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The Body Map

Our choices for responding to our environment depends on the relationship between our body map and the environment. The body map is how the brain sees what movements are available to solve the movement equation. How we create integrated movement is by assembling the available building blocks to which we have access via the body map.

Integration starts with individual building blocks. To develop a complete body map, we need to disassemble movement into its smallest components. When we have conscious control of these smaller components, we can then start to assemble them into bigger blocks. This is the process of building the body map.

When we have a gap, a blind spot, a place that we are unable to access, the motor control center will come up with a strategy to move around that blind spot. This is an adaptive process, and this is a compensation.

We find these blind spots by asking ourselves where in our movement we have lost integration. We can observe blind spots in others when we observe overexertion, clunky movement, or their faces wincing in pain.

Ideally, our movement is like flowing water: smooth, controlled, and efficient. Water is always taking the path of least resistance. Likewise, efficient movement is learned by using the least amount of energy to accomplish the most amount of work.

As our body map expands, the motor control center has more choices for finding an efficient solution to the movement equation. This is how our movement becomes refined and more efficient.

How do we become the inner observer and cultivate deeper awareness of our own response to gaps in the body map and compensation?

The answer to that question is by introducing body map capacity programming.

Priming the nervous system for work capacity is a multi-step process. First we must recover the movement to which we no longer have access. This requires the disassembly of movement to its smallest components, individual joint articulation. Then we prime each joint by using the functional compass. This wakes up the mechanoreceptors that relay position and optimize kinetic chain sequencing. Priming the joints brings circulation and lubrication to the joint capsule and surrounding tissues. After the nervous system is primed, we can then expand on the individual building blocks and we start to assemble multiple movements into kinetic chain sequences.

Yoga asana and martial arts kata are examples of formats for assembling kinetic chains of movement. Individual goals, impediments and discipline of movement should be considered when developing a body map practice that is tailored for you and your needs.

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The Spiral Engine

Encoded in our bodies is the master blueprint, the DNA Helix. The structure of the DNA Helix represents energy efficiency. The structure looks like a coil, a spring.

Springs are efficient ways to transfer energy. That could look like the coil springs on your automobile absorbing the bumps in the road. These are called compression springs. They absorb energy and compress. The energy is then released and the spring returns to its “normal” length. Tension springs work from the opposite perspective. Your garage door has huge closed coil springs. When you open the door, the spring goes from its resting length to its expanded length. The energy to “stretch” the spring is released to assist in closing the garage door.

There are many kinds of springs. We use springs in all the machines that we encounter in our lives. Fascia is the spring in our bodies.

Fascia has several roles in our bodies. It is also called connective tissue which is the primary component of our structure. Fascia wraps and binds every part of our body creating a unified whole. Fascia is also a communication avenue for the nervous system. Messages about our environment and movement are relayed through fascia. Fascia plays a crucial role in our movement.

At a muscular level, fascia binds all the different layers into a unified muscle belly. Muscles act on the fascia, the fascia translates that energy into movement. The energy potential of fascia is relative to the ability of the tissues to move between the resting length and its coiled activated length. The coiling action is storing elastic energy and likewise, the uncoiling is the translation of elastic energy. The ability of tissues to store elastic energy is directly proportionate to the work capacity of those tissues.

The iconic model airplane with a rubber band that drives the propeller is a great example of stored elastic energy. We wind up the propeller by hand. That energy is then stored into the rubber band. When we release the propeller, the stored elastic energy is then translated into the propeller. The propeller spins the opposite direction giving the craft movement, flight.

Our bodies are not so different than the model airplane example. The fascial sheath of the thoracolumbar fascia is the primary fascial spring for locomotion.  When we walk, the torso is twisting on the axis of the pelvis. This rotary action of the posterior spiral is winding up elastic energy into the thoracolumbar fascia. The stored elastic energy is then released into the complementary movement resulting in forward motion.

This is a simplified example, as the thoracolumbar fascia has the potential to store and release elastic energy in all three planes of movement. When you add two or more planes of movement together, the result is a spiral. During the gait cycle, all 5 Primary Kinetic Chains are working together synergistically, and the body’s movement can be described as complementary, contralateral spirals. This is the essence of The Spiral Engine of Locomotion™.

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Balance

The stability or mobility question has been brought to the table many times. Which is more important ~ to be stable or to have mobility?

There are different perspectives to the answer depending on one’s field of study, the application, and the lens that you look through.

Here is my take: stability and mobility are in an interdependent relationship. One can’t effectively happen without the other.

Stability and mobility rely on each other to keep the structure safe. Stability is to software as mobility is to hardware. Stability requires motor control, the ability of the nervous system to respond appropriately as movement occurs. Mobility is the hardware, the organization of bones, joints, ligaments, tendons, muscles and fascial structures. The structure is responding to movement, messages of how movement is occurring, and how this information is being relayed up to the motor control center. A strategy is then derived as a response to the changing environment. The quality of movement being expressed is a product of integration of both stability and mobility.

Dynamic Stability is perhaps a better term to describe the product of stability and mobility. The question then shifts from “stability or mobility” to whether the body can appropriately respond to movement over a complete range of motion and a changing environment. For example, if you are hiking a steep loose trail, and the earth shifts under your feet, is the responsive mobility available for you to keep from losing footing and possibly spraining an ankle?

Dynamic Stability keeps the structure safe. The result of stability + mobility is neuromuscular integration that is available to respond appropriately to a complete range of motion. When life happens, and the environment shifts in an unforeseeable way, dynamic stability ensures an appropriate response is available.

In the movement known as the walking gait, the Lateral Kinetic Chain completes this dynamic platform. The body has just absorbed the kinetic energy through the deep longitudinal kinetic chain, the strike phase of the gait. That energy now needs to be grounded into a stable yet dynamic platform, the lateral kinetic chain, that will allow the body to generate the next movement, the power generation of the posterior spiral kinetic chain. The axis of the spine is integrating all three planes of motion while centralizing the energy from the previous shock absorption phase. As a result of dynamic stability, the body is prepared to generate propulsion, the forward motion of the walking gait.

The midline action of maintaining balance is another important action of the lateral kinetic chain. Complementary neuromuscular activations are working in cooperation to balance the relationship of movement, kinetic energy, gravity, and ground force reaction. These complementary actions provide the dynamic base so that the appendicular skeleton can generate energy.

Movement is a balancing act between environmental factors and the structure’s ability to respond appropriately. For example, when we look at the sculpture of rock stacking, we see the dance between the unique attributes of each rock. The size, shape, and center of gravity of each influences the balance point. Each rock complements the previous. The balance points create an axis, an axis of stability. Without this axis, the stack of stones would fall.

This demonstrates the third principal action of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains ~ Axial Stability for Appendicular Mobility. When a dynamic base is in place, the appendicular skeleton can express its potential of generating stored elastic energy in movement.

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Shock Absorption

The second primary action of The 5 Primary Kinetic Chains is shock absorption. Shock absorption is the kinetic energy as it waves through the body. This concept has several contextual layers, let’s further explore shock absorption.

Kinetic energy refers to mass in motion. The earth we live on is a spinning ecosystem that comprises of many elements. Gravity is one of those elements (https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gravity)

When we walk, run, or jump, our musculoskeletal system puts into motion the mass or weight of our structure. The product of the interaction between musculoskeletal activation, gravity, and ground engagement produces a wave of energy, a kinetic wave. Energy is a wave form, as it has a measurable amplitude and modulation. The amplitude is the height of the wave, or intensity, and modulation is the length of the wave, or duration.

When we are standing still, gravity is pressing our structure into the earth. In order to counter gravity, or to balance the force of gravity, we push into the earth creating a rebound. As the popular yoga saying explains, one must “root to rise, or stand tall like a mountain.” Without this action to counter gravity, we would collapse under its compressive force.

When we add momentum, our kinetic energy increases, and more energy is required to counter-act the compressive forces. Let’s explore this experientially. Take a few normal steps and notice how the impact of the strike phase of the gait is reverberating up your structure. Now increase the kinetic energy and transition from a walk to a trot. Notice how your body requires more of your structure to dissipate the energy.

Let’s increase the energy wave another notch. Try jumping up with both legs. See how much vertical height you can clear. Feel the leg drive from pushing into the earth and the absorption of kinetic energy as you reengage with the ground as you land. Now do the same thing, but drive and land with one leg only. Notice that that single leg absorption is asymmetrical. Take inventory of how this energy moves up the body, joint by joint. This is ground force reaction and is a key principal action in movement.

What happens when a joint or multiple joints are unable to participate in the distribution of kinetic energy throughout the body during the shock absorption phase of a movement? The structure must come up with a solution to dissipate the kinetic energy, this is called a compensation pattern. This is a maladaptive learned behavior that then is reinforced with each cycle of shock absorption.

Shock absorption is an essential element in structural assessment for integrated movement. The kinetic chain chart in the Deep Longitudinal anatomy poster gives great insight into how the energy of shock absorption waves through the body.

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The First Breath

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.

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Adaptation Creates Compensation

All movement leads to adaptation creating compensation.

The law of adaptation: The organism adapts to its environment regardless of outcome. The nervous system does not differentiate whether an adaptation is beneficial or not.

I have seen several clients over the years, seasoned yoga practitioners, that had a similar root problem with different outcomes. The problem was a recruitment pattern with the toes. The instruction to “floint” the foot is to flex the toes while pointing the forefoot. This is also known as “Barbie Feet.”

Compensation in the toes creates global compensation patterns. These patterns occur along front and back kinetic chains. Kinetic chains can be understood as muscles that link together to create integration. When one muscle becomes inhibited, the chain is broken. This results in some muscles that are overworked, and others that are underworked. When the toe flexors become dominate, two different patterns can emerge.

Patterns of inhibition along the same kinetic chain as the toe flexors, along the front of the body are known as synergists.  One client had pain just below her hip joint in the front of her thigh. The hip flexors were inhibited by her toe flexors. Every step she took exasperated the problem. Another client had pain in the back of her thigh.  She had patterns of inhibition along the back of the body. This pattern is the functional opposite to the toe flexors.

There are other groups of people that have kinetic chain imbalances due to toe flexor dominance. People that wear high heels and/or flip flops are also high risk.

Whatever activity we regularly do, will unknowingly create undesirable movement patterns. Fortunately, undesirable patterns are learned behavior. Thus, they can be unlearned and replaced by a more desirable pattern.