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How your organs affect your posture

I often integrate visceral work in most sessions and have developed a set of patterns relating restrictions in the musculoskeletal system to visceral restrictions.  What this means is that by balancing the alignment of the body the organs are positively affected, and by working with the organs the person’s alignment and movement can be improved.  I frequently work from both ends of the spectrum in my sessions.

I wrote this article in 2013 on the subject for the International Association of Structural Integration Yearbook on integrating aspects of Chinese Medicine to structure a Visceral Manipulation session.  It gives some insight into where my work is going these days.

IASI Visceral Article


The Gestalt: Coordination and Perception

In the last 2 years I’ve really simplified the way I work with people on movement.  In doing work with movement the holy grail is in the “cue”.  This is the direction you give a client for what to pay attention to or what to do.  For example, in standing one of the most useful things you can do is let your knees be soft with the quads relaxed so they aren’t locked back or bent, just right in the middle.  When you initiate walking with soft knees, the tendency is to land more towards the center of the foot without all the shock and hyperextension that comes with landing on the back of the heel.

The problem I’ve run into cues like this with some of my clients, is that there are just too many of them to achieve balanced posture and the gestalt is lost.  Often the tendency will be to try to do all of the cues I’ve given at once rather than to tune into one at a time or even better how that one cue is effecting the total experience.  This generally leads to the opposite result of what I’m looking for which is that the person I’m working with starts walking like Robbie the Robot, hopelessly lost in the mental exercise of managing the cues.   For example, try letting your knees be soft while landing on the pad in front of the heel, while allowing the hips to shift back and keeping your eyes on the horizon.  While you’re at it, allow your arms to swing from your midline and let your jaw be soft, oh yeah, and don’t forget to breath.  It’s easy for these cues to become a bunch of tasks to pay attention to, but that’s not really the point. I’m going to make a brash statement and say we live in a singularly focused culture.  While we may be getting better at multitasking on our iPhones, when was the last time you noticed your breath or whether your body is comfortable, while you send a tweet?  How about right now while you’re reading this?

This brings me back to the question of, what is the goal of movement education and more importantly, what is the gestalt that ties our experience together?  Some of my clients have articulated it as learning how to sit or walk or stand all over again.  That’s not far off, but I’ll offer another suggestion. To begin with, to feel better, but what does that really mean?  How about something like, “being able to maintain easy attention to your internal experience while participating in the world outside of your skin”?  Isn’t that really what’s happening when we feel good?  We are aware of our experience and we’re able to participate with others and engage with the world. Another way of putting it would be to balance internal and external experience.  When it comes down to it, most people come to see me with problems that stem from difficulty at listening to the inside, while doing something out in the world.  Another way of saying the same thing is that it’s easy to forget how to coordinate our internal experience while interacting and moving.  Hubert Godard, the brilliant Rolf Movement teacher uses the words coordination and perception to talk about the same thing.  Essentially, the majority of postural misalignments have to do with two things: 1. how we experience; and 2. How we express ourselves and interact with the world.  To achieve a balance between internal awareness or coordination and external focus requires a lifetime of practice, but the journey begins when we become aware of HOW to focus on either one (perception or coordination).

It will likely come to you as a surprise that core support doesn’t come from doing sit-ups, (a totally irrelevant exercise in developing core support), but instead comes from a balance of perception and coordination.  I’ll give an example.  While you’re sitting reading this article (assuming you’re sitting), your abs are probably not toned much and your awareness is most likelyon the words on the computer screen.  That’s ok.  See what happens if you take your eyes away from the screen and look out at the horizon, letting what you see come to you if you can.  There’s a reason why gymnasts mark the horizon with their eyes while they’re balancing. With one hand on your belly, press into the floor with your whole foot really feeling the floor, and draw your shoulder sockets and hip sockets back towards the back plane of your body (the hip socket is at the hip crease, right in the middle of the thigh).  You should feel a subtle toning or drawing in of the transverse abdominus muscles under your hand.

These are the muscles that lead to stabilization of the spine and help us to get longer, but what initiated the tone was not a squeezing of your 6 pack muscles.  Instead, we got there by coordinating our internal movements (hip sockets and shoulder sockets moving back into the joint), and expansion of our awareness of the ground (through our feet) and our awareness of what’s around us (through the eyes).  When we start to feel misaligned it’s often because of a loss of core support caused by a breakdown of our internal coordination or external perception.   This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  It’s often what we do when we rest, but it’s not the easiest way to move.  In a general way we can work on our core support by focusing on our coordination and perception.  So next time you’re out for a walk you might just ask yourself, are my thigh bones softening back into the sockets? Am I able to walk with my attention on the horizon? What’s around me or am I looking at the ground?  Am I able to stay attuned to how it feels on the inside, while being engaged and interested in what’s happening around me?

Motion Control Feet

Turns out, the more shoe you wear, the worse it is for you.  The NY Times just published this article on motion control shoes.  Apparently someone in the Army asked if all that motion control in shoes was necessary.  Turns out, the better the motion control in a shoe, the more likely you are to get injured.  In other words, the more you let the shoe create the stability and the less your foot has to do it, the more likely you are to get injured. If you’ve ever run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, it becomes apparent pretty quickly how much more your foot has to work to create stability, but also how much more relaxed your foot has to be. Balanced tone, always leads to greater function.

The Trouble With Shoes

With snow forecast for New York this week, you might think of it as your big opportunity to walk the way your body was meant to-over your center.  All that slipping and sliding really forces us to be over the center of gravity, something that most shoes with heels discourage us from doing. Wearing shoes with heels, even most sneakers, tilt us forward as if we’re standing on a hill.  To keep from falling forward and tumbling down the hill inside our shoe, our natural tendency is for the hips to go forward, and chest to go back.  This helps us to balance.  It also creates a kind of collapse, since our hips aren’t under us and the chest is behind us.  It’s the All American posture and you won’t see it in anyone who walks around barefoot or in flat shoes.  Go to any Caribbean beach town where flip-flops and barefoot walking prevails if you need an example.

What this does…
Heels also tend to shorten the connective tissue of the calves and as a result the hip flexors, and when you’re standing with your hips shifted forward the upper hamstrings shorten which makes sitting difficult.  When the hamstrings are tight they pull the sitbones under which makes an upright posture while sitting impossible without strain.

Gentle exercises to try…
Full body arching and curling is a fantastic exercise to find a balance stance, especially the arching part.  Standing, try arching back, your tail back and up as if you have a 6 foot squirrel tail and you’re trying to touch the back of your head.  Really exagerate it.  When your head goes back shift your weight into your toes, this helps the sitbones to lift.  With your tail back, weight in the toes, breath deeply, spiraling the arms back to open the upper ribcage.  Inhaling is important because it opens the upper ribcage and supports the shoulders to rest more on the back.  When you exhale, let your body spring back to neutral leaving your hips back, tail lifted.  You should naturally find a less collapsed posture.

You can also go back and forth following the inhale with an exhale into the heels, rounding the shoulders, but make sure you end by inhaling and letting your body come back to neutral.

Another one…
Calf stretches are good with the knee bent and the hips back..  straiten and bend the knees with the hips back, to work different parts of the calves.  Be sure to put even pressure in the ball of the big toe as much as the pinky toe ball so your feet dont twist.   This will help the hips rest more back over the center of the feet.

Flip Flops…

If this article finds you escaping the New York winter someplace tropical heels probably aren’t your biggest worry right now, but flip-flops might be.

For many people flip-flops or thongs force the wearer to lift their toes or scrunch them up (which is kind of like pushing your toes down while you lift them) to keep the sandal on.   Walk down any street in New York in the Summer and you’ll see someone struggling to both hold their cell phone to their ear andbalance while they shuffle along in this year’s flip-flops.  Holding that floppy footwear on is tough work and it’s kind of like multitasking for the feet.

Your toes were designed to respond to the ground, and they have a much easier time doing so if they aren’t having to wrestle with your footwear at the same time.  Lifting your toes is something that most yoga teachers will ask you to do to find your arch.  This is a great thing in yoga because it aligns thebones of the foot.  If you tend to pronate, you probably have a little trouble finding the ball of your big toe and lifting your toes really helps to find that part of your foot without loosing the alignment of your ankle.

Unfortunately, all that toe lifting makes our ankles and arches stiff, and makes for a hard landing on the heel when we walk.  When we are walking we want the arch to flex like a spring.  The spring of the arch provides shock absorbsion for our bodies, but it can only happen when the foot is relaxed.  If this is you, try this.. Standing, try placing the outside of your heel down first, then the outside of your toes,then the big toe ball and then the inside of the heel.  When you press your toes down, you might notice that it’s easier to lengthen them out as you press down.  This is the action you’re looking for in flip flops, instead of scrunching, pressing down as you lengthen through the toes.

Easier walking…
This exercise can help whether you’re in shoes, barefoot or in sandals.  When you’re walking, try starting by standing over the center of your foot (all four corners with equal pressure) with your knees strait but soft, feet relaxed.  Once you’ve found this posture standing, begin to walk.   If you try this barefoot on a hardwood floor your walk should go from loud and pounding to almost silent.  This is because you are landing closer to the center of your foot, instead of the back of the heel.  How you start your walk will essentially determine how you end up moving.  If you start over your center, you’ll end up walking over your center.

While flip-flops aren’t the best for your feet, if you wear them, you’ll want to find ones with a tighter strap across the top of the foot for a snugger fit, or one that allows you to press your toes down to hold the sandal on.  Your toes shouldn’t have to do anything more than respond to the ground, don’t make them hold your sandals on too.

I hope this helps,


Ida Rolf Describes Structural Integration

Classic! I couldn’t describe the work better myself.  Below are two videos of the woman who created ‘Rolfing’ or Structural Integration, Ida P. Rolf.  Back in her day there was a lot more use of the metaphor of stacked blocks to describe the body and it’s alignment, though her understanding was incredibly nuanced.  I remember hearing Joseph Heller (created Hellerwork) tell a story about how they were at a restaurant and when a waiter walked in wearing a suit, she could pick out that his quadratus lumborum was short.  Amazing.


Tips For Meditation

Many of my clients have asked what they can do to support the changes they gain from their Hellerwork series. I usually give an answer something like, “Yoga, meditation, chi gong, pilates, or anything that brings you towards a deeper connection with yourself.”

Meditation is one of the most direct ways to do that and it can be as simple as observing the inhale and exhale of your breath. Of course it’s often not as easy as that sounds. I came across the following advice on meditation and thought I would share it. It’s sound advice for beginners or experienced meditators alike.

I’ll add that if you don’t already have a meditition practice with a group that sits together regularly, I highly recommend it for avoiding many of the pitfalls that beginner meditators fall into. It can help to have some support from other folks going through a similar process.

By U Tejaniya
Shwe Oo Min Meditation Center
Yangon, Myanmar

1. Meditating is watching and acknowledging in a relaxed way whatever happens whether pleasant or unpleasant.

2. Meditating is waiting and watching with awareness and understanding: not thinking, not reflecting, not judging.

3. Just pay attention to what is exactly in the present moment.
Don’t go back to the past!
Don’t plan for the future!

4. When meditating, both the mind and the body shold be comfortable.

5. The meditating mind should be relaxed and at peace.
You cannot practice when the mind is tense.

6. Don’t focus too hard, don’t control and don’t force or restrict yourself.

7. Don’t try to create anything, and don’t reject what is happening. However, as things happen or stop happening, be aware of them.

8. Trying to create something is greed.
Rejecting what is happening is aversion.
Not knowing if something is happening or has stopped happening is delusion.

9. Only when the observing mind has no greed, aversion or worry/ anxiety will the meditating mind arise.

10. Don’t have any expectations.
Don’t want anything.
Don’t be anxious, because if these attitudes are in your mind, it becomes difficult to meditate.

11. You are not trying to make things turn out the way you want them to happen. You are trying to know what is happening as it is.

12. You have to accept and watch both good and bad experiences.

13. You have to double check to see what attitude you are meditating with. A light and free mind enables you to meditate well.

Good luck and let me know how it goes.