Alignment and Tone (and Counterbalancing)

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | July 9, 2015

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.”

Shape and mobility of the mid-foot

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | June 20, 2015
I recently realized that I have had a blind spot—with a few dimensions—about feet. 
 
I have high arches, and I’ve sometimes had foot pain. I’ve had a bit of plantar fasciitis, but more commonly I’ve had pain in the left mid-foot. My improved clarity came when I realized that the foot pain seemed to be coming from the joints between the metatarsals and cuneiforms, and that the pain was related to stiffness (lack of dorsiflexion) in the joints. Working on my foot to improve dorsiflexion—something I never really tried to do before—has really helped the foot feel better. I realize that I took the shape of my arches for granted, and assumed that they couldn’t change. I’ve been looking at everyone else’s feet with new eyes, and I’ve had some nice breakthroughs with clients who had limitations similar to mine. One connection I’ve made is that these stiff, high medial arches seem to drive weight into the heel.
 
Interestingly, arthritic changes to these joints seem to be better known in people with the opposite problem: flat feet. I don’t think I’ve seen that in my practice, but I’ll be on the lookout now.

 

Self-care and clinical assessment

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | May 31, 2015
As many practitioners know, pelvic torsions are very often held in the pubic symphysis and can be neutralized by resisted adduction. It’s the one alignment pattern for which I’ll interrupt a standing palpatory assessment, since it’s so quick and easy to fix. For years, I’ve had a habit of asking clients to do this maneuver to themselves (usually in a seated position), rather than doing it with my help. When I do it this way, I’m making sure that not only are they able to perform the maneuver, but that it’s also correcting the problem. 
 
For quite awhile, this was really the only example in my practice of what could be a category: 
(1) assess a problem; 
(2) ask the client to do a corrective maneuver;
(3) reassess to confirm that the correction worked
 
This year, I’m beginning to collect a few more examples. Here are 2 of them:
 
(1) I find a sacral rotation or tilt in a prone client. Before attempting any other corrective measures, I ask the client to turn over, bend his knees, and push them out against a strap around his legs. When he turns over again, the sacral misalignment is greatly improved. (Since I wrote this, I’ve changed my procedure: when a prone client pushes his thighs outward against my hands, that gaps the SI joints adequately. This simplifies the process.)
 
(2) I find a Type II flexed lumbar fixation in a prone client. I ask her to lie on the floor with a small foam roller beneath her mid-lumbar spine and sink into the flexed spot for a few moments, then recheck the spine. The flexed fixation is gone. 
 
It’s fair to say that both practitioner and client are going to be more confident about a self-care measure when they’ve seen it work. I’m going to see how many examples of this I can find in the next few months. 

 

Two kinds of teaching, two kinds of learning

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | May 23, 2015

Early on in my bodywork career, I began to realize that some kinds of classes worked better for me than others. I spent a lot of money finding this out!  A similar thing happened, early on, with teaching: material I found really interesting (injury evaluation, for example) was, frankly, a turn-off for a lot of other practitioners. 

At one point, in the early 90s, I had an idea that there were 2 kinds of bodywork. On the one hand, there were the types that were easy to teach and practice, but had limited depth; on the other, there were types that were more rich and satisfying, but impossible to teach with clarity. It wasn’t until I trained with Judith Aston that I experienced what was, for me, the best of both worlds. 

The reality that I’ll always struggle with is this: material or teaching styles that don’t work for me may work just fine—or even be ideal—for others! It’s hard to appreciate what it’s like to be someone else. 

The simplest thing I can say about all this is that some learners seem to respond best if they’re given protocols to practice, and others if they’re given principles to apply. I’m that second type: when someone gives me something to practice, my mind wants to know “why!” I think that some others, when hearing principles and ideas, want to be given “something to do.”

In our teaching, we’re trying to appeal to both types. We spend less time talking about principles than we could, and we spend a lot of time teaching specific techniques. I hope that our principles shine through the examples we use!

 

Generous Movement

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | May 14, 2015

 

I’d like to recommend a lovely little book: Generous Movement, written by Alexandra and Roger Pierce and published in 1991. It’s available for about $11 online, and used copies can be found for even less. 
 
The Pierces are (I believe they’re retired) both academics: she in music, he in drama. Roger Pierce trained as a Rolfer and worked with Judith Aston in the early days when she was developing Rolf Movement Education, the ideas that later evolved into the movement aspect of Aston-Patterning. The point of view found in Generous Movement, whatever it owes to Aston and others, is well-digested and gracefully articulated. Knowing that movement disciplines like Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais have found their most secure home in the world of the performing arts, it’s easy to imagine how much the Pierces employed these principles in their teaching careers.
 
The book’s subtitle is A Practical Guide to Balance in Action, and it delivers the goods. Most of the book is about common everyday activities: sitting, standing, walking, reaching, lifting. It’s pleasant and rewarding to browse, but a close reading of the book will reveal many profundities. I would recommend it to anyone, from curious client to experienced professional. In my opinion, no general book about posture and movement can touch it. 
 
The Pierces also authored a longer book, Expressive Movement, which contains a fuller exposition of more or less the same ideas. It’s also available online and in a Kindle version as well.

Gravity and Neutral

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | May 4, 2015
Back in the day, Ida Rolf had a couple of big ideas: one was that fascia was the organ of structure, and the other was our alignment made us more or less successful in gravity. Something I want to say about that second idea is that it relates profoundly to the character of our stability. Now, I think it’s important to clarify that our bodies are very good at stabilizing whatever alignment pattern we’re in. So if I have a funny posture, it’s not that I lost my stability; it’s that I’m stabilizing a funny shape. And what makes a shape funny or not is how our segments stack up in gravity. When they stack up well, that’s what we call neutral—and neutral is fundamentally a relationship with gravity. One of the most important skills that we can learn about this is to enhance our felt sense of the characteristics of neutral. 
 
One way to think about it is that in neutral, the body has a “up” feeling. We feel supported, held up. It’s fairly obvious. On the other hand, when we’re less neutral, we feel more compressed, sinking, “down.” What causes this sinking feeling is that as segments of the body slide off of other segments, they leave the position in which they were at their highest stable alignment and stabilize in a lower position. If the tops of my legs slide forward when I’m standing, my pelvis is forced to slide onto the backs of my femoral heads and sink. And in this alignment, it’s very likely that the bottom of my ribcage will also slide backwards and sink. It’s critical to recognize that in this posture, we’re not just crooked: we’re crooked and sinking. You can’t separate these two. 
 
So part of the relationship with gravity is that as we get more neutral, we begin to expect the feeling of length, of support, of “up.” And as we get more neutral, it also becomes obvious that we’re not trying to force the muscles to hold us in this alignment. Rather, the muscles take their cue from the alignment. We feel them working, but we don’t feel like we’re “doing it” on purpose. The best exercise, I think, to improve our discernment is to keep deliberately shifting back and forth between our sense of an “old” posture and a “new improved” one. As we master the skill of making the changes, we also clarify the differences between patterns for ourselves. In other words, we’re identifying the characteristics of neutral.
 
As we understand these things better, it becomes clearer that in gravity, the patterns have an absolute natural order. If something falls back, something falls forward. If something falls left, something else falls right. (Rotation on a vertical axis, because it’s not so driven by gravity, is a little bit different.) In the type of standing palpation we do in these classes, we learn to feel these patterns so that they become an everyday, concrete aspect of how we experience the people we treat.

 

MFB pelvis and low back class

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | April 27, 2015

We just had a very nice weekend (especially considering that I had a cold!) in Seattle teaching an exceptional group. We're lucky to find such interested and talented folks to work with. I especially enjoyed listening to Lauren say things that I would have said…and more. 

Spatial location of restrictions

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | April 20, 2015

A central element in the work we do is identifying the location, direction, and degree of restrictions. Here, I want to consider some of the ways we might keep the question of location awake in our practices.

I recall being introduced, many years ago, to the exercise of pulling on a sheet (on a massage table) that had small weights placed on it, trying to identify the location of the weights by the drag on the sheet.(Ever notice how often we work with eyes closed?) Clients, of course, are three-dimensional—but this exercise has serious real-world relevance. When I pull, for example, on a client’s feet, I can feel the degree of restriction in the sacrum and low back. And as I continue to meet the restriction, I begin to change it. 

In my everyday practice, I use weight-bearing palpation to identify the pattern of segmental balance in the body. Depending on how I palpate, I may also begin to feel restrictions, or I may just identify “areas of interest” to be explored once the client is on the table. For me, it has become normal to move tissue in its fiber direction (grain) to feel the quality and degree of available movement. There’s a 3-D perception involved that I often call “sonar” for lack of a better word. We pull on tissue and feel how the tissue pulls back. As we subtly change the direction of our pull, we get more feedback from the body, and this creates an “image” of the restriction. This is one of the essential skills in bodywork. 

This same skill can show up in other contexts. For example, if I do a passive range of motion test, do I simply note how far a limb moves, or do I also register the location of the restriction that stops the movement? 

Manual therapists of all kinds develop this skill with experience. And it's not just about evaluation, but also treatment. As we like to say, "If you can feel it, you can move it." The big question, for me, is: how can we be as clear as possible about our method, so that we can deliberately and consciously refine this skill? 

 

 

 

 

 

Integration and specificity

By Richard M. Polishuk, LMT, Aston-Patterning | April 20, 2015

I believe that harmony (balance in movement and position) between many different layers in the body is what leads to improved organization. I am deeply impressed by practitioners who can isolate very particular structures to treat (here, I’m especially thinking of neural and vascular work), and I always aspire to improve my skills in that realm…but what interests me most is the practice of organizing the whole. 

 Practicing whole-body assessment keep us on that track. In particular, our weight-bearing palpation protocol continues to flower and deepen. Over the last few years, we’ve clarified and simplified the way we teach it, and our own perception of body patterns in the clients we touch feels more and more immediate. You can see a bit of weight-bearing palpation demonstrated in this video: 

Myofascial Balancing with Richard Polishuk and Lauren Christman of Crafted Touch

 Additionally, we wave the flag for integrative principles of assessment and treatment. It makes sense to us that, to the degree that we’re about tissue mobilization, we should be able to apply the same rules to lots of different kinds of tissues: muscles, fascia, bones, viscera, nerves.

 One exception that’s a big presence in my practice is my long-time interest in so-called special tests: those that specifically identify a clinical condition. Whether we’re talking about knee arthritis, shoulder impingement, or tennis elbow, that kind of clarity really helps to clarify client needs and treatment options. 

 I consider myself lucky that the orthopedic side of my work developed separately from (and earlier than) the structural side. That’s made it easier to appreciate the differences between two good things—whole-body treatment and specific problem-solving—and to strive for a balance between them.

 

For Kirsten – getting ready for IO demo

By Lauren M. Christman, LMT, CBSI/KMI, CCST | August 2, 2011

Here are my thoughts about teaching that material. Feel free to shoot me an email with questions. Good luck!

  

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