Handstands-Center, The Pelvis and the Psoas

Handstands and Controlling Center


Center

Previously I was talking about the middle position, a position of the body, that gives us the most possibility given what we are doing at the time.


The Psoas

Another way that we can practice being centered is to focus on feeling and controlling our pelvis. One of the ways that we can control our pelvis is via a muscle called the psoas. Actually this muscle can be used to control more than just the pelvis. It can be used to control the spine and its relationship to the thighs and legs.

If we view the ribcage and pelvis as extensions of the spine, extra large levers that we can use to change the shape of the spine or maintain its shape, then using the psoas we can change the relationship between the ribcage-pelvis and legs.


Controlling Center

Because the belly of the psoas extends to the space that is within the pelvis we an often “feel” and control the pelvis and psoas as one unit.

Since our center of gravity is usually located within our pelvis (it depends on what posture we are assuming at the time) this can be quite handy. What it means is that if we control our pelvis, and our psoas, then we control our center of gravity.

If we can position our center of gravity over our foundation then we can balance. This is true whether we are standing on our hands, on our feet, on our head or even on our forearms. When our center is over our foundation, and assuming there are no other forces in play other than that of gravity, then we are balanced.

Using our psoas to help control our pelvis and center can make it easier to balance.


Using Our Center to Lead

When we are standing on our feet, we can use our legs to move our pelvis and in turn we can use our pelvis to drive the movement of our upper body. When we are on our hands we can use our arms, shoulders and ribcage to move our pelvis and then we can use our pelvis to move our legs.

When we are on our hands, so that we can give our pelvis a stable foundation, we need to use our hands, shoulders, and abs. So that we can control the relationship between our pelvis and our legs, as well as the relationship between our spine and our legs, we need to use the psoas.


Activating the Side Gluteals

To make using the psoas easier we can use our side glutes. These are the muscles at the sides of the pelvis that move the thigh bones outwards. They are the glute medius and minimus and also another muscles, the tensor fascae latae which pulls the thighs outwards as well as causing the legs to internally rotate slightly. These muscles can also be used to both flex and extend the thigh. Using these “functions” together they can also help to stabilize the thigh.

For our purpose we can activate them by trying to pull the thighs outwards. We thus help to stabilize the thighs relative to the pelvis and we also give the psoas some resistance against which it can then pull the thighs inwards.


Activating the Psoas

Once we’ve activated our side glutes one of the ways that we can make it easier to activate the psoas, is to focus on feeling our kidneys and in addition make them feel full. This involves tilting the pelvis back far enough that the lower back is straight. But rather than just making the lumbar spine straight, adjust the position of the pelvis so that the back of the waist feels full. Keep this feeling while jumping.

In addition keep the side glutes active while jumping and as you jump focus on “closing” the thighs to the stomach or chest.

It can feel like you are resisting this action even as you are doing it.

You may also notice a sense of your awareness being inside your belly as you do this. For myself it literally feels like I am pulling my pelvis forwards and up from the inside.


Final Notes

If you watch the videos and pay attention to the orientation of my spine you’ll notice that the times I get up and stay up the longest-even getting up into handstand, are the times when my spine is nearly vertical. My shoulders are over my hips.

When practicing, first get your shoulders ahead of your hands. From there, then get your hips/pelvis over your shoulders. Then you upper body will be in front of your hands and they then balance your legs which are behind your hands.

If from here you move up into full handstand, then as you lift your legs, brings your shoulders back slowly so that they are over your hands.


Videos-Large View

Handstands and Controlling Center

Ideas, Gravity and Consciousness

If you’ve read “Understanding Consciousness-Riding the Wave of Time” you know that I use Ideas as basic units of meaning.

Ideas are anything that we can define with limits or by saying “it does this.” We can think of ourselves as ideas if we can clearly define who or what we are. At any moment in time, we can choose the idea of who we are. As of right now I am a writer but in about ten minutes time I’ll be a swimmer and then I’ll be a dad.

Ideas are the mental labels that we can use to identify both what is around ourselves and what is around ourselves. Ideas are a way of being conscious of ourselves and the world we are in.

Gravity

One of the qualities that I give to ideas is that of gravity. The gravity of an idea can draw us in towards itself. However, this is a special sort of gravity. It only attracts us to an idea when we give it our attention. The more attention we give an idea the greater its gravity and the easier it can pull us towards itself.

We can think of the process of being drawn in towards an idea as the first steps towards learning an idea, making it real, or making it a part of ourselves.

Once we connect to an idea, once we’ve learned it, we no longer need to pay as much attention to it. The gravity of the idea (and of ourselves) keeps us connected. We can then begin the process of deepening the connection.

Relationship

When we are connected to an idea (or two ideas are connected) we can say that we are in a relationship with that idea. When two ideas are related they can change each other or they can create change. Having learned a martial art we can express ourselves with that idea. We change. But we also change the martial art, one more person can now express that idea. The art changes as a result.

Expression

The point of connecting to an idea is so that we can express it. The purpose of deepening our connection to an idea is so that we can learn to express it in different ways, or so that we can express it more efficiently, more freely or in any circumstance possible.

As an example, say we are drawn to the idea of learning a martial art like Wing Chun. We might go to a martial arts hall (I won’t say “Dojo” because that is a Japanese word while Wing Chun is a Chinese martial art) and watch people practicing. It is only if we give the idea more attention by going to class that we can truly begin to connect to the idea. We learn the idea by going to classes and practicing. We might learn small techniques which we can put together in any imaginable order or we learn a routine to practice techniques in an organized fashion. Once we’ve learned the basic shape of what we are learning we can practice and develop our understanding, our connection to each small idea that we are learning.

The big idea of Wing Chun is the sum of the smaller ideas that make it up.

The idea we connect to could be the idea of dancing, or the idea of a person we might grow to love. It could be the idea of a family. The more attention we give an idea that we want in our lives, the easier it is to connect to it. The more attention we give an idea once we are connected, the better we understand the idea and the easier it is to continue to express the idea and make the idea real.

Unity

We can practice our martial art by focusing on the parts of our routine and making them more fluid. We can learn our partner to greater degrees so that we can build a truly solid relationship. With constant practice, we learn an idea well enough that we can express that idea in any situation.

Learning a martial art to that point we can use it in any fighting situation successfully. We can handle change without being torn apart. In such a case we can say that we share a center with the idea that we have learned. Instead of being connected to the surface of an idea, we are one with it. We can express the idea freely.

Another way that we could view this is that we are connected to another idea well enough that we form a stable relationship which in turn is another idea. We share a center that is outside of ourselves.

Understanding

Gravity pulls inwards. Pulling inwards towards the center of an idea we can liken gravity to consciousness. If we want to understand something we pull it in towards ourselves. Once we understand what we are looking at we can use this understanding to shape the energy we put out.

We can think of Gravity, consciousness and understanding as aspects of the same thing. They allow us to understand an idea, experience it and express it.

Be Water, Be Like Bruce Lee

Bruce Lee says “be like water.” How can we be like water? Water is soft and fluid so that when poured into a cup, bottle, teapot or other container it adapts itself to the shape of the container. An important question to ask is why does it do this. Because of gravity. Water flows because gravity pulls it and because it is soft and relaxed.
How can we become like water, by relaxing. By feeling the weight of our bones and letting them sink down.

It’s been a Bruce Lee week. A few days ago I was in a martial arts class and someone said that Bruce Lee was born in America. An argument ensued and afterwards a friend found on the net that Bruce had indeed been born in America.
Later this same week Leo Babauta posts an article about Bruce Lee on his web site. (actually its a guest post by a Jonathan Mead)
That same day I take my bike to the shop to get the chain replaced. When I return to pick up my bike a friend is there playing on the computer. He is watching a YouTube video of Bruce Lee playing ping pong with nunchucks. Apparently it may not be real but still would I be surprised if he really could have played ping pong with a set of nunchucks?

It was incredible to watch and it might beg the question how did he do it. Obviously practice is a huge component of how he did what he did but I believe that a larger part is due to him being able to sense his body so that he could relax it. The same awareness that he applied to being able to sense his body he could then apply when encountering things outside of his body. Sensing his body and relaxing it and then sensing the motion of a ping pong ball he could respond in such a way that he could return the ball to the person he is playing.
Of course he didn’t just sense the ball and his body (and perhaps the intent of the person hitting the ball) but he also sensed the weapon he was using, the nun chucks. Sensing all of these things and keeping his body as relaxed as possible he could respond in any way he chose.

The subject of this post occurred to me this morning after I had just finished a very good Tai Ji practice. I realized that the practice had been one of my better ones because I had been so relaxed.
How did I know the practice was a good one? Because of the way I felt afterwards and even during the practice. The movements felt easy, light and effortless and all the parts of my body felt unified as if they were working together towards a shared goal. Afterwards I simply felt good, energized, happy.
How did I relax? By feeling my body. For me that means feeling the weight of my bones being pulled down by gravity. It also means lifting my arms or my legs with the absolute minimum amount of effort necessary to do what I am trying to do. Moving slowly while doing Tai Ji it is pretty easy then to sense tension and let it go.
It’s as if I am a marrionet with each piece of my body hanging down from a string but the puppet master is so good that there is just a little bit of tension at each of my joints so that rather than loosely connected bits of wood bouncing around my body is one connected whole moving smoothly from one position to the other.
Doing tai ji, the more I relax the more I feel tense spots and more I can let go. And while I might practice moving slowly I feel like I can keep the same relaxed awareness and ability to respond when I move faster. It’s like I’m riding my body like a wave and my body flows smoothly from one pose to another.
How do I flow, by staying relaxed and feeling my body and responding to what I sense.

Sensing tension I respond to what I sense by either relaxing the muscle that is tense or my repositioning my body as necessary so that it can relax. Sensing our body as well as what is outside of our body we can do something similar, we can respond to what we sense by moving our body based on the idea of what we are trying to do. Using nun chucks to hit back a ping pong ball, sensing our body and where the ping pong is going to be, we can respond to what we sense by moving our body in such a way that we cause the end of our nun chuck to co-locate with the ping pong ball, hitting it back where we want it to go.

Doing yoga, doing Tai Ji, doing weight lifting, running, body weight exercises, the more we sense our body the better we can respond to what we sense and the better we can do what we are trying to do. It’s as if the thing we are doing is the shape of a glass and we become water by flowing into the shape of what we are doing.