Earlier this year, I made a breakthrough in evaluation that was exciting for me: I realized that it was much easier to evaluate the front-to-back balance of the pelvis on the femoral heads if I did it unilaterally. For the last couple of months, my protocol has been to stabilize the upper leg with one hand and glide the ipsilateral ilium back and forth with my other hand. This change has really enhanced my clarity of assessment in a critical part of the body.
This past weekend, as we taught an MFB Spine and Ribcage class, I suddenly realized that I could make exactly the same improvement when evaluating the front-to-back balance of the shoulder girdle on the ribcage! Now, I'm stabilizing the side of the ribcage with one hand, and gliding the ipsilateral shoulder girdle with the other. It's a similarly huge improvement for me.
I know that in the next few weeks, I'll be gathering a lot of data about the implications of this change. Luckily for me, we're teaching an MFB class about the Shoulder Girdle and Arms in November (11/7-8), and I'll get to share this improvement with some students.
One of the things I was reminded of this weekend (see Aston-Patterning Reunion) was a perfect outgrowth of a trend that's been creeping up on me lately.
More and more clients (especially the more athletic ones), when I investigate their "butt pain," wind up directing me to somewhere on the back of their sacrotuberous ligament. Back in the day (the Eighties), I was introduced to the idea that this ligament could be a source of pain. But it's also a large part of the origin of the gluteus maximus. So are we thinking of the ligament as a structural element in the pelvic girdle, a pain production site, or as an attachment site of an important muscle? Yes and yes and yes.
So back to getting reminded: as I received some work from my colleague Valerie Lyon this weekend, she pointed out that as my leg swung forward in gait, it was pulling my pelvis into a posterior tilt. As the work proceeded, it became clear to me that my gluteus maximus had gotten used to stabilizing in a shortened position…not so good. As things reorganized, I could feel the space between the front of the sacrum and the back of the upper femur opening up…which seems to live in Aston-Patterning language as "fluffing the butt." I don't think I had made the connection between that narrowing and the gait problem. I don't think I'm going to forget about this again! It's definitely a refined expression of pelvis/femur balance.
This weekend, I had a lovely opportunity to meet with 2 of the Aston-Patterning practitioners I like best. (The third invitee, Elaine Marquez, couldn't make it from the Methow because of the forest fires.) The two who came were Beth Berkeley, who just returned to Seattle after 15 years in the New York area, and Valerie Lyon of Portland. Everybody, including my family, got some good work, and we talked shop a lot.
My favorite thing about Judith Aston's teaching has always been its strong emphasis on principles rather than methods. Since the principles can be applied in so many ways, practitioners are delightfully diverse. My rather high expectations for the weekend were exceeded; I was reminded of aspects of the work that I've neglected, and some of my blind spots about my own body were illuminated.
The thing I'll probably be thinking about the most is the tension between specific problem-solving work and more general smoothing-out work (usually called "blending" in the Aston world). When to emphasize one or the other is a question without a simple answer.
The concept of the motion barrier comes, as far as I know, from osteopathic principles, but it’s now widely distributed in the therapeutic world. Fundamentally, the idea is that tissue mobility is always limited, and that we can make clinical decisions based on our evaluation of these limitations.
In our work, we use motion barriers to tell us about the shape, degree, and direction of restrictions. One of the very interesting things about motion barriers is that the more refined our touch is, the more quickly we’ll feel motion barriers when we’re assessing tissue. A delicate touch will improve our precision in assessment, but it doesn’t make a heavier touch wrong—just less efficient. Often, students are surprised by how quickly Lauren and I evaluate tissue in the classroom. The “secret” is that we feel motion barriers with very little movement of the tissue. The second layer of the secret is that, with practice, we shift from feeling directional barriers in movement to feeling the underlying directional bias of the tissue. This second layer makes evaluation even faster. Some students find feeling bias easier than motion testing…which saves them a lot of trouble!
One aspect of our mode of treatment is shortening the loop of assessment and treatment—making a session into many, many short loops. In our paradigm, we move from standing evaluation to the table with a clear sense of what we want to change and the ability to quickly change it. Once we can tell that we’ve successfully made a change, we can move to the next need or have the client stand to take in what’s happened.
In my previous post, I started writing about counterbalancing body patterns. Here, I want to talk about balancing the part of the body most people think about when they think about their “bad posture”: the shoulder girdle, neck and head.
First, let’s put it in context. If you think your only postural problem is that things fall forward in the upper body, you’re wrong. Anything that falls forward has to be counterbalanced by other parts that fall back. (In standing position, the most common candidate would be the lower-to-mid ribcage.)
The shoulder girdle counterbalances with the sternum and mid-ribcage below. In other words, if you’d like your shoulder girdle (and upper ribs) to shift back, you’ll need your sternum to shift forward. When people try to improve their posture, they often pull the sternum up and back; for most of us, that’s not going to work.
When you play with this, a simple logic emerges: what we’re looking for is front-to-back depth at the upper ribcage and shoulder girdle. If you can feel that as you gently shift the shoulders back, your sternum moves forward, you’re on the right track. If you can feel that as you gently shift the sternum forward, your shoulders move back, you’re on the right track.
It’s easy to tell when you’ve gone too far: it’s when you shift the front (sternum) so far forward that the shoulders come forward too, or when you shift the back (shoulder blades) so far back that the sternum comes back too.
Finally, notice that the head and neck, broadly speaking, like to follow the shoulder girdle…forward or back. (Some people, in fact, may find it easier to lead with the head when counterbalancing, rather than the shoulder girdle.) In any case, when the sternum, upper ribcage and shoulder girdle make a big, deep base of support, the head and neck have much improved opportunities for graceful poise.
I’ve always been suspicious of practices or disciplines that involve deliberately tightening a muscle—even though I know that others use this strategy with great success. The reasons for my suspicion are that: (1) you can tighten a muscle without significantly changing your alignment and (2) it seems to me that the body has already worked out the best pattern of tone for a given alignment, and I doubt that we can cognitively do better. Consequently, my preference has always been to prioritize improving alignment, letting the muscles take their cues from the position.
I’m not saying that this is always easy! How are we supposed to know what better alignment is? I’ve talked about some of the answer in an earlier post, “Gravity and Neutral.” Part of what I said there is that neutral (segments stacking well) has the feeling of length without deliberate effort. But there’s more to say.
One of the realities is that, when you move from one pattern of alignment to another, everything has to change. So the appropriate use of the mind in this situation is to say, “I’m going to try changing the position of one part, and then let everything reorganize to match what I just changed.” It’s an interesting mix of deliberateness and surrender. When you practice this skill, part of what emerges is the logic of body patterns in gravity.
One of the most important parts of the logic is counterbalancing. For example, if you shift your femoral heads backwards in standing, your upper body will have to shift forward. Otherwise, you’ll fall over backwards. A good way to begin to practice shifting patterns is to shift the femoral heads (tops of the legs) forward and back, allowing the upper body to counterbalance. If, on the other hand, you deliberately try to shift the femoral heads without letting the upper body counterbalance, you’ll get a change to feel the body saying, “NO, that doesn’t make sense.”
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