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.”