropriately addressed.

Essential Skill #5 – Eccentric Movement Assessment:

  • Direct Concentric muscle testing is a mere snapshot of movement
  • Eccentric Movement Assessment challenges movement over a range rather than a snapshot
  • Eccentric Movement Assessment incorporates the SAID principle into assessment strategies

The rules of the SAID principle states that adaptation is specific to demand. If the motor program is not cued into the corrective strategy, it may not respond to the correction. Eccentric Movement Assessment cues the motor control center to a larger context of information. This brings up compensatory patterns that would not be revealed in standard concentric testing strategies.

DNA’s assessment strategies are unique as they incorporate both sides of the movement equation.  Concentric activation must be balanced with Eccentric stabilization. This skill set can be explored through the core subsystems of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains.

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Guest Podcast on The Movement Man

Listen to Founder Joseph Schwartz drop some wisdom as a guest on – The Movement Man – Stephen Braybrook’s Podcast “Movement Philosophy.”  Listen here.

“In this episode I talk with Joseph Schwartz, the founder of Movement Mantra and the developer of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains to find out how these chains influence movement and relate to emotions.”

Braybrook is a movement expert, author of The Evolution of Biomechanics, and creator of Brain-Move.

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Muscles and The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains

Muscles produce work in the body. They come in two distinct types, smooth and striated. Smooth muscles are governed by the autonomic nervous system. Their function is automatic. Smooth muscles perform the regulatory functions. The tissues that make up organs, the GI tract, and arteries utilize smooth muscles to perform their unique functions. Conversely, striated muscles are governed by the rules of conscious motor control. Striated muscles are often referred to as skeletal muscles. Their job is to act on the skeleton for posture and movement.

Skeletal muscles have a spectrum of roles.  Highlights include: work production, multiple joint stabilization, and position sense. Muscles need to be available to do their job in the movement equation. If they can’t participate appropriately, the brain will come up with a coping strategy. This is a survival-based mechanism, and this is what we call compensation. Compensation has many flavors, and despite a bad rap, it is the intelligence of the body doing its best to keep you safe.

Muscles come in many configurations. Generally, the large powerhouse muscles are more superficial, while the intrinsic stabilizers are deeper. Some muscles are specific in fibril orientation and function while others are available for multiple roles. For example, the large powerhouse muscles of the posterior chain, the latissimus dorsi and gluteus maximus, have multiple fibril orientations that look like a fan. This gives these muscles mechanical advantage over the range-of-motion spectrum.

For simplicity, let’s categorize muscles into two sets: short and long-lever. Short-lever muscles are the dependable hardworking muscles. They have mechanical advantage on the joint. The brain likes to use them as the go-to muscle during work production. Long-lever muscles cross multiple joints and have multiple attachments. Long-lever muscles are best suited for stabilization during work production. Their role is key when movement deviates and unknown variables occur in the environment.

Compensation patterns have a common trait among short and long-lever muscles: short-lever muscles are the heroes. They come to rescue when the long-lever muscles are not responding appropriately in the movement environment.

Short-Lever Muscles:

–         cross one joint

–         mechanical advantage

–         commonly up-regulated

Long-Lever Muscles:

–         cross multiple joints

–         stabilizer during work production

–         commonly down-regulated

Common Relationships:

Short-Lever  ~  Long-Lever

Tibia Rotation

popliteus  ~  bíceps femoris

Knee Flexion

bíceps femoris short head  ~  biceps femoris long head

Hip Flexion

iliacus  ~  psoas

Spinal Extension

multifidus  ~ erector spinea

Shoulder Abduction

subclavius  ~ pectoralis major

Elbow Flexion

brachialis  ~  biceps brachii

These examples are samples of utilizing short-lever ~ long-lever muscle relationships to assess movement compensation patterns. The kinetic chain charts in The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains provide a map for investigating synergistic dominance, regional interdependence, and functional opposite musculoskeletal relationships. Muscles are in constant response to joint position in the movement environment. Can the muscles in conjunction with motor control instructions respond appropriately to the environment?

My upcoming Dynamic Neuromuscular Assessment™ workshops (learn more here) will provide an integrated strategy for movement assessment in a changing environment. Some of the key skill-sets we will employ:

  • utilizing a hybrid that combines direct assessment with indicator testing to uncover functional dysfunctional movement
  • utilizing feed-forward motor control to assess structure that cannot be directly tested
  • completing the proprioceptive feedback loop to assess both motor instructions and structural response
  • investigating long series kinetic chains because muscles do not work in isolation, they work in synergistic sequences during movement
  • investigating dynamic stability as a two-part equation: concentric action balanced by eccentric action — eccentric movement evaluation uncovers hidden layers of compensation
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Unsung Hero: The Psoas

There seems to be lot of “dysfunctional psoas causing back pain” articles. I’d like to offer another viewpoint.

Say a person does have an inhibition in their psoas. What effects would that have on posture?

The short answer is: a general facilitation along the anterior kinetic chain. The body doesn’t like to be in a position it cannot stabilize. If it is weak in an action such as flexion, the body will move more into flexion, which gives the illusion of being in a safe position.

This position then affects the ability of the hamstring to act on the ischial tuberosity. How do you think the lumbar is going to respond when it does not have the reciprocal muscles balancing extension?

The next question that we should be asking is why is the psoas inhibited in the first place? Is that the causation or a symptom of something else?

Lots of questions, and each person has their unique answer.

Looking deeper into causation instead of chasing symptoms is a good practice.

Don’t just treat what you find, look deeper. Peel away the layers.

Ask for next level factors. It could be structural.  It could be physiological.  It could be emotional/cognitive. There are environmental factors as well as habitual influences that could be in play. How we work and how we move are all considerations as well.

We are complex human beings, not just muscles and a nervous system.

The psoas is involved in posture, stability, and breath. Read more about the “Mighty Psoas” here.

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Limbic Resonance

The limbic system is the master regulatory system of the body. Information is gathered from both the outer environment and the inner environment. That information, or inputs, are then collated and prioritized so that the process of homeostasis occurs on structural, physiological, and emotional levels.

The sensory apparatus of the body is under a constant input from the outer and inner environment. We are familiar with the five traditional senses: sight, sound, smell, taste,and touch. There are also an array of non-traditional senses. Our kinesthetic sense is one of these. Our balance sense, relationship to gravity, and proprioception are components of our kinesthetic sense.

There is an array of sensory inputs to which we are registering and responding. They can be categorized as tangible and non-tangible. The tangible senses would be our response to the five traditional senses and the kinesthetic senses. What about electromagnetic fields, barometric pressure, spectrums of light, wave lengths of sound, or cosmic energy? These are measurable influences even if we cannot consciously quantify them in our experience. Our subconscious mind is sure to have the capacity to respond to these inputs. Many people are sensitive to these influences. I get headaches when I travel next to big overhead wires and I can sense the weather changing in my joints a week before the event occurs.  When I wear special colored glasses my brain function integration improves, and so forth. These are just a few examples of tangible sensory inputs. There is a vast array of non-tangible as well.

If we look at the image of the iceberg, about 25% is above water and 75% is below. The 25% is the tangible realm, that which we can quantifiably create context. The other 75% is where it gets really interesting. This is the mystery. This is the realm to which some people have access. This information is often regarded as psychic senses or the paranormal; for most of us, it is our intuition. These inputs are unknowingly affecting us 24/7.

It is in the non-tangible that limbic resonance resides. Empathy comes to mind as I think of a non-tangible. There is a connection to the earth, the plant and mineral kingdom, another living being, a fellow human being, and so forth. Resonance is vibration. The harmonics are able to mesh and respond to each other. How many times have we heard “I had chemistry with that person.” This is limbic resonance.

In the therapeutic context, it’s a matching of vibration. The intention of the practitioner is clear, connected, and confident while remaining neutral, receptive, and present. It is a wonderful example of mindfulness. When we have limbic resonance with our clients, vistas of new possibilities can present themselves. We are out of the technical application of our craft and engaged in the inquisitive creative side of our consciousness.  This does not take away from technical capacity.  Limbic resonance is complementary.


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Homework Cards 101

Homework Cards

We now have homework cards that complement The 5 Primary Kinetic Chain Posters. Each set has 5 cards – one corresponding card per each of the 5 kinetic chains.

The homework cards allow the practitioner to give specific homework based on their clients’ presentation. They serve as a reminder for the client to stay on track between sessions.  They also provide a template for greater client education and understanding by emphasizing both manual release and integration exercises that work in tandem for success in recovery.

The cards are easy to use. The kinetic chain illustration is on the front of the card and there are four entries on the back of the card.

Down-Regulated (Underworked):

These are the player/s not engaged. This is the part of the movement equation that needs to get back in the game of keeping the structure safe.

Up-Regulated (Overworked):

These are the player/s that are overworked by trying to do the job for the down-regulated player/s. Often, these up-regulated player/s create secondary down system effects. Good detective work discovers the primary relationship between the up and down regulated players so that the application of the release and integration is effective at restoring balance back to the structure.

Manual Release:

This is the first step in repatterning. The release of the fixated segment or inappropriate tension allows for a new pattern to be learned. There are many appropriate interventions, as well there are ways of asking the body what it needs. This is up to the practitioner and their toolbox.

Movement Integration:

There is a window of opportunity for the nervous system to learn a new pattern, and to get the player/s that have been disengaged back in the game. The manual release acts as a hack. By temporarily removing the option for compensation, the nervous system must learn a new coping strategy. Activating the down-regulated player/s give the structure the support it needs to recover balanced action.


The order of cuing the motor control center is important so that effective change and reinforcement of the pattern becomes a learned behavior. If the compensated player is not temporarily taken out of the movement equation, then subsequent movement work often will reinforce a maladaptive pattern. The idea is to displace a maladaptive pattern with a more bio-mechanically efficient pattern. Displacing maladaptive compensation with appropriate movement integration keeps the container of coping mechanisms safe.

To summarize, the homework cards are the place where you:

Identify the underworked player/s ~

Identify the overworked player/s ~

Temporarily remove the overworked player from the movement equation ~

Integrate the underworked player back into the movement equation ~

You can order your set by clicking here.