If the intention of AS is to move towards more harmonic and efficient use of our resources, it is necessary to identify what constitutes healthy and unhealthy use of the body in dynamic situations. Dysfunctional movement choices could be defined as those that cause gradual wear and tear on the joints, provide inefficient or poorly timed support, or require excessive force and effort from the muscles. Healthy movement wields the momentum of past choices by sequencing counter-balanced falls into energy efficient undulations. "All kinetically logical movement patterns could be described as a series of waves, a visible dialogue or energy exchange between the proximal and distal body parts... Variations of these energy transmissions include the spiral, the helix and the sine wave. (Faust, 91)"
Imagine a toy snake whose tail is held by a child. As the child moves the tail, the links of the toy respond moving the undulation to the head and back. The child doesn't need to offer the toy additional energy to get the impulse to undulate to the distal head. This is the phenomenon Faust is referring to in the above quotation. The possibilities of redirection are more complex in a human body, in which chains of moving parts involve limbs and a more three-dimensional relation to the earth than that of a toy snake. By aligning the body's structures so they can receive the energy of fascial pulls initiated by preceding structures, a great deal of excess muscular effort can be avoided and a great deal of choice remains.
Chronological Architecture is the phrase that Axis uses to encapsulate the idea of movement which integrates principles of efficiency.
- The application of informed alignment and side bending to protect the joints and take advantage of potential energy.
- Using ramps to allow the recycling and redirection of momentum without a dispersive or damaging crash into the floor or the joints.
- Using Landing/Launching Pads to protect the bony protrusions of the body while allowing more control in entering and leaving the ground.
Alignment/ Joint Integrity
In countless yoga and dance classes instructors invite the participants to “make space in your joints” and “open your joints.” AS rejects this concept. Instead, AS suggests keeping the joint surfaces in as integrated a contact as possible. In fact, this concept is at the core of the AS definition of alignment: “the collaboration of fascia, disks, muscles and bones to bring the surfaces of the joints together when managing torsion, compression and shearing forces. The evidence of alignment can be observed in the arching curves and moderate angles that are established when joints are in full support value (Faust, 11).”
In an attempt to explain the reasons behind these assumptions, imagine having a contact dance with someone with a pillow between your bodies. Or imagine trying to read Braille with gloves on. If the reader is not versed in contact improv or Braille, you can imagine trying to snuggle close to someone with bubble wrap between you. Clearly, a space between the information-transmitting surface and an information-receiving surface creates dispersion and diminishing of the information. In the case of joints this situation becomes dangerous. When the joint surfaces are not in contact in dynamic situations, the connective tissue gets improperly utilized as a support structure. This connective tissue stretches and creates a situation of chronic stress and instability in the joint that will eventually result in deterioration or injury.
So, in AS, there is an emphasis on looking at the inherent boundaries of the joints to understand what they imply about safe and respectful range of motion.
The head of the femur enters the cup of the acetabulum (in the pelvis) at an inferior diagonal angle. When the articulating head fits perfectly in the cup of the acetabulum, and this coupled hugging relation is maintained as the leg is raised in flexion, the architecture demands an external rotation. While extending the leg to the posterior, there is an implicit directive towards internal rotation. This is quite evident when you sit inclined toward one buttock and let your legs relax and follow. In the absence of muscular inhibition, the foot on the side of inclination will turn out towards the floor while the foot on the non-supporting leg (the now posterior leg) will turn inwards. The maintenance of these relations in dynamic situations provides support for momentum through efficient sequencing as well as providing safe structural integrity.
Using the image at the right, imagine the arcing of the thigh created by lifting the femur while keeping the apex of the head in contact with the deepest surface of the acetabulum. Consider that the attachment of the psoas major is medial on the femur, at the lesser trochanter. As the psoas shortens to lift the leg, his would support a gradual external rotation. The structures of the leg themselves, and not an aesthetic concept, suggest this gradual arcing out as the femur is brought into flexion. Now imagine a mono-plane abduction of the femur and notice how the head must begin to protrude from the acetabulum, stretching the connective tissue.
(image taken from : http://www.raddaily.com/whitepaperarticle.php?articleTitle=Pelvis+and+Hip+Lines)
Ball and socket integration becomes even more important in a fragile joint such as the shoulder. The shoulder’s strength and weakness reside in its extreme mobility. The scapula has a very shallow cup to house the head of the humerus. The only skeletal connection between the arms and shoulder girdle and the axial skeleton is the miniscule articulation of the sterno-clavicular joint. Beyond that, it is only held in place by an intricate net of myo-fascia.
The articulation of the humerus is inhibited by the boundaries of the acromion process in the superior direction and the coracoid process toward the anterior. If the humerus is raised in a way that brings it in contact with these structures it pinches the intervening tissues creating the potential for inflammation while forcing the compensation of the scapula in a movement towards the head. This kind of situation is common in many yoga classes where the practitioners are encouraged to bring their arms in line with their ears.
The constant raising of the scapula to accommodate such patterns participates in the common cultural epidemic of neck and shoulder pain and nerve dysfunction down the arms. If we were to attempt to locate an arcing trajectory that weaves between these boundary structures while keeping the shallow cup of the humerus integrated and the scapula in a neutral position on the back, the humerus would externally rotate as it raises above shoulder height in the front and internally rotate with posterior articulation.
Adhering to this neutral range of motion allows us to maximize coordination within the myofascial system as well. The anterior opening of the scapula suggests a range of motion of the humerus that also prefers an anterior orientation. If we raise our arms slightly in front of our bodies, so our hands remain in our peripheral vision, and allow an external rotation as they rise, we engage the elastic support of the lattisimus dorsi in the back and the pectoral muscles in the front, the deltoids and trapezius, creating a responsive and versatile tensegrity system around the joint. If we articulate in a flat plane, or worse with a posterior emphasis, not only does the head of the humerus start to pop out of its nestled fit, but the support value of these various muscle groups is also compromised.
The Spine utilizes an ingenious design of interlocking vertebrae and discs woven with a web of spinal erector muscles that stabilize and translate information along its length. The vertebrae are asymmetrical with the bulk of their mass to the anterior, implying this as the primary weight bearing area (Faust, 48). This means that optimal weight bearing and distribution of force is possible when the neutral curves of the spine are maintained. This is, on one level, common knowledge. Most people will tell you to lift heavy objects from the legs and not by lifting with a curved back. This is a simplification of the directive to maintain the neutral curves in weight bearing.
Hands and Feet
The council of maintenance of the arch so often encouraged by most movement disciplines in regard to the feet, can be extended in its application to the hands. Both hands and feet also offer far reduced support on the medial surface. To walk along the medial edge of the hands or feet collapses the arches and puts unnecessary strain on the connective tissue around the ankles or wrists. Both feet and hands should be allowed to rotate in pivoting situations. This can be done in the hands by reducing surface area (lift the fingers) to the primary point of support on the lateral plantar surface of the heel of the hand. On the feet, the plantar lateral ball of the foot allows for a support that is small enough to be highly mobile in turning. This will reduce the surface friction so torque does not occur in the wrist and ankles.
Side Bending (SB)
Side Bending is a weight distribution phenomenon that utilizes tri-axial, counter rotational motions that allow the maintenance of neutral curves in the spine while transitioning between different spheres of movement (reclining, sitting, crouching, standing, leaping, hanging). The result of side-bending is the alignment of the main weights of the body over their support while creating availability in the arms and legs for use in cultivating momentum or offering support.
(Image excerpted from video of Shah and Blah Productions' Besides Alone. Dancers are Sarah Day and D. Davis)
In the standing sphere this results in a rotation of the anterior lumbar spine away from the supporting leg, a rotation of the thoracic spine towards the inclination, and a rotation of the anterior cervical spine away from the support (Faust, 120). This arrangement maintains the curves of the spine and keeps the facets of the spinal joints in contact, creating a loaded spring of potential in the discs and tissues enwrapping the spine. It also allows for a timely and effortless placing of landing pads to ramp into the next transition.
In the crouching sphere (hands on the ground) the side bend favors a supporting arm over the legs. In a leaping situation, the side bend shifts in the air towards the future support (the leg or other structure you will land on). In a hanging side bend, the emphasis is reversed. This creates a situation where, were the mover to fall from their hanging place, their closest supports would be in a side bend and ready to receive them.
No part of the human body suggests straight lines. Lines are simpler to conceptualize than dynamic curving arcs. In a yoga class that directs practitioners to imagine their triangle pose flattened between two panes of glass, there is a simplified achievable goal. Our linear mind likes such goals. They allow for an external ideal of perfection to reach for. This kind of mono-plane simplification utilized in an attempt to "get our bodies in line," according to the AS definition, pulls the facets of the spine out of alignment. Thus, alignment, despite the sound of the word itself, is not linear.
Let's take another example. Here's a clear illustration illustrating the skeletal consequences of a roll down as it is usually taught. You can see that in such mono-plane movements the spring-like support of the cervical and lumbar curves are forfeited. The discs in the forward bend to the left are being pinched tight anteriorly and minutely bulging in the posterior. By using side bending principles, these sacrifices become unnecessary.
The notion of side-bending as illustrated by AS gains support from Fryette's Law which states (in part) that a lateral bend in the frontal plane will result in a posterior rotation on the opposite side of the spinal segment.The AS concept of side-bending capitalizes on this naturally occurring pattern in the body. A side-bend incorporating this understanding is inherently tri-axial.
Landing/Launching Pads (LLPs)
By respecting the natural range of movement limitations of the joints, and utilizing side bending principles free of excess muscular tension, the landing/launching pads of the limbs effortlessly land in a ready and efficient relation to receive and propel the on-coming structure. Launching and landing Pads, as the name suggests, are areas of the body that lend themselves to reception into the floor and propulsion from the floor. They are fleshy areas that have the capacity to flex and extend in order to regulate the speed of reception. They are the hands and feet, the posterior lower arm and anterior and lateral lower leg, the lateral flesh of the upper leg and arm, the buttocks, upper and middle back on either side of the spine and the belly. Combined they can provide a safe path for descent while avoiding all bony landmarks that easily bruise with impact.