movement education

Judith Aston: Our Relationship to Our Bodies and Their Relationship to the World (LBP 034)

I talk to somatic pioneer Judith Aston about the Aston Kinetics paradigm and how it integrates seamlessly with other paradigms like yoga, Pilates, and personal training. We discuss how seeing the body is taught in those disciplines and what seeing the body even means, our bodies not just as self-contained units but also about their interactions with the physical world, thoughts on the impact of product design on our bodies, what the early days of co-creating with Dr. Rolf and other pioneers was like, and the meaning behind her quote, “sometimes we just need help interpreting ourselves.”

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Show notes

Brooke: You have been in the movement field for a long time- You're really one of the true pioneers  of the field, so you have a huge breadth of work. Maybe we can start with you telling listeners in your own words what Aston Kinetics is and what you do?

Judith: The general description of Aston Kinetics is a system of movement, body work, fitness and ergonomics. We train people in these forms. Now, this sounds like most systems out there so it's always challenging these days to communicate the differences between different ideas applied to body work, movement, fitness and ergonomics. Basically, it's an educational system about a certain perspective of the body in relationship to itself to the planet and to other people and tasks.

There are concepts that are inherent in the work that we teach people, and really if people learn just even one of these concepts and they apply it to their body use during the day, they can have dramatic differences in the way they feel.

Brooke: It's wonderful that you make it so tangible, you make it so connected to people's day to day movement lives.

Judith: It has to be because people think so often that it's going to the gym for that hour or it's doing the meditation for that hour and those are so helpful but there's a way to meditate throughout the day in the body. There's a way to juice the body up so to speak by the way we move whether we're just reaching for our coffee or we're reaching for the phone or what have you. Suddenly the person has this flow in their body that's really moving the fluids around.

Just to add one more sentence, what I say to people- and this doesn't matter whether it's a class for the public, whether it's a class for elders in their 80's, whether it's professionals- when they learn some of these very basic concepts I say this is a way you can massage your body all day long.

Brooke: I love that. That's perfect. It's really empowering too because instead of people feeling like they have to always be putting their body in other people's hands knowing that they can do that from the inside out on their own.

Judith: The beauty of putting it into your own hands so to speak is that you improve on your own and when you go to see the person who coaches you or gives you body work or helps you with your life coaching you're usually in a more evolved place. You've moved forward so that you're not working on the same stuff because you're keeping the body alive and therefore it doesn't get so attached to the past.

Brooke: I know you teach and communicate with people based on something you call the Aston Paradigm. Can we dive into that a little?

Judith: That's correct. Paradigm is a pattern, a system, a belief and everyone has at least one somewhere. A thousand, depending in terms of their religious belief, in terms of their diet, in terms of their ... I always say to our students please learn to be respectful to people's paradigms because you don't want to impose and say, "You should do this. You have to do this. This is correct and what you're doing is wrong." We don't say that. The piece there is that when you're facilitating you want to evoke the person's ability to communicate.

"Actually, I wouldn't want to be too relaxed because that would imply I'm a loose woman." I had one of my debutantes say to me from the south, she said, "My mother said that when I move like this I'm a loose woman." She said, "But when I move how am I supposed to, my back hurts."

The paradigm: Getting to that- I'm going to tell you the little story the last time my friend drove me to the Kona airport. We hit the first speed bump and he said, "I hate these speed bumps." I said, "Me too." I said, "You know? If you break right before you hit the bump and then you release quickly it puts the weight on the back wheels and  you'll just glide over that speed bump." He stopped enough to turn to me and look at me like, "Who are you? What are you thinking?"

I said, "Try it on the next one." He did and he goes, "That's amazing. Why would you even focus on that?" I said, "It's interesting because my whole life even as a child I've been very aware that I didn't want to do things that hurt me or jolted the body or pushed the body in a ways it didn't need to be." I have to say that that particular way of thinking and problem solving is what allowed me to come up with a paradigm that has these principles that are applied to movement.

As I said all forms of movement- whether it's body work, fitness, sitting, products, the way we are in our body, in relationship to the planet and the sky and to each other. It is definitely a perspective of how the body can move and be on this planet.

Brooke: You have a very non-dogmatic approach obviously and so you don't just work with teachers of your method per se. You've done a lot of training with specific groups like pilates teachers, yoga teachers, personal trainers. When you work with professionals across all these different disciplines are there any themes you're seeing? Whether it's specific to one group like say pilates teachers or just generally about how they are working with the body or things you've picked up on there?

Judith: Yes, this is a very nice segway you just made because again the person who's teaching yoga is teaching a paradigm of either the lineage of that yoga form or there's specific teachers interpretation of that lineage and the paradigm to their students. The first time I did Aston for yoga, I do Aston for yoga, Aston for pilates, Aston for personal training because I add this paradigm to their particular focus and people tell me it just changes and makes everything so much more negotiable.

The first time I did this I started by asking someone to do one asana and someone started and this person said, "Excuse me. I've been doing Iyengar for 35 years and I would never do it like that. I'd never teach it like that."

Okay, we got a room full of everyone from a different form so I talked to my husband and I said, "I don't know whether we'll make it through tomorrow but let's see how this goes." People were pretty attached until we got to this general paradigm of the work that we teach and they could see I could use that this way. The other person said, "That's really helpful if I have the person sequenced the way they get in to that spinal twist differently."

Then they started working with each other and problem solving and oh my goodness it was such ecstatic experience by the end. I love that because these ideas I think the oldest person I've worked with is 96 in all the movement and fitness trainings that I do. She was in an elders group and just watching her have trouble beginning out with her oxygen attachment from the chair to the walker and to stand up out of a chair.

By the time we finished, I think it was the fourth week of the classes, on the last day she pop out of that chair and didn't use the walker and everybody yelled and screamed and applauded. One of these things where it's just so reaffirming and satisfying to be able to help people help themselves so much.

It doesn't matter whether it's a yoga or the pilates. Meaning most therapies, most educational systems are easier to pass along to larger groups and larger numbers of people and students. When they have protocols, recipes and the rules it's easier. You do it or you don't. It's right or it's wrong. You understand that a lot of us had been taught in that way.

I mean I'm sure I pretended to be a great student but the point is I always had these questions and when Dr. Rolf asked me to create the first movement program in 1968 that's what happened. I started and as soon as I got this form based around her work it became outward and visible. I'd say, "Oh," that's a little too effortful. I wonder if we change... and that's how this went.

I love giving the principles of this work to it doesn't matter whether people teach kayaking or stand up paddling, the balance of the body on the board will change when you know how to optimize your neutral.

Brooke:  Another thing that I feel like maybe doesn't get passed down in all these disciplines in a more nuanced way is the concept of really seeing a body- or sometimes a really two dimensional model of seeing can be taught in certain fields. Can you speak to that a little bit? What seeing means for bodies?

Judith: Yes, it's a rather linear approach and it's actually again very easy to use a grid and say, "Your left shoulder is low, your right shoulder is high and that's wrong," and so on and so forth. What was interesting for me is how I came upon the seeing ability. Evidently I had the seeing ability. I can remember at age five being aware that, this is in many articles but I'll just say it briefly that when I would be home and my mother would be somewhere else running an errand or what have you.

I would be with an aunt in the back room but somebody come to the door and want to hand me something for my mother and she would leave and my mother would come home and she'd say, "What's this?" I'd say, "A lady brought that by." She'd say, "What lady brought this by?" I'd say, "I don't know her name but she walked like this."

Brooke: That's great.

Judith: That's Mrs. Brown. Yes, that's Mrs. Brown. I had this ability to watch people and imitate and meme and I use that all through my trainings and my school and my teaching and so on. When I got to the college I was hired by a college to come- and I'm still going to UCLA- but I was hired in 1963 to create movement programs for the athletic department, music department, theater department, community and to create a dance department. That was my task. One of the things in the theater department class was I realized that unless the students who were between 18 and 20 mainly knew their own body first.

They could see it and they could see their fellow actor's body. They really didn't know how to portray someone who was 60 or someone who was limited or someone who was a character in a Shakespearean play. When I got to Dr. Rolf I was injured in a couple of accidents and I went to big search, sit on her doorstep until she had a cancellation to see me. She somehow had done her research on me, in the first session she said, "I understand you design movement programs for people. Could you do that for my work?" I said, "Sure."

Anyway, when I got into auditing the class, Dr. Rolf had a way, a talent, a skill, a brilliance that she could look into a body and see the musculature and the fascia in her mind. I didn't have that ability but I could see position. I would be in the back of the room being silent of course because the auditors are to be silent and the practitioners would be put on the spot. "Okay, okay, what do you see up there?" They go, "I don't know." "What's the matter with you, man? Can't you see that the shoulder is tied on the left?"

I'd be in the back of the room and whoever was standing next to me would say, "What do you see, Judith?" I'd say, "The pelvis is closer to the ground. It's low on the left. The shoulder is high on the left." They walk up to the front they'd say, "I see the pelvis is low on the ... High on the left in the shoulder." She'd say, "Very good. Now, what makes it that way?" So on and so forth. Pretty soon they were coming to me asking for this information so Dr. Rolf said, "You could teach this class."

I said, "Okay. I'll create this class also." We made a combined class of teaching people to see. Now, one of the things is when you have a grid it's very, very easy. It's not three dimensional but it's very easy to see the translations in the body, shifts in the body. The sheers in the body et cetera et cetera. I began to see that yes you can see that the left side is low on the shoulder and high on the right. When I started training the Rolfers in this technique of seeing the body and problem solving I'd say, "Where would you start?"

They said, "It's obvious that the right shoulder has to come down." I said, "How do you know that?" They say, "It's too high." I said, "What if the left side is pushing it up?" They go, "Don't mess with me. Don't mess with me. I see ... " I say, "Okay, those left side could be held short." They'd say, "Okay, I can see that." I'd say, "If so, you'd want to start on the left side." They go, "Aha." I say, "Or the left side could have such low tone that it's hypo tonic in its tissue and therefore you need to do toning first."

Then, they just throw out their hands and go, "This is ridiculous." Because we weren't doing movement, we weren't doing fitness, we weren't doing toning but the point is that I got to that place of being able to show them the need to really be able to see. Then, I found out that you can have excellent alignment along the plumb line that Dr. Rolf used or the medical model used from the ear to the ankle, the malleolus lateral malleolus. You could look at this body and they'd be in perfect alignment and I'd look at them. I'd say, "But their chest is compressed or their back is inflated." I realized it was about the shape of the body. I started adding dimension as the second piece that you've got to look at the relationship between the aspects of the dimension of the segments in relationship to the alignment. Then, from there it was like, okay that's still not good enough. It's got to be the internal volume because you can have those right shoulder high and you can have the left shoulder low.

You can have the chest, the ribs compressed on the right side and inflated on the left. You want to really be able to look through from the right side through to the left from the front through to the back and all the way through all the body segments so that you begin to see that that right shoulder being high and the left side low really fits all the way down to the foundation of the left ankle and the internal rotation of the tibia. Then, now you get to see the relationship of the pattern and that was the Aston Patterning part of the movement work that I created.

Brooke: I remember when I was at the Rolf Institute, one of my teachers saying to me that one of the greatest gifts that we give people with this work is just allowing people to be truly seen. That that doesn't happen that much and I still feel like that's one of the greatest gifts I give people. I don't see them perfectly- I don't have Dr. Rolf's gift- but just that I take the time or all of us in this fields, we take the time to slow down and really look and really try and see that person in front of us. I think this is a big deal.

Judith: In helping people learn to see themselves as they are and to see themselves how they could reclaim rather than see themselves as they are where they are apologizing to us when they walk in and say things like, "I bet you can see that I slump. I mean, I know I slump. Everybody tells me I slump."

Really, the piece that I added immediately when those moments happened was I taught people how to teach people to say, "You know, I see what you're saying about your chest being a little bit lower in front than in back. I'm wondering why your body has to do that pattern. Let's figure that out together." Because if we can figure out what's going on that causes it to do that it can change.

Brooke: We're so shame based about the things we've decided are faulty in our bodies. It's great that you can give that to people in working with them.

I love that you talk not just about our body as this self contained units but also about their interaction with the physical forces of the planet. That's something I think we forget a lot because it's such an assumed constant.

Judith: Indeed. Just being in our own body is enough for most people. Right? What we have to put it through and what it gets put through and the speed of life these days and so on. The technology changing the body and it's relationship to technology has put us into a rather ADD kind of attention span. I think around the word now, the world is so easily accessed but also these move our center of gravity off the planet. I think people don't feel grounded and so on and so forth. There are so many affirmations about how that's happened. One of the pieces that I became aware of and really became such an integral part of the work that I teach is that I heard so often that gravity was the enemy.

That you have to fight it and the way you fought it was by holding up against it. Before I met Dr. Rolf in dance and in different posture classes we were taught to pull up to the sky hook. Dr. Rolf had her own model of the feet very close together then you slightly soft the waistline back slight pelvic tilt, chest out, elbows out, top of the head up, chin in was her alignment pattern of what was correct posture. It also had this up feel, this is a feeling of up that you had to pull up against the force of gravity pulling us down.

When I look at that model I taught it a lot to many, many people but when I looked at it in action I didn't like the effort. This little voice inside me said, "If this is correct, why does it have to be so effortful? If this is correct, why do people not do it naturally?" Therefore I was off jumping in to the field of trying to figure out a different way of finding a better posture and being on the planet. I'm not lifting up. I never saw a sky hook before. The only sky hook I've ever seen are those that hold the skeleton by the head in a screw.

That's the only sky hook I've ever seen. There is no sky hook. If we bounce off the earth, if we let go into gravity it increases this pressure into the ground and it pushes back on us. As children we learn that spontaneously. You're holding the baby's hands while they are learning to stand and they start bending their knees and pushing off the ground. My goodness you put them into what used to be called a Johnny Jump Up and they entertain themselves for hours.

I'm not happy about the product design of the Johnny Jump Up- it is going to create problems with the alignment of the legs and has. The point is that as babies we learn that, as we go into dance we learn that, push off the earth off the floor to jump up. As skiers we learn that. People learn this but what I saw same with the alignment, yes that looks like good alignment but it's too effortful. Yes, you're pushing off the ground but it doesn't go all the way through your body.

It needs to go all the way through your body if you're going to juice the body and get maximum effect from being on the planet and unweighted from being pulled down by gravity. This became an essential concept I would say by mid to late 70's and really refined itself by the late 70's and has been an integral part of everything that I teach. This relationship of gravity and this force that the opposite force is called ground reaction force or the secondary force of gravity.

It actually literally pushes everything off the planet toward the stars. A lot of people know about these forces but it's how you maximize and optimize the use of pushing off the ground and relaxing into it to be weighted. To push off again to reestablish an effort for movement such as raising the arm or doing any task raising your child into the air it's a dynamic recycling of gravity and ground reaction.

Brooke: When I was preparing for this interview and we had a chance to talk briefly before this conversation and we got into this just a bit and it really has been fun to play with because I'm a daily walk in the woods person- Just thinking about the walking as this conversation that I'm having with the grounds like this friendly relationship I'm having with the ground instead of what is my gate pattern and those linear things I can get into because I'm a body person. Making it like a friendly conversation or like you said the dynamic recycling of gravity. It's just such a more easeful and fun and lively way to move.

Judith: We don't weigh the weight of an elevator but if you think about the elevator when we land you bounce, you hit and you bounce a little bit even though it's cushioned and when you get to the top you have this moment of suspension I call it. The moment of suspension is a key place where the most difficult movement can be done and be almost unweighted and the moment of suspension is where we can set ourselves up for the fall of how we want to land. It's so practical from walking as you say a nature walk to running to maximizing your running by knowing how to use gravity and ground reaction. It's fantastic.

Brooke: You touched on this a tiny bit when you spoke about how technology is affecting us and I know that one of the other things that you talk about a bunch is the impact from product designs which is a personal obsession of mine. I'd love to hear you speak on that a little more.

Judith: Sigh. When you see bodies the way we see bodies, and when you come to see that as I did ... I mean, my first work was called Structural Patterning because of Dr. Rolf's Structural Integration and she thought that that sounded okay. The piece there is that I realized that so much of our patterns are functional and you sit in a chair design, it shapes you. It shapes you and you may get out of that chair and have no consequence.

But if you sit in that chair every day for a week, by the end of the week you have a consequence of the design of the chair affecting your breath, affecting your pelvis and bottom, the more the glutes lose their tone. You get shaped into perhaps what people would call a slump or reflection pattern as we would call it by that one chair. That chair was the $1,500 ergonomic chair.

You want to use it for years to get your money for it. I cannot tell you the number of chairs we have modified with our wedges and our cushions and here, this, there, they go, "I cannot believe I paid $1,500 for this chair and for a $100 you're modifying it and I love it."

I thought all babies just had four double chins. I thought that that's just the way they came when I was taking my seeing skills to observing babies being held by parents or an infant seat or car seats et cetera. Then, I said, "I don't think it needs to be that way."

I started modifying all of these things. Teaching parents how to hold their baby in neutral ... Babies don't have four chins and not only that, they love neutral. It's this innate feeling.

Product design, this is an interesting one. I just did because of this nature of mind to be creative and I just can't help myself. At one point I had 300 product designs. I think I took a 175 of the ideas to a patent attorney and I showed up and he said, "Okay, this is overwhelming. I'll get back to you in a week." I said, "Okay, I just hope you could give me some thoughts today." He said, "No, I can't." Anyway, he calls back he said I have the good news and the bad news.

The good news is it seems as though you've discovered a law of nature. The bad news is you can't patent that but we can patent every single product idea. I started and it took five patents just to get one handle. It wasn't financially realistic for me to do that so I have all these product ideas.

Sometimes people are getting closer in these product ideas that are out there. Sometimes they get it but it doesn't come because they came from the body necessarily.They came from the hand or the wrist, or they came from the bottom or they came from the foot, but they didn't connect it to the whole body and that's why it doesn't quite work. Why we still teach people to modify shoes, modify chairs, modify sports equipment, modify helmets and golf clubs and so on and so on and so forth. Maybe before the end of this time on the planet I will do a book on my product ideas.

To realize that the way you sit in the chair at the dentist office affects the equilibration and the way they grind your teeth for the bite or fit you for the appliance, the night guard. The way you sit at the optometrist is going to affect the acuity of your eyes. The way they make you reach forward when you go to the DMV to push on this machine with your forehead so they can test your vision affects the ability to see clearly. All of these things have to do with the ergonomic relationship of the body to the task. To empower people before they go to the dentist, before they go to the optometrist is one of the great joys of my life.

Brooke: I think the more we can realize how much our environment affects us and shapes us and because we are contemporary humans and we are going to be interacting with products. If we can have more human friendly design that takes into account the whole body that would be amazing.

Judith: Exactly, the body is not static it's always dynamic. The more you can encourage and support it being dynamic again all systems are go. When the body has to sit in a chair that has such a strong opinion on it the system shut down in some degree.

Brooke: Absolutely. You have a great quote that I love, "Sometimes we just need help interpreting ourselves," I think it really gets to the heart of your approach being about evoking awareness rather than telling people how to get it right.

Judith: Yes, yes, yes. Many, many years ago I worked with a body worker. This would have been in the 70's and he said, "Why are you asking my clients how they feel? They don't know how they feel. You have to tell them how they feel." What? I think my mouth dropped open I said, "Wow."

Okay, there's a lot of education that needs to happen here. I was Dr. Rolf's Girl Friday in that first training. I did everything, I picked up her cleaning as well as in class I picked up her cleaning. I could get her coffee, I could do all these things for supporting her which I was ... I don't know what that, I was a graceful and always compassionate girl Friday but I was appreciative to be able to assist because I love Dr. Rolf and she deserved assistance in every way.

One of the things she ask me to get her a coffee and I brought it to her and she said, "No, no. You didn't put the cream in first." I said, "No, I didn't." She said, "You put the cream in first and then the coffee." I said, "Okay." Because I'm eager to please her I'm on my way back to the coffee machine and I come back. She goes, "That's much better." I said, because I'm curious, "Why does that matter? What's going on here, Dr. Rolf?" The piece there is that as a biochemist she can explain to you that the first ingredient in anything determines how any other ingredient breaks down.

Okay, now we all know that when we make a recipe that if you put the tomatoes in first followed by onions, peppers et cetera- It's a different flavor if you change the order. This is how famous chefs make their dishes taste different. Okay. They may not know the rule or the principle but the point is they know that this changes it. When you are the person who can offer you wisdom, your experience to a client coming- You still want it all to be where they have the highest percentage of the ingredient first that you add information too. Rather than, "You should, you're wrong, this is the only way. Hold this, add effort," et cetera et cetera.

Brooke: You're mentioning Dr. Rolf a bunch. I have to ask, because I don't get to chat with you every day, she entrusted you to come up with a movement paradigm for the Rolfing work. What was it like in the early days where everyone in this emerging fields were figuring out totally original potentials for accessing health in the human body? I would have loved to have been a fly on the wall for some of that.

Judith: Dr. Rolf used that very same line, Brooke. That she was only going to be a fly on the wall when I invited her to show her what I had come up with. She didn't turn out to be a fly on the wall.

Brooke: Somehow I'm not surprised from the stories I've heard.

Judith: She's very, very vocal and active and right in the middle of it- which is what actually what I wanted- and I was surprised by the comment about fly on the wall.

I'm so intrigued that the skills we have as a child- when they can manifest into the thing that we end up doing in our career and loving it- it's so satisfying and rewarding. My skills were creativity, memeing and math. Math and abstract thinking, patterns.

They already had told me that I teach chaos theory and I said, "No, I don't know that." She said, "You teach it." I said, "Okay, fine. Let's not call it that. I'll just keep teaching the way I'm teaching." The piece there is that I could look at a program in the theater department and see how they were working with their actors. I could create a way of teaching them how to take people from where they were to where they wanted them to be for that characterization and back out of it.

I created a movement program for a psychiatrist for his patients. He was a Fritz Perls' trained psychiatrist and I created a program for him. I had so many different experiences of creating movement forms, so I observed and then could get to what were the common denominators of this work. What were the objectives of this work? How could I extrapolate out of that and create and use Dr. Rolf's paradigm?

Her idea about movement was extremely easy by the way. Her idea was you take the Rolf line and you add motion. You initiate through the psoas. Really, that was it. She added a few different things probably from her yoga to palms up palms down palms, baby fingers et cetera, arm motions as an exercise going up onto half toe, toes up toes down et cetera, et cetera. She had just a few things. I felt I had carte blanche to create this thing but I used it around her theories.

When I trained and finished my training in 69, February of '69, Dorothy Nolte was assisting Dr. Rolf in order to assist me to train because of my size I was only going to be trained to work on small women and children. People were working with Dr. Rolf in the main room. Dorothy was working with me in a private room at the hotel with my sessions and my clients. When I started to work with this movement program, Dr. Rolf surprised me by saying, "Dorothy Nolte has a movement program. Maybe that would do."

I said, "I don't know anything about it. I'll go and I'll look into it." It was called structural awareness I think. Anyway, I got a session from her and it was lovely. It was very much going internally and increasing awareness and it was nice. I stopped at phone booth, we had phone booth at the time in 1969, phone booth and I called Dr. Rolf. I said, "Dr. Rolf, I just had a session. It's very, very nice but it is not what I wanted to do at all. You need to go decide whether you want me to go ahead and create this program or whether you want to use Dorothy's which is fine. Just let me know."

She said, "Tell me more about your program." Okay, I want to help people get neutral, I want to help people take this into their yoga, in their athletics. I want to help people transform themselves and have tools to do so. I want people to be able to do body work and not hurt themselves. I kept going and she goes, "Okay, okay, okay." Dr. Rolf had a very fun way of when she had enough of what you were saying or doing she's say, "Okay, okay, okay." I said, "What?" She said ... Because by this time I'm a bit revved up. "What?"

She said, "Okay, go ahead. I want you to do your program." I said, "Okay, fine." I started to do this program in terms of using her rolling down for you to do the work going down the erector spinae et cetera et cetera. I did this work and as I said each time I started to put a piece together and I would show her she would comment. I would start to change it and then by the time I first started training people in '71 it was already quite different. It was only ten days that first time.

I had ten days to teach people this and then it became two weeks and then it became four weeks and then it became six weeks. Now, they work that includes body work movement, fitness and ergonomics is two weeks every six months, six phases of that. It just kept growing because of the problem solving of what people either knew or didn't know, what they were interested in, what the clients brought in and that we would apply it to- Your client needs some information about applying it to yoga.

Your client needs it for working in an office. Your client works as a mechanic and really needs help with that. Your client is a plumber. How do you get into that tiny space and keep your body able to help you do all of those task in such confined and limited spaces? It just grew and grew and grew and I remember Dr. Rolf at one point when the work had really grown and people really loved it and she said, "I never thought you'd take it this far."

Brooke: I think you're one of the people who's primarily responsible for cracking that nut or cracking that shell of this idea of finding perfect stasis. Getting on your line and just getting it right and turning it into a much more fluid experience of a human body. I thank you for that because I think that lineage just keeps evolving in really beautiful way.

Judith:Thank you, yes I'm glad she gave me permission and I felt that I was progressing it. Although it's a long way away from the paradigm that she really held as correct. One of those things, we just went speaking with Dr. Rolf and one of the things that I had to learn when I started teaching at the college in '63 before I met Ida in '68 was about teaching.

One of the things was I learned- and I learned by observation and trial and error- is that the body doesn't learn movement well on the no.When you teach don't lift your shoulder for the golf swing. Don't let that happen. Do not let your knee do this. When it's all based on the no you will get a static jumping from frame to frame movement experienced with that athlete. When you teach on the yes, you link things- "next time think about your knees coming from that in position to slightly out as you step on the right. There you go. That's it, just slightly out, there you go." As opposed to "don't let your right knee internally rotate."

It's a totally different thing. I get to Dr. Rolf's class having felt like I had a certain success at building and teaching on the yes. This was her teaching style. "Okay, all the auditors up in front in your underwear let's see you." Rolfers, Rolf trainees I want you to pick out who has the worst pelvis.

Brooke: Sounds like so much fun.

Judith: As an auditor you're shaking in your boots. You wear no boots, you were barefoot. You're shaking up there going, "Oh please, God. Do not let me be the person with the worst pelvis." Because you got that session that day, right? You are the model or something for Dr. Rolf's ...

And it was so hard teaching techniques were often on the no because and she, along with Moshe Feldenkrais along with Fritz Perls, so many people they had these brilliant systems they just didn't know how to teach it. People learn their system by duplicating, imitating and passing along the same paradigm until they really started learning on their own and made changes then. I'm just saying that's what was so unique about the teaching style was then I could bring my teaching style into it and things changed quite a bit.

Brooke: Before we wrap up, what are you currently fascinated by in your own practice either your movement practice or your teaching or learning?

Judith: I'm always fascinated. That's how all of these forms- when you talk about the breadth of the work- and the only reason there aren't more is time probably. I love creating forms around whatever a person's interest is and whatever the problem is that I'm looking at et cetera et cetera. I'm always fascinated. Right now, I'm most interested in doing vignettes, little pieces of maybe a little bit of a concept dealing with an issue that is hot in the world right now.

For example one of these that I'm going to be doing next month is about sitting. I can't tell you how revved up I get when I start saving all these information that sitting is the new smoking. Sitting is killing you, stop it and you see all of these photographs of people in Scandinavia leaning on molded sculptures instead of sitting and so on and so forth just to keep the body from sitting in a chair.

We're starting this blog actually it's next week I think we're starting a blog and I'm doing a little vignette like a preview in the blog about these issues. Then I'm going to do short little videos that give people ways of dealing with sitting or ways of sitting on the floor and meditating and so on and so forth. Then people can buy those little sections on our website. That's one thing I'm going to be doing.

Brooke: I'm excited about that.

Judith: Yes, because I get revved up and you can just turn me on. I sometimes teach classes that they get going with the questions that are coming and I look at them and I say, "Someone lock the door we're going to be here for a month." Because they have posted their questions and it's so exciting. This will be a way for me to start handling and managing some of those. I'm starting to wind down- I won't be teaching the fundamental classes very much longer than this year. I'm scheduled for that.

I'm scheduled for one more certification starting this year and finishing up. It's two weeks every six months and so they'll finish up in March 2018. I want to get to some of these other things and some of these other things are as follows. Products, of course but mainly and we have products by the way I should mention that. We have products. Go to our website and look up some of them because they can help you transform the way you sit on the floor, sit in a chair, sit in your car or if you travel a lot. Oh my goodness, you want wedges for the airplane.

Brooke: Airplane seats are made by the devil.

Judith: Yes, yes. One of the things is that I'm thinking of doing two day classes around each around one concept applied to something. For example, a concept applied for personal trainers, two days on the weekend. The concept of our work teaching people how to use that concept applied to body workers. A concept of the work applied to anyone who teaches pilates et cetera et cetera so by activity, by field. I'm really looking at doing that. That's got my excitement right now.

Brooke: I want all of it. I can't wait to see it all come to fruition. It sounds great. Yes. Thank you so much. I really can't thank you enough for all that you have done for our fields and for just people getting a chance to get friendly with living in their own body. Thank you and thank you for talking with all of us today.

Judith: I thank you so much, Brooke and thank you for what you're doing for everyone. Congratulations.

Home play!

Between talking with Judith about how product design impacts the body and the fact that in the Liberated Body 30-Day Challenge we just wrapped up our week where we were thinking about the same thing, well, let’s just say it’s on my mind big time. In the 30-Day Challenge what people do is to gradually (and individually, it depends on where you’re at in your body) shed layers of things that impact our bodies and our movement. What that looks like is going either furniture-free or furniture-light for a week- and we have some screen-free time too. It really helps us to notice what our most frequently used products are doing to our bodies. Things like always sinking into the couch into the same shape every night for hours, bending your head to text 30 times throughout the day, sleeping on a mattress that conforms to your body in the same way every time, sitting in the same old office chair that holds you in the same old shape- ALL of that. So this week I offer you this challenge- grow just a teensy bit suspicious of the products in your life. How are they impacting your shapes and your movement? Can you be more conscious about that and switch up the autopilot interactions? It doesn't have to be drastic (though it can, it can certainly be drastic for some folks who go full monty in the 30-Day Challenge...) it can be as simple as sitting on the floor to watch TV instead of the couch. shutting off the phone after 5 pm. standing at the kitchen counter with your laptop to return emails... see what comes up!

Resources

Aston Kinetics

Aston Kinetics instructional videos

Aston Kinetics courses and events

Aston product line (sitting wedges, etc)

Dr. Ida Rolf

Rolfing

Moshe Feldenkrais

Fritz Perls

If you liked this episode

You might also like

Mary Bond: Posture is an Exploration

Todd Hargrove: Pain Science and How to Be a Happy Mover

Constance Clare-Newman: Alexander Technique

Mary Bond: Posture is an Exploration (LBP 028)

Mary Bond, author of The New Rules of Posture, talks about how and why the word “posture” is problematic, how poor posture becomes chronic, what muscular armoring is and how it interferes with our functioning, the distinction between support and stabilization, the relationship between facial and spinal tension, and what it means to be a tongue gripper and how that affects people.

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Show notes

Brooke: You wrote the excellent book, The New Rules of Posture. I was wondering if, for contrast, if you could explain the old rules of posture and why we need new ones.

Mary:The book is about posture in name only because that’s what people think is wrong with them. When they look at their body or they assess their body, they think, “Oh, my posture is terrible and that if I could just fix my posture, then everything will be wonderful.”

What I’m interested in is movement and perception. Posture is just one of the outcomes of movement and also of the way that we perceive the world. The book is really a book about body awareness. The publisher didn’t think that would sell books. They put The New Rules of Posture.

On page 12, what you see is a couple of bullet points and it just says that posture is a process of self-study. That’s the first rule. The second part of it is that posture is dynamic. It’s not a static position that you get yourself into and then you’re all perfect.

Mary: Even Ida Rolf said: top of the head, waistline back, that was a rule when I studied with her, (Ida Rolf, the founder of Rolfing). A more common one is spine straight, shoulders back, head up, chin in.

These are all just postures laid on top of our positions laid on top of an organism that is moving and perceiving its environment and responding in the very best way that it can moment to moment. How can you tell what it’s supposed to look like? It’s very visual and static, the old point of view.

Brooke: That's a big passion of mine- that we can’t fix ourselves into the right shape. I don’t think that gets discussed all that often.

Mary: What interests me in working with people is I can assess them. I can assess their posture and movement because I’ve spent 34 years looking at bodies. I have a good eye but I know that if I tell them something to do to change the way they are, it will be an artifact laid on top of their own investigation of the world. What I’m interested in doing is finding the experience with the question that they can internally meditate on to discover the thing I want them to discover.

Brooke:What are some of the ways that poor posture can become chronic?

Mary: How it becomes chronic one way is that it works.We’re responding. We’re organisms responding to a scary world really. When there are threats of any type, we try to protect the vulnerable visceral parts of our bodies. We curl in. That turns into something that society calls bad posture but we keep it that way because it worked. We survived. That’s one way that posture becomes chronic is it’s a habituated response to some kind of threat or trauma or instability.

The other way that it becomes chronic is as a structural compensation. If a person has come out of the womb with feet that don’t mature well and don’t learn how to meet the earth well for one reason or another, then quite often, you’ll get compensation in the knees, for example, locked knees.

A structural compensation like using the knees as if they were the feet, then that becomes a habit. It works. She stays upright with these locked knees until one of these days, the knees are not going to work.

Brooke: There’s also this attempt to feel less vulnerable by becoming more solid but that this solidity actually interferes with our functioning.

Mary: First of all, I’d like to make a distinction between support and stabilization. Support is something we receive. We allow ourselves to be supported. Lots of times, that’s a problem.

We can’t, for some reason or another because of habituation. It makes it difficult for us to trust that we could allow ourselves to be supported by the ground or by another human, by the table. Support is something that we take in and allow.

Stabilization is something that we do. We stabilize the core in order to push off from the ground and lean into the air, for example. We need stabilization but in this culture of hyper-fitness, there’s too much emphasis on stabilization. I think it’s because we lack support and people don’t see that. They don’t see that distinction.

The more we stabilize ourselves and compress ourselves, getting back to your question, we become over-muscled and then, we’re compressing our joints without realizing it.

The freedom to allow our organisms to move as a intricately, complexly integrated system moment to moment through our lives is diminished because our joints don’t work the way they should. We no longer have three planes of motion, for example, in the hip. We have girdles hips and then we totter along from side to side.

Brooke: It’s brilliant. I’m so glad you’re differentiating between support and stabilization because I think in the same way that we’ve stopped distinguishing between movement and exercise which is crazy, we also don’t distinguish between support and stabilization.

Mary: People are running around desperate to feel more relaxed. The essence of relaxation is allowing oneself to be supported. That’s what it is. It’s not something you get from outside.Relaxation is built into the system. It’s the pause in the middle of your breath. It’s allowing your buttocks to feel that the chair underneath you is really there and you could really allow your buttocks and your thighs and your feet …

Mary: That’s what I think you and I are on the same page about is that we want to share that option with more people because it’s precious understanding. It’s the key to life in a way.

Brooke: You already talked about how you’re not looking at posture as a still thing. One of the very common movement patterns that you get into a lot is walking. What are some of the features of healthy walking?

Mary: I think maybe the first thing is beauty. Healthy walking is beautiful to look at. It pleases your mirror neurons. It’s like your body responds as you watch some kind of grace. As we look at a nature movie, for example, we go, “Oh, look at that cat. Look at that elephant how incredibly slowly and yet connectedly it can move.”

It’s the same with people. Watching a beautiful walk is a pretty rare occurrence in our culture at the moment. We’re walking on flat surfaces. Our feet don’t articulate. We’re wearing God knows what kind of shoes, either overly constructed to substitute for the ability of the foot or they’re just decorative. They’re something like earrings that you put on your feet and then you stumble around in them.

From the ground up, there’s a helical motion. The foot actually rotates inward and outward around its own midline. Instead, we put our feet in … One of my colleagues, Philip Beach, calls shoes sensory deprivation devices.

Mary: From the ground up, we’re not rotating. I have a run-through of features of helical walking that I could share with you but I can’t give you an overall picture except to say that it’s beautiful. The foot comes down through the calcaneus and talus and then rotates through the transverse arch across towards the navicular and into the cuneiforms and metatarsals and pushes through and actually bounces off the transverse arch. That’s when all those joints are working well.

Then, there’s a spiraling that occurs through the leg as it sits down through the lateral arch of the foot, the calcaneus and cuboid. There’s a slight external rotation in the hip joint. Then, as the weight translates through the transverse arch and pushes off, there’s a gradual inward rotation of the whole lower extremity into the push-off. When that push-off happens, it lengthens the psoas so that the next leg swing happens without the necessity to pick up the thigh. It just swings.

Meanwhile, the joints of the pelvis are torquing. The pelvis actually twists back and forth like an infinity sign. If you could hold a figure eight between your hands and twist the two loops forward and back, the innominate bones alternately go anterior and posterior in response to what the lower leg has done.

The sacrum of course is following that movement and the lumbars are following the sacrum. Then, up around T8, T9, maybe T10, it depends on the person, there’s a counter rotation in the thoracics.

Of course, up at the juncture between the head and neck, there’s slight movement also because otherwise, the head will be going side to side when this helical motion is taking place underneath. There has to be motion available in the neck in order for the gait to really manifest as beautiful.

Mary: I was lucky to study or to co-teach a class years ago with David Clark, who together with Gael Ohlgren, wrote a study called Natural Walking. I got it firsthand from David.

I should also mention that without the support of the ground, the ability for that body to rest into the ground and the capacity for the senses to open to the space, then none of that can happen because the joints will be too compressed. That spaciousness is actually awareness of space or the use of peripheral vision, peripheral hearing. Awareness of our environment is actually a lifting force that gives span to the joints so that they can rotate in the direction they were designed to do.

Brooke: You recently held a workshop about the face and spine tension relationships. You discussed that that kind of tension in the face and neck can affect the AO joint, which for those who aren’t in the field, it’s the joint where the head and neck meet, and that this can affect the movement of the whole spine.

Mary:The reason that I put that together was that I’ve been invited to teach at some Pilates studios. I really wanted to do this because I feel that the kinds of things that the structural integration community understands about the body and especially about the Rolf Movement community, our understanding of the body would be very useful to the Pilates studios because they’re so alignment oriented.

But they seem to be limited, in my opinion, in understanding of the body in the context of life in general. It’s goal oriented. It’s like you try to do these particular things either with the machines or on a mat class. You do these maneuvers. Y

Where we’ll often stabilize ourselves in order to achieve a strong effort towards a goal is in the jaw, the masseter, the pterygoids, they just clench and the eyes of course yet very, very focused, over focused in this sagittal direction. We’re just trying to achieve that goal.

When that happens, the tension in the face creates a lid on the spine, is how I think of it. It’s like the movement of the energy through the system up through the head and back down into the ground, that then is blocked right there at the juncture of chin and neck.

You have a situation where the spine is compressed. I think in that workshop, the first thing I did was ask them to do a forward roll down. Then, we went through various explorations to open and soften the oral cavity. I was just really working with the temporomandibular joint, the feeling of breath across the maxilla and space behind the uvula and just everything that’s in front of C2, C3.

Then, towards the end of the class, we did that forward roll down again. Sure enough, there’s more perception of spinal freedom even though we didn’t do any exercise in the spine. Then, we applied it to the Pilates sit-up thing where the body is supine and you come up into something they call teaser or forward roll or the hundreds.

The challenge then is can you do that and keep that spatial opening in the face. To do that successfully requires a sense of spaciousness through the whole body. The whole, the feet, the head, the arms, everything needs to perceive the space around it in order to maintain the spaciousness within.

The people at that studio, it’s in North Carolina, they have an online school. It’s called Fusion Fitness Online. They have filmed that class,

Brooke:We live in the age of screens. We’re talking about this kind of face and eye tension, how it affects everything. How do you think the screens are maybe affecting us?

Mary: It’s not good. When you narrow your visual perception that way, it diminishes your peripheral awareness. Your spatial awareness goes bye-bye. The body compresses. The joints compress and pretty soon, you’re stiff because fascia is very agreeable. If you want to be compressed, it will lay down more fiber and let you be more compressed.

It takes the head forward. It compresses the spine. The thing that I think is even worse, it makes us less aware of the wider world. This is odd to think about because with all the connectivity of the internet and this is what you and I are making use of right now, is that sense of being able to reach out globally.

At the same time, the perceptual diminishment that’s involved in doing that makes us less friendly, less aware of one another as organisms in the same boat. We’re both more connected and less connected across the horizon in an embodied way.

I think that’s a threat to the human spirit. Hopefully, there are enough of us who are interested in combatting it, bringing it to awareness and there will be maybe a hundredth monkey place where people wake up and realize that we need to learn to use these tools rather than have them use us. We become enthralled to the electronic device.

Brooke:I want to dive a little more deeply into some of the face-spine tension stuff. Maybe it’s just my personal bias because I’m a lifelong tongue gripper. I’m a tongue gripper in recovery- but I think that it’s really a common pattern. People don’t really think about what’s up with their tongues. You’ve linked this to some things that people do think about more frequently like tension headaches and shoulder gripping, shoulder tension.

Mary: In my book, I have an exercise where I suggest that the tongue should rest in the floor of the mouth. After working with this new information, I went, “Oh, no. That’s wrong.” Apologized to everybody as I’m reading this book but actually, when I went back to check in the book, it was an exercise. I don’t have scientific proof but in my own experience, and I think in the experience of so many people that I’ve taught now, that the tongue rests slightly in the roof of the mouth, not pressing however.

That’s a big distinction because lots of people are pressing the roof of the mouth with the tip of their tongue or doing different things that make the tongue narrow. What I’m talking about is a wide, soft tongue. The back of the tongue is at rest, broadly resting against the molars.

When you do that with yourself, it’s as if you’re smiling inside your mouth. There’s a width that takes place. That width also supports the breadth and width of the maxilla which is this very thin, micro thin arch of bone that is the floor of the nose and the eyes, the roof of the mouth but it’s the floor of the top part of the face.

That tongue maxilla structure is really the place where the whole gut tube is suspended from. When you feel that, you feel that breadth. You also will sense that it’s easier to breathe in through the nose. The widening of the maxilla, the widening of the tongue supports more space in the nasal concha.

It’s easier for nose breathing to occur which takes you into the benefit of breathing through the nose as a stimulus to the diaphragm and an opening of the lower lung where the better oxygen exchange more capillaries. Better oxygen exchange takes place in the lower lung whereas mouth breathing tends to bring the air quickly.

Mary: It’s like a real different energy in your face and also in the sense of how you look out of this face. There’s a different kind of interior support that occurs when you have the tongue in this place.

Brooke: If I push and do the opposite of what you’re describing and really pushing through the roof of my mouth, there is this really narrowing and hardening that I can feel quite a lot in my eyes as well as in my jaw.

Mary: That’s right and also in your nose. Notice what happens to the breath then.

Brooke: It’s true. Breath gets a lot more shallow.

Mary:What’s really fun in classes is to have people model those different places, those three that we just mentioned and notice the change in gait. It’s really very visible because it contributes to decompression of the spine.

Brooke: You have a new online course called Know Your Feet. You were talking earlier about a lot of nuance in the feet with gait pattern. What are some of the other things that that covers that it gets into?

Mary: What I wanted to do with this idea of my foot workshop is to just inform people about the complexity of their feet and give them a few things to assess their own feet and understand their own feet. It’s simple biomechanics, and also an introduction to the relationship between the feet and the body as a whole, when you stand in your feet in a pronated position, how your body feels in that way versus if you stand with your feet in a high arched rigid position and which is your tendency.

Then, also woven into the class is how to feel and receive support because the feet have to be in relationship to the ground, not just on the ground in order for them to work optimally. I couldn’t teach this class without also teaching about gravity and support. Then, there’s some self-help exercises to correct faulty foot habits. There’s some exercises for flat feet and high arches, different ways to work with yourself to improve your functions.

Brooke: Is there anything that you are currently playing with or fascinated by in your own practice these days?

Mary: I practice yoga, not strenuously but I find that it helps me on many levels. Recently, I’ve been trying to build into my home practice of that as well as when I’m in a class the sense of aliveness, homogeneous aliveness inside my skin.

Instead of thinking about the correctness of the asana or how to arrange or contract my muscles in order to do a particular pose, I’m trying, before I began to feel where I can feel myself through everything finger, every toe, my liver, just a quick scan in my all there and then I go into the pose.

I’m trying also to work with finding that balance between working the pose too hard and not working it hard enough. That’s a fine line but interestingly, I found that that practice has started to come across into my Rolfing practice. I am a habitual over-worker.

Brooke: I can relate.

Mary: Backing off to just the right amount within a specified practice, that seems to be beneficial to me. I also do a practice called dance meditation. There’s no structure to the movement but it’s, for me, a similar journey of embodied movement on any particular day that’s different. What it feels like to be embodied today is different from yesterday. It’s nice to know that.

Home play!

Want to play with all kind of good stuff related to the neck/head relationship? I love this exploration from Mary Bond; check it out! http://healyourposture.com/2013/08/free-your-head/

Resources

Mary Bond's website/blog: Heal Your Posture

Book, The New Rules of Posture

Mary Bond's Healthy Posture DVD

Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Rolfing® Structural Integration

Mary Bond's workshop on face/spine relationships at Fusion Fitness Online

Mary Bond's Know Your Feet workshop

Dance Meditation

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Constance Clare-Newman: Alexander Technique

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

Bo Forbes: Mindfulness Expressed in the Body

Gary Ward: What the Foot? (LBP 023)

Gary Ward is the founder of Anatomy in Motion, and the author of the book What the Foot?. He talks about how Anatomy in Motion is based on understanding how the body moves- or what the body does and when it does it- why change can happen in minutes instead of months, his Flow Motion Model, why he is not a fan of stretching, the reason behind redefining “neutral” as “center”, how we need to learn how to have better posture in a subconscious way, what nobody-ever-moved-me-itis is, and of course, plenty about the feet as the gateway to appropriate movement everywhere else.

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Show notes

Gary [all other text is Gary unless noted]: Anatomy in Motion is a movement oriented education system. It is based on what the body does and when it does it. What I mean by that is what joints do  in what dimension of movement and in what time- for instance for us in the gait cycle.

Brooke: You say the body does know how to work effortlessly and efficiently.

I think the big picture is that the body- or more accurately the brain- has choices. The way people use their bodies in their daily routine has a repetitive nature. Everything they do is operating in these fixed patterns and habits of movement. The choice essentially becomes no choice but to move in our fixed patterns- We have no choice but to move the way we move until we show the body another way.

What is remarkable to me is that when you show the body how to access the movements it is missing it gives more choice and more options, and allows the body to do what it needs to do when it is required. The brain seems to notice the upgrade in efficiency. Pain drops away and performance is naturally enhanced.

The efficient and effortless state seems to be known by the body, but it needs to be accessed and to allow the nervous system to do its thing.

Brooke: You mention change can happen in an instant or in moments instead of years. To what do you attribute the "biomechanical quantum leap"?

I know that is how it happens because I have seen it too many times to deny it, but I realize that it is radical thinking. I don't want thinking to limit what is possible. It's very important for us to consider that the person who does the healing is not the therapist, it is the individual. If we are able to give a person better choices for their movement potential then they are going to move better. Given that we have the opportunity as therapists to take information from them, and so understand their limitations, then maybe we are able to see the things they can't. We can replace them back so they have a full repertoire of movement back to them. Then they instantly get taller, feet start to move better, pelvises rebalance...

We had a physiotherapist in our training recently and he was saying that he was trained that posture cannot and does not change, but he was seeing it happen. It doesn't take months, it takes minutes.

Reverse compensations- so if you roll your ankle off the side of a curb then you are instantly going to start hobbling around to protect the system from this drastic thing that has happened to it. If we can say you no longer have to be in this space, the dots connect and people can release themselves from their postural problems. Joints find better alignment, length-tension relationships of the muscles change, you are less weight-bearing on just one side- and so obviously things change.

Brooke: A lot of what we see prescribed for managing these issues is stretching and you talk about how that doesn't really work.

I'm not a fan of stretching. The need to stretch a patient or client after every session indicates that nothing has really changed if your hamstrings are the same. It is because of the way they are moving in between sessions. People are taught to stretch the hamstrings, but we have to ask why is it continually tight when I stretched it to be loose?

If stretching doesn't work what does? A recognition that the ability to lengthen is an isolated part of the muscle's skill set. Muscles lengthen AND shorten.  In fact if you reach a maximum stretch the muscle will start to shorten against it. You are teaching it to shorten by stretching it. The more you stretch it, the more you are asking the muscle to concentrically contract against it. It is a protective mechanism that kicks in in the unconscious arena. If we encourage the actual shortening it seems to want to do- muscles lengthen and shorten all day long. Muscles lengthen before they contract. So after every stretch there should be a contraction. I'm never one to take part of a solution, so I would rather teach a muscle to do what it does best and to lengthen and shorten.

Brooke: I wonder if it's possible to paint a picture what it might look like if I walked in and saw an Anatomy in Motion session in progress?

Basically we have the 5 laws of motion:

1)  Muscles need to lengthen before they contract, 2) Joints act and muscles react which kind of flips the model on its head because most people feel they need to contract a muscle to move a joint, but in movement it seems to be the opposite way around so we look at the movements of the skeleton and what movements are missing, 3) Everything operates around a perception of center.

If a center of mass is over to the left, or forward it is going to influence the stance in standing and in walking. What movements can we create to bring their mass over to the right and how is that going to give an opposite experience to the muscles? If a pelvis is over to the left you might notice the muscles on the outside of the left hip and inside of the right thigh are going to be stretched and lengthened and those muscles are trying to decelerate any further movement of the pelvis to the left.

Muscles that are long and tight are working hard by concentrically shortening against a skeleton that is moved away from its resting position. So they feel tight and irritated and we want to stretch them, but in reality what we should do is show the skeleton the opposite space and what that would do is to take those long muscles and allow them to relax. When the brain perceives this is starts to make a decision do I want to stay left, or access right? And then it can find its position of center. Or what most people understand as the word neutral.

Somebody walks in in a habitual pattern of movement and we are able to use the Flow Motion Model to observe what movements are excessive and what movements are missing and then to use exercises to replace the missing movements so the brain can find center.

Brooke: You had touched on neutral and how the concept of neutral is flawed and you use "center" instead. Can you say why you think neutral is flawed?

Center is neutral- just to get that clear. When other people would be saying neutral, I would be saying center. and I made that change because neutral leads to this idea that the perfect way to move is in neutral- you lift in neutral, you sit in neutral, walk in neutral, stand in neutral... But you can't be in neutral and the body is not designed to be in neutral full time. Movement is about moving away from neutral and then back through neutral and then away from it again. So neutral is a mere moment in time.

If you look at a gait cycle, you are asking a spine that is able to flex and extend, rotate side to side, and side bend side to side and you're asking it to be in neutral. It is critical that we can be able to move through neutral when going from point A to point B. But actually we should access 2 flexions and 2 extensions in the spine through each step we take, and if we hold our spine in neutral we are going to miss out on that. We call it center because it is the middle of two extremes of experience.

There is also a thing in the book about the spinal gyroscope- if you can fully explore the 6 ranges of motion your brain will have a better appreciation of what it is like to have a spine standing tall.

What this means [when you attempt to hold your spine still in neutral while walking] for other joints in the body is that they have to take up the slack for other joints that are not doing their job in the body. The body is a completely closed system, which means if something doesn't do what it is supposed to do, something else has to do its job. This causes excessive ranges of motion of the joints and new length-tension relationships of the muscles which get sore over time. The trick is not to treat the soreness but to get he spine doing what is hasn't' been able to do for years.

The muscle system is the great tension exchange. When you lose tension someplace, you have to get it somewhere else.

Brooke: What does the Flow Motion Model look like?

It's basically my next book that I am writing. I'm really excited to bring the flow motion model to life for people as a kind of reference book. It is the thing that I have been passionate about since I got into the world of movement. It's the description of what he body does and when it does it. It is a detailed description of each joint motion in all 3 dimensions in each phase of gait in each step in the human gait cycle. The unique thing about gait is that over a period of 0.6 and 0.8 seconds, which is the duration of a single footstep for most people, as measured by the force plates that we use, we should see that every single joint motion should take place in that small amount of time.

And they have relationships up and down the body. So the relationships to the foot and the knee, the shoulder, the arm... each phase becomes like a roadmap to what should be happening in which segment of the human body at what time. We can observe a person's gait cycle or their posture and observe the missing motions. All with the goal of giving us informtion as to what to do next. We can watch somebody walk and pick aspects of what they are doing. What can we do to restore function so that they can [heel strike] optimally next time.

What we notice by doing that is that if we can make every person's strike phase "perfect", then it's going to influence how they move into their suspension phase and how they move through the whole journey. and because it is happening in such a small time period there is virtually no time at all to recover if the strike phase is off.

Brooke: The idea being that addressing the feet with this much nuance is going to affect everything upstream.

I genuinely believe that. Even now you can go online and find stuff about feet but it's really all about a concentric way of thinking. There are very few people thinking big about the foot related to movement.

Brooke: And we do a lot of controlling the feet- it's about how to prop them up, give them orthotics, or limit their movement really.

That marries back to our neutral conversation. Can you teach a body to find center rather than by enforcing neutral on it? There are 26 bones and 33 joints in each foot. Our spine has 33 joints but there are 2 feet- so that's 52 bones and 66 joints. They form our foundation in the sense of gait and they are the interface between our inner world and our outer world.

Our external environment is generally flat these days and that contributes to the repetitive habits and the lazy feet that we see these days. Our feet are incredibly complex but also incredibly simple. The idea that we want to put stability into a 33 joint system is crazy. We should put movement and mobility into the system.

It would take some serious convincing to get me to think about the foot does not effect the rest of the body. So for example if  the foot has a more internally rotated rear foot on the left side than the right you will notice that there are some inseparable connections. One of them being that this will generate a rightward rotation of the pelvis, and a counter rotation to the left of the spine. This results in a lengthening of such muscles as your right internal oblique, left external oblique, right erector spinae, and right lat. Other therapists can observe these things but as soon as this guy leaves the room on his pronated left foot  he's just going to walk those stretches right back into his life. It's  about the repetitive patterns in the gait. We won't change the body if we don't change the gait.

People say but the foot can be affected by the rest of the body and I wholeheartedly agree. If you bang your head and if affects your neck and reaches into the spine and filters down into the feet and makes a change, that change will affect the gait cycle and that gait cycle will be used  every single day until it's changed. That gait cycle is feeding information back into the body all the time. One way to change that is to work with the feet simultaneously while working with the neck. We are pretty sure that whether it came from the feet or not you get the information from the feet.

We get people to look at the feet and predict what the rest of the body is doing. But we would like to get to a place where you can look at a scapula and predict, or look at the pelvis and predict. When you consider that the human goal is to keep their head over their feet and to move forward, there are not a lot of adaptations- so we find a lot of common adaptations that people are using as their cheat mechanism to move through life.

Brooke: I get emails a lot from people and often I get asked if I only have one place to work to affect my body where should I work?  I always say, "You are never going to not benefit from getting more mobile and supple feet."

Brooke: Let's talk about what never-moved-me-itis is.

It was a phrase I invented- it popped out of people coming to see me who were in pain for years and had seen everyone and they had all these labels and the crazy thing would be 2 or 3 movements into the session they are remarkably pain free and light on their feet and they were giddy and couldn't understand why. They had been given so many labels so I would tell them, "You have nobody-ever-moved-you-itis.So keep moving!" We provide a heap of homework solutions for people to keep putting the good work back into their bodies. And it's not unusual for me to hear from people a year or two down the line, and people are always still saying that these exercises gave them their lives back.

Brooke: What are you playing with in your own movement practice right now? Or is there anything you are especially intrigued by?

We leave our students with a very specific instruction at the end of every training and it is observing your own body in movement. A way of observing yourself an the changes that happen in your own body.Outside of that I like movement and sports, I like hand balances and handstands. I just move!

Home Play!

While this mobilization does not come from Anatomy in Motion (I haven't studied it- sorry guys!), it is something I do with my clients frequently to help them get their feet juicier and more mobile. It's time to shake hand with your feet! Here is a moldy oldy video of me demonstrating it back in the Fascia Freedom Fighters days- happy foot mobilizing!

 Resources

Anatomy in Motion

What the Foot? book

Anatomy in Motion intro video

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

David Weinstock: Neurokinetic Therapy

Valerie Berg: Structural Aging at Any Age

Jonathan FitzGordon: Psoas Release Party!

Constance Clare-Newman: Alexander Technique (LBP 019)

Constance Clare-Newman and I talk Alexander Technique, the difference between un-doing vs. doing (or relaxing into expansive support vs. propping oneself up), tensegrity concepts, common dysfunctional patterns in the head, neck, and spine, why most posture advice is truly terrible, the key support relationships within our body, and how this kind of mindfulness in the body expands into the rest of one's life. Also(hey, why not!) what makes for good sex vs. “meh” sex?

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Show notes

Alexander Technique is a practice of mindfulness that begins with the body. It's about consciously embodying. It's also a practice of neuroplasticity applied to everyday life that includes movement, posture, sensation, gesture, breath, voice, expression, energy, thought, emotion... all of these things together and more are what make up our self. The Alexander work is really about exploring an undivided self.

In reality people usually come to lessons for pain relief, so we start there.

Neuroplasticity: when we have a habit the grooves that make that habit in the brain- the neurons that fire together are used to firing together a lot. To change a habit we usually throw a lot of other pathways on top of that. In Alexander, we undo some of those neurons so you are unlearning rather than adding stuff on.

Ultimately the Alexander work is about changing your habits for what works better for you in your life. Whether those patterns are movement or postural habits, or habits of thinking or reacting, that are not useful anymore. All of those things are things that we work with.

A lot of times people come in with pain or stress, but they don't realize what habits are fostering that. They don't realize what habits they can let go of until someone helps them out of that.

There has been some good data on helping people with pain, particularly back pain, in the British Medical Journal (in resources). The difference between Alexander and other therapies is that it is an education. If you take lessons and you take 10 lessons, in a year hopefully you've been able to keep that practice going and it stays with you through your life. Whereas if you have a session like massage or chiropractic it's an intervention that can be very helpful, but if you go back to using your body the same way in our lives things go back to where they were.

To me [Brooke] it feels like learning how to trust-fall into my own support, which as a Rolfer and fascia-nerd makes me think of tensegrity support. If Alexander Technique is trying to undo and take things away, what is left when you take things away?

We are a nation of doers. We don't have much experience of undoing without utter collapse. Most people are going from holding themselves up, pushing through their days, and striving to get it all right and then collapsing at the end of the day and being drained.

Alexander practice is about that dynamic middle, where our posture is lively, not contracted, our thinking is expansive, not narrow, breath is effortless, not rigidly controlled.

A tensegrity structure is a great model as mechanical models go, because it shows the "just right" amount of tone- tension and integrity. "Tension" is usually thought of as a bad thing, so I use the word "tone". It's not too much, not too little. We're coming into our just right spot with our whole tissue suit.

The system gets so used to its pattern of holding and clenching that sensation is lost. That's why constructive rest is such a great practice to tune into sensations that are usually outside. It gives us a space to return to balance. [resources]

We are infinitely complex- we don't really need to think about "what's my ankle doing and what's going on with my glutes?" If you are focusing on support we find ease for the whole structure. Finding this overall sense of balance where the body's intelligence can bring the body back to homeostasis.

Maybe it's a good idea to find out where your glutes are and how they feel when they are working so that you can better sense them. So I'm not dissing the specificity work.

The ideal relationship between the head, the neck, and the back. We emphasize a dynamic relationship, rather than a fixed one, between the head, neck and back.

Most people have their head pulled down , and when they hear this they usually pull their face up, which only pulls the skull down more in the back. That area at the back of the head and neck is the first place to contract when we get scared, it is a part of our fight-or-flight mechanism. We go into mini startle patterns throughout the day, so we have a lot of preparation for battle and freezing. The tension is traveling down the back of the neck and shoulders.

The pulling down of the head is also pulling down on the spine and compressing those lovely sponge-y discs. We see this pattern all the time- it is the norm.

When we free that up the head becomes able to balance delicately on top of the spine, which allows the fear reflex to unwind.

One comes to lessons to become aware of that excess tension and to learn how to consciously intend how to release. It is this clarity of intention rather than a  particular muscular movement or place to be that is the hallmark of Alexander. We are trying to return the system to where it can function with the most balance and grace and efficiency.

In all vertebrates, when the head releases off the top of the spine and the spine lengthens, then the limbs move. This pattern of movement is what Alexander called the primary pattern of movement, and it is the most efficient in all vertebrates.

These are simple (but not easy) principles that can be explored in all movements in your life.

The functioning of all yous systems work best in an open, lively state in particular in the torso. Actors and martial artists think of this as a state of readiness. It's a feeling of being integrated.

[Brooke] I love that you pointed out that it's not about getting it "right".

The thing about good posture is an awful thing in our society, this idea of lift your chest and pull your shoulders back. It makes things worse. We have to be clear that that language is not helpful. We need language about coming into balance while being upright.

Everyone is trying so hard to do it right, and then they have to give up because it is unsustainable.

[Brooke] So they only experience effort or collapse, they only have these two extremes.

As a dancer Constance was taught strength and correctness at the expense of free flow of movement, and she got into Alexander for this to impact her dancing.

She didn't know Alexander would help with her back pain, so when that happened for her it was huge. And coming to that gradual awareness that the type-A way of being in the world was a choice and she didn't need to do that. She had had a lot of success through efforting, but Alexander made her curious about ease, and about enjoyment of movement.

[Brooke] You've run several workshops about pleasure- just about enjoying movement, or even about sex and what makes for good sex vs. "meh" sex, and I feel like we also have a weird relationship to pleasure in our culture too- binge or purge.

Culturally I think there is so much fear and distraction and an emphasis on speed, striving, and pushing. Coming back to a quiet self just being- and being kind to oneself is so needed and so pleasurable. It's so often thought of as a luxury.

A lot of times in lessons I think the most important thing happening for my students is this coming back to themselves in a fuller way.

An Alexander lesson is often a pleasurable feeling of sensations of undoing.

It's pleasurable to inhabit ourselves fully. Movement can be good for you and yummy at the same time.

We're so busy and trying to live up to our potential, there is so much focus on the external. And there is a renewed interest in mindfulness, and in being kind to oneself and it needs to keep seeping in more.

I mention a study that shows self-compassion as the leading marker of a successful life (in resources, quote from the study: "Individuals who are more self-compassionate tend to have greater life satisfaction, social connectedness, emotional intelligence, and happiness and less anxiety, depression, shame, fear of failure, and burnout.") And it said that self-compassion was the best marker for a successful life.

Sex! What happens when we become less orgasm focused? There's nothing wrong with orgasms, of course. But feeling sensations other places as well. What's it like to explore sensations in one's own fingertips when touching someone? To have a free wrist and enjoy those movements when touching someone. And as a receiver, what is it like to feel sensations more places, and to not contract when you are touched?

The idea that we are supposed to give our partner a certain thing and that we're supposed to have an orgasm in a certain amount of time... there is so much cultural stuff that goes along with sex. And again, the distraction thing. It is so hard to not be distracted even just with ourselves let alone with another person.

Why don't more people know about Alexander Technique?

Alexander has been around for over 100 years and it's such a transformative practice, so this still confounds most of us who love it. It is a paradigm shift away from our normal way of doing, and it does require letting go of expectations. And a teacher is really a facilitator and a guide, like a meditation teacher, and so the student has to do the practice to get the benefit.

I think a lot of people would be willing to do the practice if they knew they were going to benefit so much. So maybe we don't communicate the benefits well enough? And people think the Alexander Technique is about posture, but it doesn't utilize the traditional strengthening techniques that many postural strategies use. And it goes against the traditional medical model.

There is starting to be some research about how the body works together as a whole, that all the systems together need to be coordinated.

I find that students who most take to the Alexander work are so excited when they discover that this work that they came to for their pain, or perhaps to learn how to play their violin better, or whatever it is, are so excited to discover that it is affecting all aspects of being human. Their ability to respond with choice, to everything that one explores.

[Brooke] I think that our culture doesn't understand holism. I don't understand holism, even though I do maybe more than some people because it's my field for many years. But even though I've been in the field for 14 years, I have been a part of this culture for almost 40 years, so I still have to remind myself even about holism. Add to that the fact that "holism" has become this yucky buzz word that means vaguely woo-woo and "different from normal" and it even means less. I think we're in the process of a long, slow evolution as humans to understand what holism means and that our fields are helping us to do that in an amazing way, but it's going to take a long time.

"The undivided self" I love this term (book in resources). It might be that if we keep saying mind-body, how do we experience the self? Language shapes how we experience things.

Constance is currently living in Provincetown and so is surrounded by water. So she loves to move in the water and float around in different ways, and to bring some of that bouyancy and fluidity into my my movement on land.

I [Constance] still ask myself that question all the time, "What would it be like to do this with even more ease?" And all of  a sudden my body knows how to do that. Slowing down a bit, but even not- going fast with ease!

Home play!

Constance put together this excellent one-minute practice: Standing Into Length. Try it out and see what you notice!

Resources

Constance Clare-Newman's website

Randomised controlled trial of Alexander Technique lessons, exercise, and massage for chronic recurring back pain from the British Medical Journal

A video summarizing the same study

A constructive rest lesson from Constance

study: Self Compassion: Conceptualizations, Correlates, and Interventions, Barnard and Curry, from Duke University

The Undivided Self: Alexander Technique and the Control of Stress

If you liked this episode

You might also like:

Judith Hanson Lasater: The Power of Restoration

Bo Forbes: Mindfulness Expressed in the Body

Steve Haines: Body Maps and Interoception

Nancy DeLucrezia: How Bodies Change (LBP 008)

Nancy DeLucrezia, founder of Neuro-Structural Bodywork and of The Kali Institute, talks about the importance of connecting fascial release with neuro-muscular re-education- or how to address both the hardware and the software of our bodies. She also talks about Breathwork and somato-emotional release, and her own process of becoming embodied and of healing. This is a good one for the manual and movement therapists out there, as well as for those of you who are curious about one of these therapeutic processes that you might be going through. It's also just a nice primer to understanding how bodies make long-term progress and change.

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Show notes

Nancy describes Neuro-Structural Bodywork and how it synthesizes vs. a whole new realm of work. In particular: fascial release , neuro-muscular reeducation, Restorative Exercise (the work of Katy Bowman), Breathwork, and Shaitsu.

An analogy of working on your computer- there are both hardware and software issues. The hardware issues are more addressed by the fascial release- you're cleaning out the closets so to speak from a structural point of view. But the software that runs your body need to also be addressed. This is the neuro-muscular reeducation.

If you tied a baby elephant up by its ankle and it grew up that way it could only walk 10 ft in any direct. Once it grew up you could take away the chain on its ankle so it was free to walk anywhere, but it wouldn't necessarily go anywhere because it had learned to occupy that 10 ft space. So you can free up restriction in the body, caused by an impact trauma or repetitive mis-motion, and your nervous system doesn't' necessarily integrate that information without prompting.

With Restorative Exercise it's all so logical and mechanically specific and the physics are so accurate that it encompasses more levels of how it is that our body learns to move, and position itself in space.

The neurological part is most important, and the physical part is more of a facilitator.

People who just do fascial release without understanding the neurological component, it's not necessarily faster because the neurological part is where the change happens.

It's like dieting- if you do a crash diet and lose a bunch of weight, if you don't change your lifestyle and habits you're just going to gain the weight back.

Nancy talks about how she got into the work because of her own pain. She was running a PR firm in New York and she wasn't aware that she had a body at all. She met some people in bodywork and started exploring the idea of living in a  body.

She was born with really flat feet which caused her pelvis to be out of alignment chronically and she had compression to the right femoral nerve and she was in a lot of pain much of the time. Eventually she went to massage school at the Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy.

The Breathwork was really instrumental for her in creating a shift in her body. This form of breathing can put you in a radically altered state of consciousness. It is a cleansing of a lot of emotional and somatic stress.

It is more interesting for Nancy than psychotherapy because psychotherapy is just another mental activity. Lately psychology is starting to acknowledge that trauma lives in the body, but they still don't touch people. The healthcare practitioners who work with with a person's trauma are not allowed to touch their clients.

She always preferred to be in the bodywork field because when you touch somebody you can go right to the emotional closet. If you're going to do fascial release it is probably good to have training in emotional release.

A place that was hurt when you were hit by a car or a part of the body that was a target of abuse will actually be location specific in the tissue.

My story of having a vivid memory recall during a Rolfing session of getting a thorn in my foot as a young child and how I had avoided walking on that part of my foot into adulthood.

It sounds unbelievable but in Breathwork people will often, though not always, have memories as far back as birth. It's more common with people whose umbilical cords were cut before they were breathing, because the first breath they took was literally a form of trauma. It creates a subtle trauma in the body. Many who work through that feel they have taken the first breath in their life.

When you touch a body you are also touching in to everything that ever happened to that body. Nancy believes it's all there, every single moment, recorded in the archives [of soft tissue and nervous system].

It wouldn't be to our benefit to remember every single moment or trauma that happens to our body, but it's all there and there can be this backlog.

Some more emotive therapies, especially in the 80's, were all about purging and it got a little crazy for a while. You don't need to sort or analyze everything. There is a certain amount that can happen without our conscious mind getting involved.

"You don't need to go through the trash to take it to the curb."

If you're crawling around on the floor and foaming at the mouth [as an exaggeration of the big cathartic emotional release] are you really getting better, or are you just repeating the pattern of what now you've learned to do as an alternative behavior to repression?

I think by the 90's people were more into "How gentle and easy can this be?" rather than "How dramatic and exciting can this be?"

Nancy's left leg felt like a "flap" that stuck out to the side laterally, she didn't feel like she was on her foot. Over the years that changed a lot.

She had some sessions where her tissue was excavated dramatically, and it wasn't pleasant.

Over the years she's gotten the foot to change. She took footprints and you could see the arch coming back into her foot over a series of months.

The structural change plateaued and then it became a question of the nervous system.

When she met Katy Bowman she told her her arches were collapsing from all the way at the top of her legs from her adductors, etc. The next few years working with her her weight shifted out of her ankle and totally changed.

Anything musculo-skeletal comes down to alignment. If you're not in alignment you're not getting circulation in neurology.

At the cellular level if you're getting enough nutrient and oxygen rich blood and communication in the nervous system, your cells do just fine regenerating themselves.

Nancy talks about how she hates the term "deep tissue". It's very misleading. What does deep tissue mean? That you don't work on any superficial tissue? Is it Swedish Massage where you press really hard?

Fascial release is a whole different approach. Some people mistakenly think that it's pressing really hard and violating a person. But when you get to a point that the person's resistance to what you're doing to them exceeds what you are undoing then you are either breaking even or losing ground.

Nancy tells the story of a client who came to her with massive, significant trauma from multiple motorcycle accidents. Her spine was so severely scoliotic. Nancy was really enjoying working with her because she was changing and the physical difference was really clear. Then there was a plateau and she started to get frustrated and she said to the client, "I don't know what do to because I feel like I'm not succeeding at providing you with change." And she said, "The goal was not to straighten my spine, I feel 100% better in my body since starting this work, isn't that enough?" and it has always stuck with her.

The ideal session is when someone comes to you and uses you to work on themselves. Really we can't do anything with people except to help facilitate their own process.

Nancy recently took a class in cupping and she is playing with that in her own process and learning.

Home play!

Taking the idea from the beginning of the interview of our movement patterns and alignment being the "software" that we are running in our systems, see if you can take a day to notice what "software" you are running. We become the shapes and the movements that we make most of the time, so can you write down the 3 most obvious patterns that you are doing the most frequently in your typical day?

Resources

Dr. Ida P. Rolf

Joseph Heller

Moshe Feldenkrais

Thomas Hanna

Katy Bowman's blog

Restorative Exercise Institute

Connecticut Center for Massage Therapy

The Kali Institute

Sondra Ray- breathwork

Sondra Ray- Loving Relationships Training

Rolfing Structural Integration