Extreme fitness has become increasingly popular in our culture. CrossFit and Bootcamp classes push us beyond our limits and prepare us for an armageddon like disaster. Sledge hammers, kettle bells, heavy weights, martial arts and sprinting with backpacks full of rocks are often activities that are on the menu. Exercise protocols often borrow heavily from training programs for the Navy Seals and other military organizations.
Our posture and body alignment can be shaped by the exercises we do. Here’s what happens with extreme exercise: As muscles become bulkier, they shorten. This explains why serious bodybuilders often become muscle bound. They become compressed, forfeiting length for the strength to lift heavy weights short distances.
Exercising to create a six-pack belly is a surefire recipe for shortening the muscle and fascia (myofascia) of the belly, waistline and ultimately, the overall structure. A six-pack belly actually overlays shortened hip flexors that create the foundation for back pain. Crunches and leg lifts reduce the length of the rectus abdominis (paired muscle running vertically on each side of the anterior wall of the human abdomen). They also shorten the hip flexor or psoas muscle. As the abdominal and hip flexor muscles become shortened, the height of the waistline is reduced and the lumbar spine becomes compressed. This distortion of the structure inevitably leads to back pain.
Over time, flexibility is diminished. As the muscles and their fascial wrappings shorten they lose the capacity to extend through space and move with subtlety. Ultimately mobility and grace are lost. Ironically people exercise to improve their appearance. Extreme fitness yields a shorter stockier structure. Movement becomes labored, and efficiency is lost.
As the body shortens, it loses organization around its natural vertical axis. This axis is perceived when all of the body parts are arranged in relation to a long axis which travels from the earth through the center of the body, up and out of the center of the head reaching towards the heavens. Length helps you to stay more organized around this potential vertical line that lies directly in front of the spinal column. This length is available to everyone, whether you are short or tall, thin or full figured. During the process of Rolfing the head, shoulders, pelvis and feet are arranged in direct relation to the vertical axis.
Rolfers aspire to help you become as vertical as possible within the gravity field. Since humans are bipeds they are uniquely challenged to develop a harmonious relationship with gravity. A body that fills its potential for length, expansion and alignment can benefit from support and ease in relation to gravity.
If you maintain length in your myofascial spans, then you stay long in your body. Since humans are bipeds with highly developed hands and brains, they are uniquely challenged to develop a harmonious relationship with gravity. Much of our time is spent performing fine motor tasks in a seated position. This in itself shortens our structures. The ideal form of exercise which can actually just be enjoyed as movement are functional activities such as walking, dancing, swimming. During these activities the body is moving in its entirety. Movement is produced as muscles engage with one another within a synchronic and intricate flow. Just watch Fred Astaire, who appears to be effortless as he dances with power and length. Rolfing embodies these ideals by releasing the chronic shortenings within the myofascial network. As the tensions become more equal throughout the body, the structure moves towards length and symmetry.
How then can we cultivate length in our bodies?
Hatha Yoga is a form of exercise that helps you maintain length and flexibility. Yoga asanas both stretch and strengthen your muscles while cultivating alignment around the vertical axis. Tai Chi and Qigong are also practices that promote strength, flexibility, verticality and inner peace.
The Rolfing Technique of Structural Integration releases chronic shortenings within the myofascial network. As the tensions become more equal throughout the body, the structure moves towards length and symmetry. This balance within the structure makes for highly efficient, graceful, elegant body, a beautiful body.
Five Element Acupuncture is a wonderful approach for creating balance of the whole person, including asymmetries in the structure. First, structural imbalances are identified through observation and palpation. Then, Akabane testing is used to discover left/right blocks amongst the twelve meridians. As an even flow of Qi is restored between the left and right sides, the structure moves towards symmetry.
Rebekah and David Frome have been working in the healing arts for over three decades. They have helped thousands of people recover from trauma and leave pain behind. They practice in Montclair and Asbury Park, NJ. To learn more about Tai Chi classes or to schedule a Rolfing or Five Element Acupuncture appointment call (973) 509 - 8464 or visit www.FromePT.com.