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.
Please note this particular series of blogs will describe each of the four muscles and their relationship to the five principal actions described in the charts of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chain Poster Set I’ve developed. This is Part Two of four. You can find Part One on the Piriformis here.
The sacrum, or sacred bone, is unique in the body. Mystics regard the sacrum as the focal point for kundalini, the spiraling energy that rises from the root through the crown. This triangular shaped bone provides the base of support for the spinal column.
The sacrum articulates with the pelvis through the sacral iliac joint, SIJ. The kinetic energy of ground force reaction moves from the feet engaging the earth, up through the legs, into the pelvis. The energy crosses through the pelvis into the sacrum and up through the axis of the spine. The manner by which this energy moves into and through the axis of the spine defines our ability to respond to ground force reaction.
There are four important muscles that act directly on the sacrum.
These four high level muscles often are not engaged with their task of stabilizing the sacrum through a spectrum of movement. When we look at the function of these four muscles, and the various movement they are involved in, there is a trend we see in most people’s presentation that are seeking therapeutic intervention.
The anterior surface muscles are often up-regulated. These muscles are over worked and do not respond appropriately. One of the flavors of synergistic dominance is when one group of fibers becomes up-regulated, those dominant fibers then down-regulate the function of that muscle over its spectrum of movement.
The posterior surface muscles are often down-regulated and are not available to respond appropriately to movement.
The relationship of how these four muscles work together in coordination changes over the spectrum of movement. The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains have unique Principal Actions that inform the sequence of movement. This series of essays will describe each of the four muscles and their relationship to the five principal actions.
The iliacus is a large primary muscle of the pelvis that attaches to the bowl of the pelvis, the iliac fossa. This muscle has a large surface area as it fans across the inner bowl of the pelvis. The multiple direction of these fibers give them advantage over a range of functions.
As the fibers of the iliacus come off the pelvic bowl, they knit together multiple structures of the pelvis. Fibers attach to the anterior sacral ligaments, the sacrum, the psoas, and the lessor trochantor of the femur.
Looking at the web of connective tissue between the iliacus, the psoas, the anterior sacral ligaments, and the direct attachment on the body of the sacrum, it becomes clear that the iliacus has a profound effect on the sacrum.
The fibers of the iliacus are joined by the fibers of the psoas. Together they create a common tendon attachment on the lesser trochanter. This makes the iliacus and the psoas an important synergistic pair, yet they have some different roles in movement.
The psoas is a multi-segmented muscle. The psoas crosses multiple joints of the lumbar spine. Muscles that cross multiple joints have an important role as a stabilizer during the work production phase of movement. The shorter fibered muscles that cross one joint are the hard working prime mover. The important distinction here is that the psoas is acting on the lumbar spine while the iliacus is acting on the pelvis. When these two muscles are not playing well as individuals, or as a synergistic pair, the result is a destabilized lumbar-pelvis.
The iliacus is considered one of the more common up-regulated muscles. The bracing, or shortening action of an up-regulated iliacus, affects the sacroiliac joint, SIJ.
As the iliacus acts on the ilium, the relationship of a neutral SIJ becomes altered. The movement of the sacrum is self-limiting by the SIJ, while the ilium has more freedom to move around the sacrum creating a mobile/stable relationship. Hip rotation, hip hiking, and hip flare are relationships to sagittal, coronal, and transverse plane movement. The iliacus is involved in these movements even if it isn’t the driver.
Concentric Actions of The Iliacus:
Sagittal ~ hip flexion, ilium rotation, & sacral flexion
An up-regulated iliacus is the action of the exhalation phase thereby affecting the inhalation phase of the breath. This is a relationship of reciprocal inhibition.
The iliacus attaches on the bowl of the pelvis creating an extrinsic boundary. An up-regulated iliacus partners with the pelvic floor. During the inhalation phase of the breath, the pelvic floor’s action is eccentric lengthening. An up-regulated pelvic floor loses this ability.
Deep Longitudinal ~ Shock Absorption
An up-regulated iliacus interferes with the kinetic wave of shock absorption. The up-regulated iliacus is a bracing strategy for the SIJ. Compression in the SIJ functionally acts as an abutment to the kinetic wave of ground force reaction.
The body’s appropriate response to the kinetic wave of shock absorption is to counter with the push reflex. Imagine stepping off the curb. The hip must descend so that the foot can meet the ground. This is an eccentric action of the quadrates lumborum, the QL. An up-regulated iliacus down-regulates the push reflex.
Lateral ~ Axial Stability
The adductor magnus, a lateral kinetic chain subsystem muscle, needs to play well with the iliacus. The adductor magnus is a synergist with the adductor longus. The iliacus is synergist with the adductor longus.
During the transition phases of the gait, mid stance, late stance, propulsion, and shift, this synergistic pair action is eccentric lengthening. This lengthening is storing elastic energy that will be released in the swing phase of the gait.
The lateral kinetic chain is in contralateral relationship with the anterior spiral kinetic chain: stance/swing. This movement requires stability across the anterior surface of the sacrum. The iliacus and contralateral piriformis become functional synergists during the swing phase of the gait. Looking at these kinds of contralateral relationships is an important aspect in movement assessment.
Posterior Spiral ~ Generation of Stored Elastic Energy
The coiling of the thoracolumbar fascia acts on the sacrum and the SIJ. The hip is extending and externally rotating. The iliacus is actively engaged in eccentric lengthening, or is a functional opposite.
An up-regulated iliacus is going to down-regulate the coiling action of the posterior spiral kinetic chain. This is important when looking at the posterior surface muscles that act on the sacrum. Often, multifidus/sacrospinalis and gluteus maximus are down-regulated and need to get back into the equation for sacral stability.
Anterior Spiral ~ Translation of Stored Elastic energy
The iliacus is a powerful hip flexor. An up-regulated iliacus will look for recruits to assist in hip flexion during the swing phase of the gait. The common players the body looks to recruit are the psoas, tensor fasciae latea, rectus femoris, sartorius, and all the adductors.
The anterior spiral pairs with the contralateral lateral kinetic chain. At the moment when hip extension translates into hip flexion, the iliacus and the contralateral piriformis are in functional synergist relationship. This creates stability across the anterior sacrum during shock absorption.
The body starts to look for recruitments to assist an up-regulated and fatigued muscle/s. One common recruitment pattern are muscles in contralateral pairs. The pectoralis minor and the iliacus are common up-regulated muscles, they work together in the contralateral shoulder to hip relationship of the anterior spiral.
Manual Therapy Application:
One important aspect of any manual intervention is to ask the body directly if the modality is appropriate. This can be verified by doing a little bit of release. Go back to the relationship and take notice. Did the response change in a favorable way? If it did, then the release technique was appropriate. If it did not, then the nervous system needs something else to restore the coordination.
Here are a few strategies I regularly employ when working with an up-regulated iliacus.
Strain Counter Strain:
This is a one of my favorite go to techniques. It is gentle and effective. There is little risk to further irritation of an up-regulated iliacus. The lessor trochanter, the common tendon junction and the bowl of the pelvis are good entry points for this gentle technique.
This active bilateral release can have a dramatic positive effect in the SIJ. The belt puts the SIJ in compression while the bilateral activation of internal/external rotation resets the receptors. The therapist can approach the release in two ways. One is to use feedback pressure to activate the balance between internal and external rotation. The other is to use bilateral pressure on both piriformi to reset the muscle spindles.
Active Muscle Spindle:
This is a technique that resets the muscle spindles interpretation of muscle length. Support clients leg with thigh vertical, leg horizontal. Have the client hold their leg in place to accurately access the common tendon junction near the bowl of the pelvis. The placement of the practitioners fingers should be such that there is zero visceral impingement. Once appropriate contact is made, the clientslowly extends the leg and draws back to the starting position.
Pin and Stretch:
This flossing technique is a mixed bag. It can either be highly effective or over stimulates the nervous system. Ask the body if it is appropriate to the client’s presentation.
When assessing the players involved with sacral stability, ask if the identified players can cooperate with each other. Getting all the players back on the same team make for a happy sacrum.
Concentric activation ~ The muscle fibers are shortening; the muscle attachments are moving toward one another.
Eccentric activation ~ The muscle fibers are lengthening; the muscle attachments are moving away from one another.
Synergist ~ Muscles that work together during movement.
Functional Opposite ~ Muscles that work opposite to one another. One muscle is lengthening while the other is shortening.
Up-Regulated ~ An overstimulated muscle that is compensating for other muscle/s that are not participating. Often the muscle will become overworked and fatigued and unable to respond appropriately.
Down-Regulated ~ An under stimulated muscle. The function is impaired and unable to respond appropriately.
Reciprocal Inhibition ~ When a muscle/s is contracting, the opposite muscle/s must be lengthening. If the opposite muscle/s are unable to lengthen, being up-regulated for example, then that will functionally inhibit the muscle that is contracting.
The Intrinsic Kinetic Chain is the first of Five Primary Kinetic Chains. If I may, I will use an analogy from the epic series by JRR Tolkien, it is: “one ring to bind them all.” This sums up the intrinsic kinetic chain. Breath is essential for survival. Breath is the barometer for vitality. Breath is intrinsically connected to the central nervous system.
The thoracic diaphragm is a striated muscle that is directly connected to the autonomic nervous system. As such, we are incapable of holding our breath to the point of oxygen deprivation. Survival reflexes will override and the body will issue instructions to contract the thoracic diaphragm.
The thoracic diaphragm acts like a bellows for the lungs. The rib cage, provides the support structure so that when the thoracic diaphragm contracts, intra-abdominal pressure changes. The pressure drops, and negative intra-abdominal pressure creates a void. That void is then filled with positive atmospheric pressure, filling our lungs with precious life giving oxygen.
The thoracic diaphragm works in partnership with the pelvic diaphragm. The thoracic diaphragm is a dome that faces upward. Contraction pulls the dome downward. The opposite is true for the pelvic diaphragm. The pelvic floor is a dome facing downward. Contraction pulls the dome upward.
When we breathe, the domes of the thoracic & pelvic diaphragms move in sync. They move in the same direction, though one is in concentric action while the other is in eccentric. During the inhalation phase, the thoracic diaphragm is in concentric activation while the pelvic diaphragm is in eccentric. Both domes are moving downward. While the thoracic diaphragm is pushing the visceral contents of the abdomen downward, the pelvic floor provides the hammock that supports the viscera.
Restoring the proper sequence in breathing is often the foundation of the therapeutic process. As the mechanics of the breathing apparatus are restored, balance can return to the structural, physiological, and emotional components.
Today I’m sharing a recent conversation between a colleague and I regarding limbic versus cognitive behavior that I hope brings you some food for thought:
Some people find the holidays a stressful time of the year. Stress correlates to an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system. We often hear “take a deep breath” as an easy way to regulate.
Let’s reframe this slightly. To take a deep breath requires being in action. With an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system, we are already doing too much. Instead, let’s be the observer.
Imagine that that the breath is like a glass of water. When you fill a glass with water, the water fills from the bottom to the top. Conversely, when you empty the glass, the water empties from the top to the bottom. As you observe your breath, feel the inhalation expanding the belly, the lower ribs, then the upper ribs and clavicle. And as the exhalation happens, watch the breath descend in the reverse order.
Being the observer allows you to tune into the sensation rather than focus on accomplishing something. This subtle reframe has a profound effect on your experience in that moment. We can’t think our way out of a sympathetic nervous system response, however we can feel our way through as we navigate sensations.
Amy Maynard Buckles: “Being the observer allows you to tune into the sensation rather than focus on accomplishing something.” Love that! Why can’t we think our way out of a sympathetic nervous system response?
There is a long version and a short version to that question.
The short version is related to the mechanism of information gathered by the Autonomic Nervous System (ANS). The limbic inputs, the sensory apparatus of the body, the five-traditional and the non-traditional senses communicate with the ANS. That information is collated and prioritized based on past experiences: our associations and hard-wired reflexives. The most relevant way that we can affect our ANS is through the sensory input of the limbic channels. This points to why breath work, aromatherapy, and the five tastes are such powerful tools that we can utilize to make change in the response to our environment.
Personally, I am most interested in the non-traditional senses. The information we take in from our environment, such as electromagnetic fields, barometric pressure, bioelectric energy, and so forth. There are unknown realms of information that we are experiencing and collating at an unconscious level. This spectrum of perception I find fascinating.
The tip of the iceberg analogy also works well here. Twenty-five percent of information is perceived consciously, while 75% of information largely goes unperceived by our consciousness. That is huge.
Buckles: Great explanation and info to share! I am curious as to your thoughts on how much of our conscious thoughts, with practice, could change the ANS response. Like in a panic attack for example. I understand that while focusing on breath, we are out of our heads and more into our body awareness. Which, would activate the PNS. To me, that’s not thinking. However, if we gain information about our environment, our safety, and other sources of input and responses…then we can consciously choose to think differently. Hopefully not only to prevent ANS distress, but also reverse or stop it.
“consciously choose to think differently”
That is a key to cognitive thought process.
Here is the big challenge to overcome: thought is chemistry. The Law of Adaptation says that the body adapts to its environment regardless of outcome.
Emotions are a specific cocktail of chemistry. We get better, more efficient at making the “cocktails” of our predisposition. Those chemicals require receptor sites to plug into. Over time we end up making more of that unique composition of chemistry to fill the receptor sites. Through adaptation, we become addicted to thought. Overcoming that requires conscious effort.
If our predisposition is to respond to a situation in a familiar way, reproducing those feelings becomes easier each time we have them. You can see this in people that have “knee jerk reactions” — these folks are quick to produce the chemical signature they are familiar with.
Some people have the disposition to do that kind of work on a cognitive level; change your thoughts and change your behavior. Others need stimulus from the other part of the brain, the limbic center. These are the people that do better at maintaining attention on sensation.
There is a loop in the brain and how we process our environment:
Sensory—>past or projection of future—>Ego or survival
Our ability to interpret the information of our sensory apparatus, and reframe from a place of being hijacked by associations that are interpreted by the ego, define our ability to cope.
People want to know how the anatomy poster series, The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains, differ from other anatomy posters, specifically Anatomy Train’s Myofascial Meridians.
Let’s start with a little back ground.
I started my exploration of the field of somatics, movement as a therapy, and bodywork strategies, back in 1986. I had suffered a severe injury in a rock climbing fall. I hyper flexed my ankle (dorsal) and broke my talus, the load bone between the leg and the foot. The talus is a unique skeletal bone as it doesn’t have any muscular attachments, rather the talus is held in place by ligaments and the articulation of neighboring joints. I was very fortunate that I didn’t kill the blood supply to the bone and I made phenomenal progress in healing.
I found a great chiropractor that facilitated both manual therapy and movement progressions. I ended up being a case study at Stanford University for the degree of recovery that I realized. I still have a limitation of dorsal flexion, but overall I am very lucky that I met this healer to guide me in what would become my life vocation.
I dabbled with bodywork for a few years before getting formal training in 1992, when I enrolled at Alive & Well, The Institute of Conscious BodyWork in San Anselmo. The school was owned by Jocelyn Oliver and David Weinstock. Jocelyn had pioneered an approach for massage therapy integrating manual muscle testing from Touch For Health. The work progressed and elements of Applied Kinesiology began to integrate as well.
I found myself completely intrigued and absorbed with this approach of changing the response of the nervous system and the structure follows. I sought out as much knowledge as I could about muscle testing, motor control, and strategies in approaching structural change. I was always on the lookout for books that would further my understanding. In my research, I found Dr. George Goodheart’s book, Applied Kinesiology Synopsis. This was the bible of AK and the source to resolve musculoskeletal dysfunction. In a college bookstore, I found another publication, Vernon Brooks’ book, The Neural Basis of Motor Control. I excitingly shared this with my colleagues and teachers. I wanted to understand how cueing in the nervous system with muscle testing could facilitate rapid change in the ability for the structure to respond differently via muscle testing. The Neural Basis of Motor Control helped to answer that question. Both books are out-of-print, but with a little effort can still be found.
A few years later I moved from California to the Austin, TX area. I quickly gained a reputation for the skill sets I had as a bodyworker. Through a series of referrals from the area’s naturopathic doctors, I found I had a group of practitioners that wanted to learn the approach I used in manual muscle testing combined with structural corrections.
Over the course of years, I developed my own hybrid format from the foundation I learned at Alive & Well. I was seeing patterns in movement. I thought of them as maps. I could trace the maps, find the dysfunctional component, correct that component and reinsert it back into the map.
In 2001 or perhaps 2002, Tom Myers came to Austin to teach his new course Anatomy Trains. One of the students in my group took that course. He said to me, “Joseph, you’re not going to believe this, Tom talks about the connection of movement and fascia like you do. Look at these drawings.” When I looked at them, I saw something very similar to the maps I was sharing with my students. I was intrigued; I was not alone in the discoveries I was making.
Several years later Myers’ posters were published. I purchased a set of posters and would refer to them with clients. The myofascial meridians are an excellent map of how structure links together. Practitioners, students and clients have all benefited from their visual reference.
Fast forward to today.
Here is a look at how these two poster series are different yet complementary. The myofascial meridians are looking through the lens of structure. The unification of the fascia, the compartments that bind and wrap the body, including muscles, tendons, ligaments and joints, even the bones themselves (tensegrity and the double bag theory are important concepts every bodyworker should be versed in). Kinetic chains are looking through the lens of movement. The kinetic chains explore how the neuromuscular activation acts on the fascia compartments and how these activations connect, creating a synergistic whole.
Now let’s look at what sets The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains poster series apart.
The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are based on the movement of the contralateral gait. Our nervous system is hard wired for developmental movement to learn to walk and run so that we can hunt and evade predators, survival.
The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains have roots in the concept of the core subsystems which was introduced by Dr. Andry Vleeming. These core subsystems, slings, or transmission systems, do not operate in isolation from the rest of the musculosketal system. The whole fascia network is involved in movement. A kinetic chain is the synergistic relationship of how structure is responding to movement.
The illustrations of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are beautifully done and give a three-dimensional feeling of movement. Each kinetic chain is color coded with three levels of depth that represent the three categories of the muscular relationships. The bold color are the subsystems: the major players in Vleeming’s core slings. The mid-tones are the prime movers: the muscles that have positional advantage to do the most work. The lighter tones are the synergists: the helper muscles. Every part is working in concert to create balanced and efficient movement.
To make it easier for use in a learning or clinical setting the muscle charts are organized joint by joint.
Another feature of the poster series is that each chart has a Principal Action. I refer to this as the Master Template. These five Principal Actions are present in all integrated movement. Our breath, relationship to gravity and shock absorption, dynamic stability through the axis, and ability to store elastic energy — and then translate that elastic energy — is a holistic approach to movement.
The Myofascial Meridians and The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains complement each other, and together unify a more complete understanding of integrated movement.
The Five Primary Kinetic Chains rely on a fundamental principle: efficient movement requires the integration of a stable yet dynamic foundation so that the body can generate the power needed for locomotion.
The Anterior Spiral is a culmination of everything that we’ve discussed previously. As such, let’s review how the previous four kinetic chains have worked together to get us to this final kinetic chain.
The Intrinsic system is related to the nervous system and breath. The breath is a barometer for our movement. How our breath is integrated with our movement determines how our nervous system responds. If we move in a manner by which the movement breathes the body, the sympathetic nervous system can remain down-regulated, thus giving us access to refined motor control. If instead our breath reaches the threshold of cardiovascular distress, or we are holding our breath out of bracing or fear, our sympathetic nervous system becomes up-regulated and arms the body with a flood of chemistry.
One of the markers for stress tolerance is the capacity to return from an aroused sympathetic nervous system back to a calm parasympathetic down-regulated state of being. A large percentage of our population is stuck in an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system. This is a stress reaction that results in inflammation in the body contributing to decreased healing and regenerative ability. As a result, it is becoming popular to “train” the vagus nerve — the tenth cranial nerve — to experience arming and disarming the nervous system.
There are some very good modalities to specifically address an up-regulated sympathetic nervous system. Our personal practice is one way we can take responsibility for our stress levels. Tia Chi, Qi Gung, Shamatha Meditation, and Yoga are but a few examples. I personally find getting acupuncture to be very much a sattvic practice. I go very deep into meditation as I’m observing the energy shifts in my subtle body. For people that are attracted to manual therapy, Cranial Sacral Therapy is a wonderful way to engage the nervous system and the breathing apparatus. Nervous system health very well may start with the subtle aspects of how the cranial sutures are integrating with breath and movement.
The Deep Longitudinal Kinetic Chain is about how we interact with gravity and shock absorption. Our bodies are under a constant compressive force. The energy of the compressive force changes as movement and locomotion further generates kinetic energy. The energy of our bodies in motion must be absorbed and translated. The energy is distributed across the fascial fabric of our bodies.
This energy becomes a dynamic platform, the Lateral Kinetic Chain. The Lateral KC provides dynamic stability so that the appendicular skeleton has a foundation from which to work off. Without this foundation, the body would be at a disadvantage in generating stored elastic energy.
In developmental movement, the reflexive motor learning that is hard wired into our nervous system, we see that the movements are all about creating dynamic stability with the intention of getting us upright and using a bi-ped strategy of locomotion, the walking gait.
With an established dynamic platform, we have the capacity to store and release elastic energy. Elastic energy is stored in the tissues in two modes: lengthening or stretching and coiling or compressing. When tissues lengthen or stretch, the fascia’s elasticity stores energy. This would be like stretching a rubber band across your finger and releasing it; the rubber bands soars across the room. Likewise, winding up the rubber band on a model airplane illustrates the second mechanism of storing and releasing elastic energy. As the rubber band coils tightly, energy is stored; more coiling equates to more compression that stores energy to release.
The Posterior Spiral Kinetic Chain is the avenue the body uses to coil elastic energy into the fascial springs that perpetuate the energy of the walking gait. The body is utilizing both modalities (lengthening and coiling) for activating the fascial fabric to generate stored elastic energy. As the Posterior Spiral KC is coiled to release that energy, the ipsilateral anterior spiral is lengthening. It is a coiling of one side of the body and a lengthening on the opposite. The body is utilizing both pathways simultaneously, to generate stored elastic energy.
The Anterior Spiral completes the gait cycle. Elastic energy up to this point has been stored into the tissues, and now the body is poised to do something with that energy. The body will now translate the stored elastic energy into the complementary movement. The forward motion generated by the push of the posterior spiral is realized through the leg swing of the anterior spiral.
The ability to effectively store and release elastic energy is paramount to athletic performance. In the video, notice the quality of movement this athlete displays. The timing of arm drive and leg drive, the depth of absorbing kinetic energy, and how the explosive energy increases with each shock absorption phase. Her movement is brilliant and demonstrates healthy integrated kinetic chains at work.
The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains working together create an integrated whole. If one or more of the components are unable to engage, then we need to isolate the issue and through motor learning, reengage and integrate back into the whole. The kinetic chain charts are meant to be a map for inquiry, as we explore who is playing and who is not, the charts can help us to discern what disengaged players need to get back in the game.
My partner and I were swimming in Barton Springs Pool in Austin, TX the other day. She asked me if I would give her swim lessons. She prefaced the request with, “anyone that has given me swim lessons has left me in tears.”
I thought about her reaction for a moment, and immediately zoned in that the very first thing to learn about swimming is to just be comfortable in the water. This is very similar to the first instruction in meditation, to take a comfortable seat. In meditation, the second instruction is to observe the breath. Following the sensation of the breath anchors the mind to awareness. This helps the mind from being hijacked by cognitive thinking.
Being comfortable in the water also requires finding ease in breathing. Often, people are in a fear response when while swimming. In order to not activate the central nervous system’s sympathetic response, one needs to learn specific movement skills so that breathing is not stressful.
One might think that water is a natural element, as we float in our mother’s belly before being born, and people should be at ease in that element. However, almost everyone experiences their first fear response at the moment of transition from the lungs full of amniotic fluid to the pressurization of the air from taking their first breath.
A component of the fear response is called the startle reflex. The action of the startle reflex is a sharp inhalation, flexion and internal rotation. This is in opposition to the integration of the breathing apparatus, as optimal inhalation is extension with external rotation.
Correcting the disconnect between fear based breathing to a well-integrated breathing apparatus is a must for finding ease in the water – and frankly in life!
Here is the progression I use to teach people to find their ease in water and is quite simple. You can do it on your own or have someone assist you:
Floating on your back ~
Feel the buoyancy created by expanding the ribcage and lungs.
Floating on your side body ~ Prerequisite for side stroke, side body is also the end position for breathing in the basic crawl, or freestyle.
Using fins and snorkel as props ~
This builds more confidence in the water.
Floating on your belly with a snorkel ~
Find ease face down in the water.
Building blocks of stroke technique ~
There are many levels of techniques to build a strong foundation.
Once the foundation is in place, start to remove the props ~ Development of shoulder timing to neck rotation so that one can arrive at side body also allows for a restorative breath.
Understanding the breathing apparatus is integral in any mind body activity. The charts in the Intrinsic Anatomy Poster outline all the players participating in respiration.
The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are the master template for not only the walking gait as I’ve explored in my anatomy art, but for all locomotion and movement. Different movements have different relationships to gravity and the environment, and they use different muscular activations. (These activations are referred as kinetic chains, force transmission systems and sling systems.)
For example, swimming doesn’t have ground engagement like the strike phase of the gait. Instead, the spear phase (reaching through the water) is analogous to the deep longitudinal system. The kinetic sequence runs from the hand and through the anterior body to the opposite leg. The arm lines are doing the work in swimming that the leg lines are doing in walking.
Let’s dissect The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains as movement concepts:
The intrinsic system is the nervous system’s relationship to breathing. Our breathing apparatus, the mechanism of pressurization systems, has a direct effect on the autonomic nervous system. “You can’t own your movement until you own your breath.” This is about our breath mastery in relationship to our movement.
2) Deep Longitudinal:
The deep longitudinal system is about shock absorption. Shock absorption is the ability for kinetic energy to wave through the body joint by joint. If the wave is unable to move freely through the fascial system, that energy has to be absorbed in some way (such as a compensation). Imagine ocean waves breaking on the beach. The forces flow rhythmically absorbed by the sand. Now put a rocky buttress in front of the same wave and there is a tumultuous energy exchange of the crashing into the buttress.
The lateral system is the midline stability of the structure. The axis of the spine (axial skeleton) needs dynamic stability so that the appendicular skeleton has a platform by which to generate energy. Without the stability of the axis, the arms and legs will be impaired to generate power or work production.
4) Posterior Spiral:
The posterior spiral is the generation of stored elastic energy. The fascial matrix is a potential energy system. Efficient movement uses muscular activation to act on the fascial system. The fascial system spreads the load over as much area as possible which increases efficiency. As the energy winds up in the tissues, the potential release of that energy assists work production in the complementary movement.
5) Anterior Spiral:
The anterior spiral is the release of elastic energy into the complementary movement. Elastic energy can be released in different ways across the structure. When you are watching graceful athletes moving in profound ways, you are seeing elastic energy being stored and released in an efficient way. The energy is spread across the entire fascial fabric and the result is seemingly effortless movement.
These concepts are always present in integrated movement:
Breath~Shock Absorption~Axial Stability~Stored Elastic Energy~Translation of Elastic Energy