The Posture of Health: Gravity, Oxygen and You, Part III
By John LennonAbout the author: John Lennon began performing as a vocal soloist with the Indianapolis Symphony in his early teens. Stationed in Germany with the U.S. Army, he toured as a soloist with the Seventh Army Symphony. After his service, he completed a master's degree in vocal performance at Northwestern University, and was awarded a Fulbright scholarship for study in Germany, where he performed in seven major German opera houses.
Professor Lennon joined the music faculty at Emporia State University in 1964. His curiosity of the orign and quality of human sound led him to research into the interrelationships of posture, breath and vocal sound. Among his other activities, Mr. Lennon is the executive director of the John Lennon Institute of Postural Studies, a nonprofit organization dedicated to researching the interaction between posture, health and well-being.
Science tells us that the forces of gravity exist to assist the functions of all things on this planet. Indeed, it does just that for everything else except the average erect human structure. Are we missing a vital message here? How is it possible to allow gravity to assist rather than antagonize our structural balance? When all functions integrate according to designed intent, the potential of any concept is limitless. We are also told that human potential is beyond present comprehension. What variables prevent realization of that potential? There is much to indicate that the greatest detriment to this realization is the manner in which we are "holding it all together."
It is my conjecture that early childhood individual alterations in the structure's alignment are what brings the various, highly flexible segmental gravity centers out of sync with one another. This miscalculation of alignment keeps the erect balance of the human body in constant jeopardy. Our balance is continually attended to by musculoskeletal imbalances not accounted for in the design's intent. Because of these imbalances, the erect body continually moves in and out of balance. Such a dissipation of energy is incalculable when one realizes the extent to which this activity negates every facet of our existence. We actually wear down our living body by constantly holding it in a state of constant compression from the moment we begin to stand on two feet.
Fortunately, almost any habitual action has the potential of reversibility. That reversibility has been attempted experimentally in our investigation by returning the vertebral column to the extended C configuration of the fetal arch at birth. This alignment synchronizes the segmented gravity centers, thereby minimizing structural sway to the extent that gravity is allowed to assist in maintaining balance. To realize more fully gravity's impact on fetal configuration we must examine gestation, a period of structural suspension as the fetus develops suspended in amniotic fluid.
The first discernible structural part in human embryonic development is the vertebral column. All other parts evolve from and are totally dependent upon the arched configuration of the growing fetal vertebral column which, other than expansive growth, never once varies. During a nine-month gestation, the human structure grows and is formed around a vertebral column flexed in an arched configuration from atlas to coccyx. Existing in suspended amniotic flotation, gravity's effect on the fetus is somewhat the same as on a ball in water: equal to all parts. After birth, the arched C configuration remains constant, except for extension. This extended C configuration allows the infant the experience of optimal structural suspension from head to pelvis until such time as bipedalism is first attempted.
Gestation allows a panoramic blueprint of how all parts grow in relationship to one another and to the arched configuration of the vertebral column. Even the slightest alteration in this designed suspension affects the alignment of all other parts. Like a highly sophisticated mobile, if one segment is altered, all are affected. Since the disposition of all growing parts of the musculoskeletal human structure is determined by the alignment of the vertebral column, this fetal arched configuration is the key to exactly how the summary of all parts was meant to suspend in relationship to one another. At this point of maturation, if the fetus is normal, all structural parts continue to extend and develop according to architectural intent.
It is an established fact that both external and internal stimuli influence the growing fetus, but other than genetic predisposition, the extent of the influence remains unknown. It is at the moment of birth that we begin our initial individual alterations upon the design's intent.
We looked for a means of reawakening this innate sense of structural suspension, as opposed to the common practiced sense of structural support. There is strong evidence that whatever the unconscious mind does to the body, the conscious mind can also undo. As the ultimate biocomputer, the human creature is capable of anything done by a machine conceived, designed, and built by man. This sense of structural suspension is maintained after birth until such time as the growing child first attempts to stand erect. The resulting alteration in vertebral alignment brings about a transformation from the innate sense of suspension, which is replaced by a learned sense of support. Think of the consequences to any structural design that reverses the architectural intent of the blueprint.
How one individually reacts to stress is another determining factor in altering the innate balanced alignment of the human body. To this end it is most helpful to be aware of what part of your body is most affected when you get "uptight." The neck and shoulders are a common site for many people. Others feel it in their head, but keep in mind that headaches are usually manifested from neck and shoulder tension. Another common place is the stomach and intestines. I even hear complaints of excessive tension in the hip sockets.
After more than half a century working with the sound of the human instrument I am convinced that three of the most unconsciously constricted parts of the human body are the root of the tongue, the masseter muscle of the jaw, and the ankles. I have seen literally thousands of tongues that appear to have minds of their own. By that I mean that when I ask a student to perform simple tongue exercises, no matter now much they try, the tongue seems unwilling to respond to conscious will.
It is an interesting fact that in death the first two muscles to let go are the masseter muscle of the jaw and the tongue. Most of us have seen the film of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol. In the scene when Marley's ghost returns to confront Scrooge, he appears with a cloth wrapped around his head from under the jaw to the top of his skull. The purpose of the wrapped cloth was to keep the mouth closed. It is amazing how releasing tension in the jaw and root of the tongue dissipates tension elsewhere in the body. I do tongue exercise every day. Time and space in the series prevent detailing exactly how these are executed. If you just remember to explore sticking your tongue out between your lips when doing the gravity-centered breathingTM exercises detailed in this series, it will go a long way in helping you become aware of this problem.
I remember reading an article about Michael Jordan's habit of sticking out his tongue when he drives to the basket and when he shoots. When he tried to consciously correct this seemingly benign habit, his concentration and effectiveness were compromised.
The reason for including the ankles is because the average person does not relax the ankles in response to gravity when lifting a foot off the ground. Humans are the only footed creatures who come down on the heel of the foot. Can you cite examples of other animals that do this?
Let's take a moment to explore your comfort zone. People are more comfortable with what is familiar to them, whether good or bad habits. It takes courage to move out of one's comfort zone and explore the unknown. Because you comfort zone is habitual, it should always be viewed with suspicion until you have explored other options. The gravity-centered breathingTM postural exercise provide a means of awakening your mind and body to the habitual roadblocks that hinder your individual potential.
That the human body has three centers of gravity has been cited in Parts I and II of this series. Such a posture requires a unified central axis, the gravity centers of each component part in parallel suspension. Visualizing the human body from the side. Imagine a plumb line dropped from the center of the skull down through the ears to the center of the shoulders and upper thorax, down through the anatomical gravity center in the lower pelvis, and going to a place just behind the ball of the foot.
We found that this alignment is achieved most effectively by minimizing the secondary curves in the spine. This structural repositioning appears to reduce excessive gravitational resistance and requires the least amount of energy to maintain. Unconscious body-mind gravitational inefficiency is what gradually pulls the component parts away from the innate sense of a central axis in the first place. By analogy, when something alters the suspension of a car, it is immediately apparent to the driver and anyone else riding in the vehicle. Unfortunately, most people are functionally insensible of the aligned suspension of their body. But if correct alignment and suspension are so vital to automotive efficiency, think what it means to human performance.
More than three decades of working one-on-one with university students has convinced me that the average person has little concept of the visual assessment of their individual postural profile and the sound of their voice. How they do what they do when they do it. For example, can you see yourself without a mirror? It is truly astonishing how many people are dissatisfied with the sound of their own voice and shocked when they hear it reproduced. There is not enough time or space to pursue this observation now; perhaps in another article. In the meantime, ask yourself this question: Can one's life be as productive as possible if one has only a vague awareness of what one looks sounds like?
If you are habitually unconscious of the environmental impact of your daily life's performance, then your individual effectiveness is unconsciously compromised because of inattentiveness to yourself. That means that your unconscious mindset or attitude is in control and not your conscious self. You fail to "catch your own act."
Habitual posture is a very personalized and individual human function. No two persons have the exact same "holding pattern." Think of the times when you have identified a friend, one facing away from you some distance away. What is the dimension that provides identity? Is it clothing? Or is it an indefinable style, the body's structural attitude, while moving or in repose? Each person's individual "holding pattern" is as distinctive as fingerprints and vocal resonance.
First and foremost, you are an individualized form with an extremely flexible spatial identity. By that I mean that your postural profile occupies a continuously changing space in your environment. How you individually fill up that space with the visible reality of your self-image is the physical object of your self-perception. To this end, we each personally create our own self-sculpted logo that we present in the daily performance arena of our life. In essence, daily living is nothing more than a continuously running live performance involving only two props: gravity and your thinking. Gravity is omnipresent and unchanging. Your thinking is equally omnipresent and formidably influential, but hopefully, continually evolving to a higher degree of consciousness.
An easy way to identify with posture is to equate it with the house you live in. Who doesn't have an idealized dream house, a physical structure and surrounding environment that epitomizes the personification of who you are and your station in the hierarchy of society? This is, however, not always representative of the true quality of one's life.
There is another kind of house in which you spend even more time than the man-made dwelling where you live, eat, sleep and raise a family. That other dwelling is the physical structure of your living body. It's sad that the average person devotes more time and energy to the maintenance of one over the other. If the foundation of your house shifts, you call in a contractor to make corrections before the problem undermines the integrity of the entire structure and your investment. If problems arise with the electrical wiring or the plumbing, a responsible owner sees that experts correct the problems as quickly as possible. If one is truly self-sufficient and capable, they fix the problem themselves.
Why, then, do we tend to ignore these same warning signs in our living body? Your investment in yourself far surpasses any monetary contributions you have made to your otherwise personal property.
We are now going to move to the third gravity-centered breathingTM posture called the bookend. It is like the basic prone,* with one exception. While lying on the floor in the basic prone, move back against the nearest wall, moving the chair under your flexed legs as you do so, with your head up in the vertical the same as you did previously using your head and arms. Continue resting your legs on a chair with your knees flexed. Let the wall hold your head up in the vertical the same as your arms did before. Stretch your arms straight out along the baseboard with your palms up.
Notice how far off the floor your shoulders are. Each time you breathe out, let your shoulders relax down to the floor. Pull the chair closer to bring your knees further over your chest. If your shoulders are reluctant to relax and let go, put a 10-pound flexible weight on each shoulder, as I suggested for your wrists in Part II, while you continue breathing. Remember to monitor your jaw and breathing. I have known gravity-centered breathers to stay in the bookend for more than two hours while breathing and listening to soft music. Why so long? The longer you stay, the more beneficial it is and the better you feel. The first time you try it, however, you may well doubt the truth of this statement. The bookend posture can, in the beginning, be quite uncomfortable. If you have excessive tension in your neck and shoulders, it will immediately make its presence known in this posture. If you experience difficulty breathing through your nose in this posture, stick your tongue out between your lips as suggested earlier. You will be surprised how much better you breathe with the tongue out between your lips. Be careful, however, not to extend your jaw forward when doing so.
If you can allow yourself to remain in this posture for three minutes while breathing deeply, no matter how uncomfortable it is, your discomfort will dissipate because of the induction phenomenon referred to in Part II.
As you begin to adjust to this posture, let's explore moving your head from side to side. The order of the movements is not important. Begin panting (either through the nose or with the mouth open) while slowly moving your head as far to one side as possible. See if you can touch your cheek to the wall. Notice that your shoulders do not get involved in this maneuver. You may experience a pulling in your opposite shoulder as you do this. When you have gone as far as you think possible, slow down your panting and begin a long, slow, deep breath through your nose with your head turned in this manner. As you exhale, move your head even further against the wall. Now, repeat the movement on the opposite side, panting as you do so. This particular exercise is quite useful in reducing migraines. There are other helpful variations, but too detailed to include in this series.
By now, it should be quite evident that postural habits can either contribute positively to or negatively detract from human health and well-being. This series could continue for many parts before we cover even the basics of that contribution. Overall, however, the results of these postural studies suggest that a new era is on the horizon, one that replaces a trite old axiom with a new concept: gain without pain.
Open your eyes and check your wrists. Are both wrists touching the floor? Close your eyes again and, as you continue breathing, try to consciously release that tension, allowing your wrists to relax down to the floor. If this doesn't happen, put a small weight on top of each wrist for approximately five minutes while lying on the floor and breathing.
After several minutes in this posture, your body will feel different because of less opposition to gravity. With your eyes still closed, get an impression of your head position. Open your eyes and look up at the ceiling. Are you looking straight up, or at a spot further behind your head? Most of us carry our head too far forward on our shoulders. Close your eyes again and adjust your head position by lowering your chin closer to your chest. See how many stacked fingers on one hand you can place between the back of your head and the floor, and then return your arms to their former position. Remember to monitor your jaw and continue breathing.
Breathe out, exhaling as much air as possible. When your lungs feel empty, begin breathing in very slowly through your nostrils until your lungs seemed filled to maximum capacity. Now, slowly breathe out, again only through your nostrils.
With each exhalation, silently say "Let's go!" If you are sufficiently tuned in to how your body is responding, you will notice that increased oxygen relaxes your muscles, allowing more air to enter your lungs with each inhalation. It is extremely important that you notice how your body responds when breathing. Your body relaxes during exhalation; now learn what it habitually does when inhaling. If the small of your back leaves the floor when you inhale, slowly bring your knees further over your chest. This will help keep the small of your back on the floor during inhalation.
Lace the fingers of both hands together and place them under the back of your head like a pillow. Remember the combination of movement and breathe like this: breathe in, keep still; breathe out, move. Breathing in gives strength and stability to the skeletal muscles of your body. Breathing out releases muscle tension, which relaxes excessive compression in your skeletal framework.
After a long, deep inhalation, and just at the beginning of exhaling, use your arms for support and lift your head off the floor as far as possible. Keep this position during the next inhalation, moving your head further forward only when exhaling. Several exhalations may be necessary before your head is as far up in the vertical position as possible. Always go further than you think you can and remember to monitor your jaw and breathing.
Get sufficiently relaxed so as to keep your head up in the vertical position for at least three minutes, while breathing through your nostrils. After three minutes, return your head to the floor with your arms on either side as before. Lower your chin down on your neck as far as possible and check the space between the back of your neck and the floor. The space will be smaller because the muscles that hold your body's posture have released their habitual constriction, relaxing the excessive curvature of your spine. You feel better because of the increased oxygen in your blood.
John Lennon, BM, MM