Life: lessons in balance.

Length is the key to this pose.
Arm balances are phenomenal for strength development. Place a rolled up towel under the wrists if the pose is too challenging for them.

Life is about balance. We can work to balance our inner selves with the outer elements that constantly engage us during our lifetime. As a yoga instructor, personal trainer and writer, I truly believe that living our lives with awareness can bring the goal of inner balance well within our reach. Every day activities provide insight into our ‘state of balance’, the maintaining of stability and equilibrium while engaging in various activities. Feel the movement, the physical interplay of muscular relaxation and contraction in response to gravity, of your body while standing in place or performing a physical act. Experience the challenge of communicating, conveying thoughts and ideas to others in an understandable verbal fashion, your point of view to someone or them communicating their point of view to you. Give attention to the fullness, shortness or inconsistency of your breathing, the process of exhaling fully and inhaling responsively. We can, by striving toward and maintaining balance in these activities, positively affect our daily lives.

core stability and joint stabilization
This pose enforces the joint stabilization and limb extension necessary for downward facing dog.
Movement is part and parcel of our bodies. Actions such as standing, walking, twisting, lifting, pulling, pushing, running, and carrying create bodily imbalance. Unless the body is stable during the course of these actions we might topple over or, worse, injure ourselves. Mechanisms within the body adjust for imbalances automatically and we don’t have to think about how we do things. Unfortunately, for the most part, we don’t think about how we perform many of these actions, some of which are repetitive in nature. This can lead to physical imbalance. For example, a task, such as loading / unloading packages in one direction or twisting repeatedly in one direction to complete a task while seated. Not to fear as these situations can be reversed: we can bring the body back into balance. By taking time to perform a sustained twist in the opposite direction or by strengthening our back muscles and strengthening our core, we can return our bodies, in these two situations, to a more stable base.

Comminication
Communication . . . it is a big part living in society.
Communication is important in that it is the vehicle through which we interact with others in society. Without communication, human interaction would basically be reduced to pointing, grunting and grabbing. Balance, in communication, involves mentally coordinating give and take interactions. The formal process goes like this:

  1. You form an idea and communicate that idea to someone
  2. That person receives the idea and processes it
  3. That person communicates a response to you and you process that response
  4. You then respond in kind to the response that was communicated to you

The process intensifies when another person, place or thing, which is viewed from opposite perspectives by the communicators, is the focus of discussion. Regarding the interposing of external objects into the discussion, the balanced exchange of ideas will result in either an amicable agreeing upon the course of action or an intended outcome or one of the parties will convince themselves to alter their point of view. Achieving balanced communication is not always easy but, with compassionate patience, passionate persistence and sufficient compromise, it can happen.

Where are my hands???
Backbends facilitate deeper breathing by opening up the chest and shoulder areas.
Breathing is important on many levels. It supports our physical efforts and is important in the process of speaking. Most importantly, it is how that the body brings in the oxygen that serves as a fuel source in the liberation of food energy for our bodies. Breathing is something that the body does without our thinking about it but the body will only bring in as much oxygen/energy as is needed. The total lung capacity of the average male is about 1.5 gallons; that of an average woman is about 1.1 gallons. That same average male, or average female, is doing well to utilize 8 ounces (1/16 of a gallon) of that total lung capacity in order to sustain themselves. If they were to breathe more fully, with emphasis on complete exhalations, the number of breaths taken, the average is 16 to 30 breaths per minute, would be less. The blood would receive more oxygen and generate the necessary amount of carbon dioxide needed to maintain proper blood pH levels. In addition, the body would more effectively expel metabolic waste products; approximately 70% of metabolic waste is expelled during breathing. Not only is complete breathing good for the body and the mind, it also brings into balance the energies within us and around us.

Balance in daily life encompasses our physical actions, our communication and our breathing. Balancing physical actions establishes a healthy and more functional body. Exercise, rest, complementary movement can help us in maintaining our physical balance. Balance in communication can reduce stress and conflict. It produces more harmonious interactions between people. Balancing the breath is good for the body, the mind and establishes a holistic equilibrium between ourselves and our surroundings. Our lives, which are expressed through our daily activities, are a reflection of our state of balance.

Physical Actions:

If you stand during the day, lay on your back and put your feet up on the wall (not recommended for those with high blood pressure or abdominal problems). If you sit all day, stand up and do a couple of standing back bends.

Communicating:

Express your ideas clearly and confidently. Listen with compassion. Realize that it is sometimes better to agree to disagree.

Breathing:

Take a short verse from a song, the Lord’s Prayer, the Gayatri Mantra or whatever resonates with you. After a deep inhalation, repeat your _ _ _ _ _ _ _ as many times as you can before running out of breath. After another couple of breaths repeat the process.

Life is an invaluable teacher and can teach us about balance. By balancing our actions, speech and breathing, we create a more wholesome internal environment for ourselves. The balanced state of our internal environment makes for a more pleasant experience when dealing with the external world.

Swing away, with good form!

A Series on Functional Exercises for Golf: 1/3

Hello Golfers,

This article is written to shed some light on correcting the mechanics that effect a more fluid gold swing. When there is tightness in the hips, the golfer will adjust for this by prematurely rotating the torso and shifting the shoulders. This ‘premature rotating’ of the torso before the hips are in position is actually a compromising of golf swing mechanics. Bringing the muscles involved with torso rotation into play before the the hips are in position interferes with the distance that can be attained from the golf swing.

There are certain areas that the golfer must address in order to develop the physical attributes that make for a better golf swing:

  • Flexibility (Range of Motion)
  • Maintenance of Center of Gravity (Balance)
  • Generalized Motor Program Development (Sequencing)
  • Promotion of Good Posture

The exercises presented in this article can help the golfer to improve stability and increase range of motion in the hips. The improved stability and increased range of motion will enable the torso to rotate with minimal restriction. These exercises will also help improve balance with respect to shifting the hips and rotating the torso.

The rotation of the torso depends upon the degree of flexibility/release that is present in the hips. The golfer will “need 60° of hip flexibility (internal hip rotation) for an unimpeded backswing.” There is need for even greater hip flexibility for a proper follow through. “The follow through phase requires sufficient flexibility of both upper quarters and the hips to reach full finish position. Limitations in hip internal or external rotation . . . will not allow the golfer to fully follow through and thus not allow time to fully decelerate the swing.” **** Even though many excellent golfers may have faulty golf grips, all great golfers use their torsos properly.

These series of photos show how to set up drills that will educate the mechanics of hip rotation, internal rotator release and external rotator release. Keeping the hips level during torso rotation will lend to more timely activation (sequencing) of the muscles which drive hip shift and torso rotation.

The rotation of the hips, torso and shoulders must be properly sequenced: i.e. the hips rotate, then the torso and the shoulders finish the rotation. Teaching the body to move ‘in sequence’ and to be more stable will allow for effortless torso and shoulder rotation during the initiation and finishing of the swing.

Cable station torso rotation

Rotation is good for golf
Line up the shoulders so that they are over the hips. The movement addresses torso rotation and release of the internal hip/thigh rotators. Keep the knees seperate.
Rotation is good for golf
This movement educates the hip rotation, torso rotation and inner thigh release necessary for the backswing. Notice how the lead knee turns in slightly.

Backswing

In this position, the feet will not move. This will facilitate the release of the internal hip rotators and the thigh adductors. Keeping the torso upright as torso rotation ensues will engage the core.

The movements shown here are accomplished by using external resistance in order to illicit a core stabilization response. The hips have to stabilize as the internal rotators and the thigh adductors have to release

This movement teaches the body to rotate the hips and torso for optimal golf swing mechanics. The rotation of the hips and torso goes up to a point before the torso/spine and shoulders begin their finishing of the rotation. By teaching the body to be stable up to that point, the torso and shoulders will more effortlessly rotate during the initiation of the swing.

  1. The feet planted
  2. Keep the knees separate
  3. The core engages
  4. The hips and shoulders begin to rotate at the same time.
  5. Repeat this exercise on both sides
  6. The hips stay level and they shift position. This rotation facilitates a release of the internal rotators as the core stabilizes the torso in position for the backswing.
Rotation is good for golf.
With this movement the torso is aligned so that the back knee and the sternum are pointing in the same direction. The shoulders are lined up over the hips.
Rotation is good for golf.
The rotation of the torso occurs due to the coordinated rotation of the hip, knee and ankle. From the finished position, the torso rotates more deeply to finish the swing.

Drive/Followthrough

In this position, the stationary foot will not move. This will facilitate the release of the external hip rotators. Keeping the torso upright as torso rotation ensues will engage the core.

The movements shown here are accomplished by using external resistance in order to illicit a core stabilization response. The hips have to stabilize as the external rotators have to release

This movement teaches the body to rotate the hips and torso for optimal golf swing mechanics in relation to the downswing and followthrough. This drill teaches the body to be stable up to the point where the torso and shoulders will more effortlessly rotate during the finishing of the swing.

  1. The feet plant
  2. The core engages
  3. The hips and shoulders begin to rotate at the same time.
  4. Repeat this exercise on both sides
  5. The hips stay level as they shift position. This rotation facilitates a release of the external rotators as the core stabilizes the torso in position for the downswing and follow through.
  6. The trailing foot, knee, hip will rotate in the transverse plane as the hips stabilize.

http://somaxsports.com/web/efficientgolfer/index.php
http://overthetopgolf.blogspot.com/2011/03/most-important-part-of-golf-swing-your.html
**** Geisler (2001), Science of Flexibility, Michael J. Alter, Page 277

Front body/Back body, how’s your posture?

In the words of Chang San Feng, “Up and down, forward and backward, left and right, it’s all the same . . . If there is a top, there is a bottom, if there is a front, there is a back, if there is a left, there is a right.” This excerpt, from the Tai Chi Chuan Treatise, sums up the reality of the synchronicity of duality; in particular, that of front and back. The human body has a front side (anterior) and a back side (posterior). The posture that one exhibits is a tell-tell sign of the balance between the two. When one exercises, engages in daily activities or just sits or stands, more than not, emphasis is skewed toward weakness and laxity in the back of the body. This can lead to poor posture as well as musculoskeletal complications. However, aside from just looking better, one can ‘Be Better’.

Good posture/Bad posture
Good posture is advantageous for overall good health

When we let our arms hang at our sides, the general tone of the back/shoulder musculature becomes apparent. Muscular balance between the front side and back side of the body, as evidenced by neutral spine, would be revealed by the longitudinal axis, aka the plumb line, extending from the top of the head, through the ears, through the shoulders and all the way down through the ankles. It is this degree of alignment along the plumb line that gives evidence of balance between the posterior muscles and anterior muscles of the torso.

Fitness activities are predominantly oriented towards strengthening the front of the body and the muscles of the anterior torso tend to be more developed than those of the posterior torso. Thus we see more pushing than pulling and more forward bending (spinal flexion) than back bending (spinal extension). Pronation (rounding) of the shoulders is the visible result of indulging the ease of pushing exercises and neglecting the beneficial challenges of pulling exercises.

Pronation of the shoulders makes lifting overhead more challenging. The scapula (shoulder blades) must be engaged on the rib cage (scapulothoracic articulation) in order for the shoulders to be properly positioned when reaching overhead. If this does not take place or is not taking place, dysfunctions of the shoulder can result. One of the more critical shoulder dysfunctions is impingement syndrome.

Deep space between the shoulders and the ears. This is great scapulothoracic rhythm.

By maintaining the muscular balance between the anterior torso and the posterior torso, our posture, core engagement/stabilization and overall balance are more synchronous. The muscle groups of the back (i.e. rhomboideus, mid tapezius, low trapezius, infraspinatus, teres major teres minor, rear deltoid) should be addressed within the scope of our exercise routines. Some exercises that can be used for this are: cable rows, pull downs, bent over barbell row, pull ups, reverse dumbbell flyes, reverse table top, reverse cable flyes, reverse plank (purvottanasana), and supermans.

Good Posture
Take a moment to assess your posture.

So it behooves the fitness enthusiast to work toward establishing that balance between the front of the body and the back of the body. The front of the body is stronger overall and is engaged in strength expression; both ballistic and sustained. Most activities require good anterior strength. The back of the body is involved with postural stability. One cannot have good posture without good posterior strength. The back of the body must be strong enough to counterbalance the pull of gravity, ballistic activities of pushing and the juxtaposition of anterior tightness/posterior weakness that is endemic in today’s modern society; amongst those who are exercise oriented, as well as those who are not.

Single Leg Squatting: Stability and Flexibility

Progression 1/3: Single Leg Balancing Squat

  • Supported

Everyday, people engage in movements that involve coordination of the ankle, knee and hip joints (AKH). Movements such as walking, running, and jumping are variations of the Single Leg Squatting position. In order for coordinated execution of these movements to take place, proper engagement of the core and sequenced activation of the posterior chain are extremely important. Proper core engagement contributes to smooth integration of the hip, knee and ankle. The posterior chain is associated with spinal stabilization is key to integrating movements through the AKH.

Progression 2/3: Single Leg Balancing Squat

  • Unsupported

The core must engage and the ankles must be stable and flexible. It is from here that proper hip drive and knee extension can occur. Knee extension and back extension are predicated by activation of the posterior chain, in conjunction with good core engagement. When these pieces come together then the squat takes place as if the body were a piston in a well oiled machine. Single Leg Squatting will help develop these biomechanics.

Progression 3/3: Single Leg Balancing Squat

  • Weighted

    This is a list of muscles associated with the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex. Tightness or weakness in any of these areas could inhibit actions, ie; Single Leg Squatting, that are dependent on coordination through the AKH. *

    1. Gastrocnemius/soleus
    2. Adductor complex
    3. Hamstring complex
    4. Hip flexors
    5. Abdominal complex
    6. Erector spinae
    7. Intrinsic core stabilizers
    8. Latissimus dorsi
    9. Tensor fascia latae/IT-band
    10. Gluteus medius and maximus

    The human body is bilaterally constructed. As such, imbalances between the left and the right side of the body are fairly common; whether due to injury or dominant side biomechanics in sports or daily activities. In this article, we present Single Leg Squatting as a movement that will help with establishing continuity between both sides of the body.

    The Single Leg Balancing Squat

  • 1) Stand on one leg. Wrap the lifted foot behind the supporting ankle.

    1. This position ensures that there will be work done on the balancing leg side.
    2. There will be a contralateral transfer of the work as the hips stabilize the torso.
    3. You may need to use a support rod when you start working with this exercise.
    Balancing to develop stability
    Stand on one leg. Wrap the lifted foot behind the supporting ankle.
  • 2) Before beginning, draw the belly button in. Maintain the draw in for the duration of the exercise.
    1. I find it easier to inhale on the descent but you need to find what works for you.
    Engaging the transverse abdominis
    Keeping the core engaged will help stabilize the body.
  • 3) Keeping the chest lifted, begin your descent. Keep the hips square to the front. Maintain the descent of the hips toward the supporting ankle, as much as the flexibility of the hip and ankle will allow.
  • Center the his over the ankle
    Breathe evenly as you sink the hips.
  • 4) Descend as far as you can while maintaining good form.
  • Hips stable, Ankles stable
    Hip Flexion, Knee Flexion, Dorsiflexion.
  • 5) Keep the chest lifted, (re)establish the belly button draw in, press the foot firmly into the ground and begin your ascent. Do not press into the supporting ankle/heel with the lifted foot.
  • Back up to the top.
    Hip Extension, Knee Extension, Plantar Flexion.
  • 6) Come back up to the standing position.
  • Stable and balanced
    Standing tall and firm.

    The single leg balancing squat is a great way to develop the mechanics of ankle stability, knee joint strength, hip flexibility/stability, and spinal stabilization in lieu of moving on to heavier bilateral power/strength work.

    References


    Corrective Strategies for Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Impairments


    Single Leg Movement and The Lateral Sub-System

    *List obtained from Corrective Strategies for the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip Complex, NASM

Functional Exercises for Golf

Hip Extension with Feet on the Stability Ball

Hip stability is a very important aspect of movement. No matter what you want to engage in, be it walking, running, tai chi, tennis, or swimming. Specifically, hip stability plays a key part in the mechanics of golf. The stability of your hips comes from good core engagement and the ability to coordinate the musculature of the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip complex.

The primary purpose of the functional exercise being presented here is to develop Neuromuscular Integration. Neuromuscular Integration ties movements together so that the body, as a whole, operates as a synchronous unit.

How this exercise can benefit your golf game:

  1. Trains the posterior chain muscles (back, hamstrings, and glutes) to work together
  2. Conditions the core musculature as stabilizers
  3. Improves postural endurance
  4. Improves coordination
  5. Improves balance

Directions

  • Lie on your back and place your feet on the ball. Start with the feet separated and bring them closer together as you progress.
  • The little muscles are working
    We want to develop more spinal mobility.
  • Put your arms out to your side with the palms facing up. If this is your first time using the stability ball and your balance is not yet refined, your may want to place your calves on the ball and your arms straight out to the your sides at a 90° angle to your trunk.
  • From the start position, extend the hips into the air, over the count of three, until your ankle, hips and shoulder all line up. Hold for three seconds and then lower for three seconds.
  • Length of the lumbar spine
    The stability of the shoulders and the hips enables us to sustain this position.
  • As you become more proficient at this functional exercise, you can move your hands closer to your body. Also, you can either articulate the spine from the floor, place less of your legs on the ball or move your arms closer to your body, eventually placing them across your chest. All of these variations can serve to make the exercise more challenging and thereby lead to greater neuromuscular integration.

Instability in the hips leads to compensations in the mechanics of the golf swing. Specifically, when the hips are unstable, that instability translates into the shoulders, the spine and the knees. These parts of the body, that work to make up for the lack of stability in the hips, will eventually experience various aches, pains and sundry complications.

This is a challenging, yet basic, exercise. The hips may be restrictive due to tight hip flexors or the lower back may not be strong enough to support the work of the Lumbo-Pelvic-Hip complex. Greater nueromuscular integration, that comes as a result of performing this functional exercise, will help with challenges in the hips and low back areas. As you perform this exercise, these areas will become less and less of a hindrance to improving your golf game.

Video – Stretching the low back

References – Paul Chek, The Golf Biomechanics Manual, 2001

Balance Training

Balance Training is an often overlooked aspect of most people’s exercise regimen. When I work out at the gym I see people doing all sorts of exercises, but very rarely do I see anyone performing balance exercises. As we age and become more sedentary, movement can become restricted and balance and stability skills may decline. This is why balance and stability training are imperative.

Balance problems can be caused by many things i.e., including medications, inner ear problems, blood pressure, illness, even hammertoes.

Everyone needs to work on maintaining functional balance. We are never too young or too old to benefit from balance training. A healthy balance system helps us to feel good and to move freely and confidently. Keeping this system healthy is especially important if you have problems due to illness, such as joint pain, weakness or dizziness. Balance training can help you overcome feelings of unsteadiness.

Loss of balance and stability is a serious matter. When individuals lose their ability to balance or to walk safely, the end result is often a nursing home with mobility restricted to a walker or the confines of a wheelchair.

There are several exercise modalities that you can use to improve your balance, such as Yoga and Tai Chi. One of the simplest balance exercises to practice is standing on one foot. This exercise can be made more challenging by lifting the leg higher, abducting it out to the side or extending it behind you. Single-leg movements from side to side are also good for challenging balance and core strength. Standing one leg balance can be made more challenging by raising the heel, closing one or both eyes, or by raising the arms over head.

click for video Balance Exercises with Progressions

By training to enhance your balance, you will recognize postural improvements, coordination, and better athletic performance. This in turn will result in fewer injuries and greater stability as you age, which can help prevent falls and keep you both strong and independent longer.

Good balance and a strong pelvic floor often go hand-and-hand. For more information please click here: Pelvic Floor Muscles.

Check with your doctor or therapist before starting an exercise program.

Martial Arts Kata and Core Stability

I was practicing my tai chi long form on 4 April 2012. Lately, I have been focusing keeping the head suspended while lengthening the spine and sinking into the ground. I have been emphasizing these points by practicing the form with a book on my head. Practicing the form in this fashion encourages activation of the stabilizer muscles, engagement of and stability through the core and the proper mechanics of establishing a solid base and extending through the extremities. This is typically done slowly and with focus.

Extending form the hips
This techniques is used to uproot/destabilize the opponent

During my practice session, some Tae Kwon Do (TKD) stylists came in to share the space for their practice. I was happy to share with them as it was an opportunity to practice being aware of my surroundings while focusing on the task at hand. Upon finishing, I explained to them the effects of what I was doing on overall technique and application. I even suggested that they could do the same thing with some of their basic martial arts kata. This idea did not go over well; the elder TKD practitioner said that the book would fall off and one of the younger practitioners stated that they would not be able to do it. Sadly, these statements made me realize that the principles of core stability, in some cases, are not being widely taught within the context of martial arts (in general) and martial arts kata (specifically).

I felt obliged to write this blog about martial arts kata and core stability. Martial Arts Kata is the preset series of movements that are designed to teach the practitioner direction of attack, sequencing of technique and application of technique. As one’s level of practice advances, the techniques in the kata can be broken down and contemplated upon for purposes of application in various scenarios. Kata is part of more traditional styles of martial arts but their applicability to fighting, if practiced diligently, cannot be overstated.

Core Stability‘ is defined as the ability to control the position and motion of the trunk over the pelvis to allow optimum production, transfer and control of force and motion to the terminal segment in integrated athletic activities. *

Blog/Review – Tell me more about the core

Core training typically involves engaging the core musculature from an anchored position. In higher levels of motion and force production, it is necessary for the core to stabilize in a manner that allows for adequate delivery of force from a stable base, through the hips, to the end of the terminal limb (legs/feet or arms/hands). This means that training methods should be focused on strengthening the core/abdominals as a prelude to developing core stability and strength. The progression from core/abdominal strength to core stability will ensure that the work to be done will proceed from a strong and stable foundation.

Greetings
Giving an overview of my presentation

Core muscle activity is best understood as the pre-programmed integration of local, single-joint muscles and multi-joint muscles to provide stability and produce motion. This results in proximal stability for distal mobility, a proximal to distal patterning of generation of force, and the creation of interactive moments that move and protect distal joints. *

Video – Introduction to Martial Arts Kata and Core Stabilization

As training ensues, it is good to have strength in the major muscle groups. However, the major muscles groups are not solely responsible for the stabilization that is necessary for optimal force production. Training methods that elicit core stabilization will set the stage for the synaptic patterning necessary for coordinated neuromuscular activity. When the core is stable and strong, a strong base can be established prior to executing the desired movement. The core is responsible for the generation of powerful, fluid movement, instead of brute force from the extremities being the sole method of force generation.

Evaluation of the core should be dynamic, and include evaluation of the specific functions (trunk control over the planted leg) and directions of motions (three-planar activity). *

Balance and Focus
Core stability is part and parcel for good athletic performance

This will involve some balance work. For example, from a contralateral stance, standing on the left leg, and having a handle attached to a cable tower in the right hand, is it possible for an individual to generate enough force to extend the arm forward, with good form, while overcoming 10 lbs, 15 lbs, 20 lbs of resistance? It is possible. These types of drills should be part of training for those who pursue athletic activities or a more active lifestyle. These types of drills elicit activation of the deep stabilizer muscles as well as the core musculature. The stabilizers and the core should not be overlooked.

Video – One Legged Stance – Contralateral Shoulder Flexion/Elbow Extension

I have put together some video that displays a method of developing core stability within the context of performing a martial arts kata. In the first instance (Video I), there is no stimuli for stabilizing the core other than my movements. In the second instance (Video II), I am more stable through the core while executing the same movements at a slower pace, due to having placed a book on my head.

Video I – Yellow Belt Kata – Martial Arts Kata and Core Stabilization I

Video II – Yellow Belt Kata II – A book on my head and Core Stabilization

Video – Conclusion of Martial Arts Kata and Core Stabilization

Balance and Focus
Stabilizing the core

* This is taken from the summary of:
The Role of Core Stability in Athletic Function, Kibler, W Ben1; Press, Joel2; Sciascia, Aaron1, 2006

Harold is a Certified Personal Trainer, a 200 Hour Registered Yoga Teacher, a 1st Degree Black Belt with the ATA, a 1st Degree Black Belt in Kajukenbo and a Tai Chi Therapist.