Refining Your Tune Through Movement

The ease with which we can transition into and out of the various Archetypal Postures of squatting, kneeling and cross-legged positions – as discussed in Why We Should Sit on the Floor – is related to our biomechanical tune.  These postures serve as a corrective mechanism to preserve a harmony of movement between our muscles, fascia and sinew, without which we can find ourselves at odds with the freedom of movement. For example; knee joint crepitus (the crackling noise associated with joint movement) can be directly associated with the loss of ease in the Archetypal Postures. When you cannot squat (heals down, knees over toes, with arches lifted) the knee experiences intra-compartmental pressure that are malignly altered so that wear and tear on the joint is accelerated. Over the year, being out of tune will gradually distort your musculoskeletal structure and lead to premature again of the legs and lower back in particular.

Why can’t I stretch my way to tune, like we used to do in gym class? Before you bend over to touch your toes, listen to what former U.S. National Gymnastics coach and author of Building the Gymnastic Body, Christopher Sommers has to say; “flexibility can be passive, whereas mobility requires that you can demonstrate strength throughout the entire range of motion.” The individual muscle concept presented in traditional anatomy class gives a purely mechanical model of movement by separating things into discrete, executable functions that fail provide an accurate picture of the seamless integration seen in a living body – when one part moves, the body responds as a whole. Thus, the ability to transition into and out of a squat requires more than any one muscle being flexible. The approach to mobility parallels biomechanical tune, in that they engender a systemic or whole-body foundation. Efficient structural relationships, therefore, must be exposed and resolved within the individual so that one can grow out of a the dysfunctional pattern.

We can achieve better biomechanical tune by:

1.     Enacting a healthy load upon the system that will positively remodel its architecture. Regular loading (read: floor-sitting and rising) within the healthy limits of an individual induces a muscle and it’s surrounding tissues to remodel elasticity on a progressive basis. A lack of loading not only reduces the mobility surrounding a set of muscle and tissue, but will also reduce the available recoil native to that muscle. In other words, a sedentary person leaving the couch will face a much greater challenge getting into and out of any given Archetypal Posture

2.     Training the body to react to a variety of postures. Working on isolated groups may stretch that muscle well, but it can leave out many fascial tissues necessary for a healthy body’s functional movement. For instance, tight hamstrings are often thought to be the cause of low back pain and as such individuals will proceed to do the standard hamstring stretch to little benefit. As stated before, no movement isolates a single muscle. Our body’s all work by things pulling in different directions with an appreciable balance, so why not work on mobility the same way. Moving the body to the floor and back up again, while experiencing the varieties of squatting, kneeling and cross-legged postures not only builds elasticity within tissues but the strength in the muscle and sinew allowing for greater coordination of movement.

How can I get better at any given posture? The answer is fairly simple… move into and out of a variety of postures as often as you can. Here’s how:

Start here if you're a beginner:
If you have not lived on the floor since you learned how to walk, then you will need to reestablish your foundation. Have a solid chair present that will allow you to make your way down to the floor. Do it step-by-step, respecting any pains you encounter. From a cross-legged posture, use your arms to reach out for the chair to help you twist up to a toe-sitting posture. Twisting your way up and down from the floor is the most biomechanically efficient way of transitioning. Once you are in a toe-sitting posture, bring one leg through so that the foot is flat on the floor and the knee is at a forward angle – make sure the knee doesn’t fall inside the line of the big toe, but maintains a steady position over the smaller toes. To get up you will need to push from the back foot, transitioning the balance of your weight onto the front foot as you rise. Help yourself by using your arms if needed.

Complementary Exercises: Leg Swings

 
 

Intermediate Level:
If you are comfortable on the floor in most of the Archetypal Postures then you will want to work on strengthening your erector muscles (those that help you rise) by repeating transitions from floor-to-standing through a variety of techniques and repetitions. Start with 10 times up/down using the exercise mentioned above, alternating the forward leg with each subsequent transition. If possible, do not use your arms for assistance as it makes a big difference. Try transitioning all the way up 10 times form a supine position by rolling to either side and then twisting to a sitting position, then fully erect. There is no right way to rise, ancestral cultures have adapted to many different styles so allow your body to find its way. That said, do remember to keep good form. If you get tired and your form deteriorates, then you should stop. Injuring yourself and collapsing to the floor does not count toward reestablishing a solid relationship with the floor.

Complementary Exercises: Foam Rolling & Walking Spider-man's

 
 

Advanced Level: 
If you have perfected your technique and are capable of repeated transitions with good form then you may want to increase the difficulty (and fun!) of the exercise. From a fully supine position try to rise without utilizing a twisting motion. By brining your knees to your chest to gain momentum, roll back and go straight into a full squat and rise straight up. Repeat 10 times. From a standing position, drop down into a full squat (heals down, knees over smaller toes, with arches lifted) and rise back up, keep arms out in front as a counter-balance if necessary. Repeat 10 times with arms out, then 10 times with arms in. From a cross-legged posture, bring your feet in close and spring straight up, untwisting your legs as you stand fully erect. Repeat 10 times. From the toe-sitting posture you can explode out of the position by pushing your hips forward and landing in a full squat position. Repeat 10 times. Again, there is no right way to move. Have fun and be safe with your erections.

Complementary Exercises: Cossask Squat & Overhead Squat

 
 

 

These exercises, or erectorsices, are a fundamental movement pattern. They have naturally emerged from floor living, so return to them often when you eat your meals, read your books or visit with your friends.

Why You Should Sit on the Floor

We as a society need to spend more time on the floor. All humans, all cultures, throughout the ages have spent all our resting and much of our working lives on the ground in variations of a squat, kneeling or cross-legged position. Humans had found ease getting into and out of these primary floor postures until we created the comforts of modernity, which has led us to dis-ease in both form and function. Dr. Mel Siff stated in his book, Facts and Fallacies of Fitness; “Many aboriginal folk squat many times a day while carrying out their daily chores, while the Japanese sit on the floor with their knees folded fully flexed beneath them bearing all their body weight for prolonged periods daily.” We share the same functional heritage as all ancestral cultures, yet with modern amenities we have lost much of our capacity to move pain free simply because we fail to practice these archetypal postures.

All well constructed systems develop a corrective mechanism to preserve harmony between the many hierarchical levels within the system. The practice of Archetypal Postures as a form of repose should be seen as a self-tuning mechanism for the body whereby removing these modes for self-correction is asking for trouble as it is necessary to preserve our biomechanical tune, without which we are met with the prevalence of issues like plantar fasciitis, low-back pain and even neck and shoulder pain. The dense network of muscle, joints, and fascia fail to reach appropriate tune if not adequately placed in our Archetypal Postures. And it should come as no surprise as to why….

In the modern world, we rise out of an elevated bed, waddle to a toilet that is again elevated. Breakfast is eaten either standing or sitting in a chair; work is generally completed in the same fashion, either sitting or standing. On a good day we can make it into the gym but many exercises are based on machines that are constructed so that people can, AGAIN, sit and exercise. After sitting or standing all day, we return home to sit for dinner, followed by more sitting in front of the television on a couch in roughly the same position that we have existed in throughout the entirety of our day. Most people, day after day, fail to make any transition from the standing to the floor, failing to place the musculoskeletal and fascial system through a full range of movement thus compromising biomechanical tune.

Tune is not optional. It is the point and purpose of a well functioning system. The interaction of hundreds of muscles and joints in such a way that internal friction and dissonance are kept to a minimum is not a task that is congruent with spending your life in a chair.  Suppose you are a musician who is about to go on stage and your assistant offers you a choice of two instruments – one is well-crafted and aesthetically pleasing but is hand-made, the other is cheap and naturally weathered by time but is in tune. As a musician you have no choice but to take the instrument that is in tune because no amount of aesthetics is going to win-over a crowd primed for harmony. Whether it is an instrument or a biomechanical system, tune appreciates; for rhythm imposes unanimity upon the divergent and melody imposes continuity upon the disjointed.

Achieving better tune, thus less pain and freer movement, is as easy as adopting a floor based lifestyle, just like those used by our ancestors. Instead of sitting on a chair or couch while watching television, transition to sitting on the floor. Floor sitting encourages normal movement patterns across the biggest joints and muscles of the biomechanical system. Archetypal postures are also valuable to use in a post-exercise setting, as the body finds the usual 30-second calf stretch to be an insignificant task of little benefit after running up a hill for the last 30-minutes. Returning to the floor in various archetypal postures will reestablish fundamental relationships between muscle compartments as they cool and set. After exercise go back to the floor as people have always done.

The following are the Archetypal Postures that you should try:

Full Squat (Figure 11) - the ideal squat has the feet near parallel, the heels on the ground and the knees over the second toe with no collapse of the medial arch of the feet. The tibias anterior is relaxed as body weight has moved over the ankles center of gravity. Ease in full squat tunes the relationship between the muscles of the anterior and posterior compartments of the lower leg. When dorsiflexion is limited the anterior compartment muscles have to work against the stronger posterior compartment muscles so conditions such as shin splints are more likely to manifest. 

Toe Sitting/Standby Posture (Figure 102) - most people find this a difficult posture to maintain, as the muscles and fascia of the sole of the foot are too tight to allow the metatarsal heads of the feet to fully rest on the floor. The toes do not fully extend and so they take too much body weight. If the posture is held and the toes become more painful the natural movement pattern is to use the quadriceps to sit up and raise the shoulders to lift away from he pain. Ease in the toe sitting posture normalized deep relationships between the posterior compartment muscles of the calf, the plantar fascia, and the toes that are the sensitive end point of all the muscles of the leg. All the limb musculature expresses itself via the fingers and toes. In systems theory, you look for control points that are able to initiate or correct the system. Tuning the toes and feet is much more than just a local increase in flexibility.

Kneeling (Figure 103) - when the quads are too tight and the buttocks cannot rest on or between the heels it is indicative of an extensor pattern that is too primed 

Long Sitting (Figure 70) - to sit with a straight back in this posture is difficult if the hamstrings are too tight. IF the low back is stressed in flexion by this posture it is better to slightly flex both knees to take the pressure off the low back. Sitting in these postures builds a functional core strength as the abdominal wall is interacting with the powerful muscles of the hip joints

Cross-Legged (Figure 80) - people who find these cross-legged postures easy often do so because they are stiff in the more linear postures

Butterfly Posture (Figure 89.5) - the sartorial muscle is often associated with this posture as it externally rotates the leg and flexes the knee

Side Saddle (Figure 106,107,108)

Cowboy (Figure 129,129,130)