Alignments of the head and neck are obvious areas to start with. People in modern society often complain about pain and tension in the neck and the base of the skull. Such tension blocks the circulation of blood and lymph and often leads to headaches, ringing in the ears, temporo-mandibular joint (TMJ) dysfunction, eyesight disorders and other complaints. Observation suggests that energy cannot flow freely through areas of the body holding a lot of tension. Since communication requires free flow of energy, tension in the neck and shoulders restricts and even disconnects communication between the head and the rest of the body.
The phrase "stuck in the head" generally denotes someone who thinks or intellectualizes too much. At the same time, it describes a person whose muscular tension has created an energetic and emotional divide between the head and the rest of the body. Someone who is stuck in the head often displays a peculiar culture of movement revealing his or her body awareness, or rather lack thereof. I usually refer to such a culture of movement as disharmonious, because it isolates and compartmentalizes movements of different parts of the body, which makes it look really robotic.
For the energy to flow freely between the head and the rest of the body, the neck and shoulders need to be free of excessive tension. When the head and neck are misaligned, the muscles of the neck have to continuously hold tension in order to compensate for the lack of support from the spine. When the vertebrae of the neck naturally rest one on top of the other, there is no need for any more tension than a regular muscular tone. Since the cervical spine is a part of the whole spine, you cannot be in alignment if your head and neck are not aligned.
Neck alignment requires some basic awareness of its bone structure. Despite popular belief, the cervical vertebrae are not really close to the back of the neck, like many people think, confusing the vertebrae for their spinous processes, but are connected to the center of the skull and continue down in the middle of the neck.
Head alignment also entails awareness of the top of the head so that it actually is the highest point of the head. The center of mass of the head corresponds to the location of the atlas - the first cervical vertebra. The head can balance effortlessly on the bone structure of the neck when it is in a neutral position. It happens totally naturally as long as the top of your head (Bai Hui acupressure point) is literally on
In order to experience the natural alignment of your head, you can gently pull your head straight up by the tips of the ears with your fingers. Notice the way your head naturally finds its alignment. Bear in mind that tension is something you do to yourself. Keeping the head out of its natural alignment requires a lot of doing. You cannot ease tension by doing more. Relaxation is a function of non-doing. By simply paying attention to the areas of tension in your body, you will begin to notice changes happening moment by moment.
Experiment with the following methods of focusing attention on any tense muscles:
1) Physical touch - match tension with pressure and gradually ease pressure when the tension begins to subside;
2) Increasing and decreasing tension - prevent the head from moving with the help of one or both hands while contracting the tense muscles even more and then relaxing them;
3) Animation of the head - move your head with the help of the hands in the direction it wants to go (wherever the tense muscles try to pull it) without using the neck muscles at all;
4) Breathing and visualization - imagine that you can breathe through your neck muscles while observing the flow of energy being restored.
No need to force Qi to flow where you think it should flow or to do anything to the muscles in attempt to make them relax, unless you actually wish to experience more stress and frustration. Letting go of tension goes hand-in-hand with letting go of expectations.
Alignment of the Arms
Before exploring alignment of the arms, ask your partner to pull your arms down by the wrists, as you stand upright. Notice the difference in the amount of tension in your shoulders and upper back when the palms are facing forward versus when they are facing backwards. Since the palm is the front of the hand (the back of the hand is obviously its back), it makes a difference whether it faces forward or backwards. In Qi Dao, we say that when the backs of your hands are facing forward, you are wearing your arms backwards, which may be almost as uncomfortable as wearing your legs backwards.
Most people experience more tension in the shoulders and upper back when they turn their palms backwards. This tension is often habitual and not within your conscious awareness. To test whether it takes tension to wear the arms backwards, ask your partner to apply gentle pressure on your deltoids (shoulder muscles) while you turn your palm all the way back and forth.
Pronation (turning the palm backwards) requires contracting the anterior deltoid and shifts the shoulder joint forward from its naturally aligned position. As a result, you may slouch, rounding the shoulders and projecting the head forward. With the weight of the head no longer supported by the bone structure of the neck, the muscles in the back of the neck will have to work overtime. The chronic tension of the trapezius and other shoulder muscles is often a product of this misalignment.
Supination (turning the palm forward) can be experienced without contracting the shoulder muscles, but rather allowing your shoulders to relax. After experimenting with all the possible options, notice which alignment of the arms feels more natural for you and allow your body to follow your insight.
If you attempt to force your palms to face forward while maintaining your habitual tension, you will have to counter it by tensing up your teres major (the muscle connecting the scapula and humerus bones of the upper arm). This will only give you twice the amount of tension as before. Alignment of your arms requires non-doing - no longer holding tension in your deltoids.
People often complain about pain in the feet, knees, or hips. Such pain is usually a result of the misalignment of their legs. To find out about the natural alignment of your legs, ask your partner to gently push into your kneecap from the direction in which your toes are pointing while you are standing in the Natural Stance. Notice whether it is easier to push you off balance when the knee is pointing in the same direction as the toes or when it is pointing elsewhere.
Generally speaking, an aligned leg has the toes and knee pointing in the same direction. If you are standing with your knees locked, however, this alignment will not be so apparent and you will be easy to push over whichever way you turn your toes. To learn about your leg alignment, you can use a simple rule of thumb: glance down and see whether your knees cover your toes from sight when in the Natural Stance.
Exploring the alignment of the legs
If you are one of the curious folks who really want to find out which of the five toes needs to be in alignment with the knee, I invite you to experiment with some subtle shifting side-to-side in order to figure this our for yourself. Since everyone's body is unique and different, I see no reason to establish any uniform rules for body alignments. Besides, exploration is what provides you with opportunities for developing your own authentic body awareness, rather than blindly following someone else's rules.
Alignment of the legs will make an immediate difference in the way the weight is distributed on the feet. The balance of the whole body will change if you shift the weight side-to-side or back and forth on each foot. Your partner can easily test your overall balance by pushing you in the stomach. The results of such tests will depend significantly upon the alignment of your legs. If your knees do not cover your toes from sight, your foot, lower and upper leg will not be in the same plane. This will weaken your balance making you easy to push over.
To improve your balance, experiment with distribution of your weight between the inner and outer edges of each foot as well as between the toes and heels.
When the weight is on the outer edge of the foot, the knee is likely to be everted (turned outwards); and when the weight is on the inner edge of the foot, the knee is likely to be inverted (turned inwards). With practice, you will learn to maintain a natural alignment of the legs and feel Grounded even without looking at your feet. Just feel the way your feet touch the ground paying attention to your weight distribution while standing or moving. Awareness gained through this exploration will surely enhance your balance and overall wellness.
Just like the alignments of your head and limbs, alignment of your torso is crucial for your health and well-being. A naturally aligned human body has maximum stability and balance and is free of tension.
As the key alignment, torso alignment affects the alignments of all the other parts of the body and vice-versa. When you stand, your torso needs to be balanced on the support system of the legs. If your body's weight is habitually distributed on one leg more than the other, the pelvis will have a tendency to tilt away from the weight-bearing leg. This tilt of the pelvis will inevitably create a
Alignment of the Torso
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