One of the things I love in my job is showing people movements, thoughts and joints and seeing the light bulb turn on in their head. I’m using the ideas found in books on Body Mapping by Barbara and William Conable. A practical way of understanding anatomy of our human skeletons and joints for the best and most efficient functioning.
Today was such a time. We were exploring the range of arm movement as a way of understanding and working with a sore arm and ‘shoulder’. When I hear the word ‘shoulder’ I immediately have a ‘?’ in me. I wonder how this person understands the joints in the arms and the links to the skeleton? I then talk about the shoulder joints.
Whatever idea or belief we have about a certain region of our body will become the guide we go by in using this area. Even if this guide or belief doesn’t fit the reality. When there is a mis-match, the belief prevails in how we think it ‘should’ work, but nature complains, pain, injury with mis-using ourselves and poor coordination result.
I start off counting the joints in the arm Wrist is No.1, Elbow joint No.2 and then ask them what they know about the next ones? Its not a test, but I’m curious to know what their understanding is. This is interesting as I work with masseurs, GPs, Doctors, Anaesthetists, cellists, office workers, etc and none of them have been able to follow the chain of bones accurately, yet.
Stop and see if you can trace your next joint No.3. Your upper arm bone’s connected to the shoulder blade. Depending on how you count this, the collarbone meets the shoulder blade and the other end of the collarbone and the breastbone make the last joint No.4. (Some people count the shoulder blade and ribs as another joint, as these bones do connect, but not directly.)
Sometimes getting the ‘shoulder’ region more clearly mapped out into its actual joints already helps people to know where the movement of bone/bone is possible. Next I ask folk to explore a range of movements, fingertips leading, and paying particular attention to their global movement pattern.
This is part of my core work. Often we loose awareness and care for our general coordination as we get stuck into the detailed work, perhaps adding stress by ‘trying to get it right’ and focussing so much on the particular job at hand, we loose touch with the rest of us. My core work is to flip that so that we pay more attention on ourself generally and then add the detail, without it costing us our good overall movement pattern. It can be a challenge as our culture prioritises the detail and the content and the final result of what we do, and not so much on the background work of coordination. So this is a paradigm shift.
I am working with a couple of people at the moment who are also seeing Physiotherapists and getting ‘exercises’ to do. I love this. Physios have more detailed and specific muscular knowledge than I do, and I’m keen to harness that and help people to work well with their thoughts and movements globally whilst they do the local movement (physio exercises for shoulders).
Now I love accuracy. I love showing people that if they lift their ‘shoulder’ up from the upper-arm joint, this is not in agreement with the natural order of movement. Of course we can do this, its a widely used culturally understood expression of doubt or confusion to shrug. My current understanding is that we would be better off leading the movement from the fingers. When we recruit the arm joint by joint, in order, in the right sequence, then we are using the arm in the way it is designed. When we do this repeatedly, it can become the new ‘normal’ everyday way. This leads to less strain, more ease and often less pain.
Lead with your fingertips.
The Physio had instructed the person to move until they felt pain. So this is another interesting aspect. If we set our mind to look for pain, like a helpful puppy, it will go off in search of pain and come back when its found it. When we look for pain, quite often we will contract at the anticipation of this too. So we have courted trouble x double.
When we look for ease, and set our mind off to notice the ease that is already here… guess what happens? Yes, like the puppy, our mind goes looking for ease, and finds it and brings back the information to us. (I got this idea from AT Teacher in America, Mio Morales.)
When you put these two ideas together, movement is less painful and the range of movement can increase dramatically. Notice that we didn’t directly set out to fix either of these aspects, they are a happy by-product of using our thoughts and movements in line with our natural design.
Lucy Ascham is an Alexander Technique teacher who delights in sharing her knowledge of simple and useful anatomy to help people live more intentionally and comfortably in our minds and bodies (indivisible, united, whole self).