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.