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Posture. Let’s plunge into pose and the physiology of movement

By Editorial Team (2)
January 30, 2022
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Do you always know what position to take at just the right moment? Of course not! But it’s important to know that the position of your body in space is always connected with your next movement. To explain this, let’s try another simple experiment.

  1. Sit in a chair with your feet placed on the floor a little in front of you.
  2. Keeping your back straight, try to stand up.

I assure you, this can’t be done. To get up, you have to move your feet closer to the chair or even put them under your seat. You have to move your body’s center of gravity toward the support – your feet, to make it possible for you to stand up.

We make these movements unconsciously all the time on the level of our reflexes. And it’s a good thing, too! Life would be terrible if we had to stop to evaluate every motion of our arms or legs just to make a simple move!

Our bodies go through all different kinds of activities and all of them are aimed at a specific goal. The same goes for posture and movement. The major goal of the motion activity of the body is to preserve equilibrium. A human being is just one of a number of living beings who happen to walk on only two of their extremities. Because of this, people have a pair of free extremities (arms) that can help us eat, compose music, or just scratch our backs. In the past, some kinds of dinosaurs moved on two legs as well. Now we have kangaroos jumping around on two legs and anthropoid apes that move only on their legs when they’re on the ground. They rest on their hands and get up on their feet only if they want to take something to eat from a tree. Some birds also became bi-ped.

But only human beings have the striking equilibrium sense that gives us the ability to easily walk on two legs and use our hands as a most perfect tool at the same time. That’s why a human child starts walking much later than an animal baby, just at the end of the first year of life. If you see a person with a disordered sense of equilibrium, you feel fear. This is a very unpleasant sight! Some neurologic diseases attack the nerve centers that are connected with vertical positioning. People with these conditions can’t stand or walk. This is called astasia-abasia.  These patients stagger from side to side and make complicated movements trying to balance themselves. And in the end, they fall down anyway.

Equilibrium is the primary goal of the body. Remember the worm that has no posture? Answer this question please: What is more important for a worm: the position of its head or of its tail? Of course, the position of its head is more important. This is because all its sense organs are located there: sensitive cells with which it can orientate itself in space.

A human being is a more sophisticated creature than a worm but not unlike the lowly worm, we also have our sense organs in our heads.  Our sense organs supply our eyesight, hearing, sense of smell, and of taste. Each of these senses gives us unique and essential information. If the tail and the head of a worm confuse their positions, it might be squeezed by a pedestrian going for a morning walk. Our bodies are the same. They are set in motion according to the position of our heads. So our head must be in a state of equilibrium first of all.

In my book, “33 Vertebrae or I Love My Osteochondrosis,” I spoke about some experiments with a cat that investigated postural-tonic reflexes. For those who don’t know what reflex is, I’ll briefly explain. The term “reflex” means “reflection.” External stimulus is “reflected” in the central nervous system. The reflex chain is locked: a signal stimulates the receptor. Then the nerve impulse runs along the nerve to the spinal cord. The reverse reflected nerve impulse switches “on” the working organ in response.

 To make this easier to understand, let’s look at the inborn reflex of salivation. When you first put something tasty into your mouth, you start to salivate. Reflexes like this are called “inborn.” They work without our will or participation. It is quite another matter with “conditioned” reflexes. These were studied by the famous Russian physiologist, Ivan Pavlov (1849—1936). Conditioned reflexes appear only after training or “conditioning.”  For example, if you put some food into your mouth and at the same time, switch on a red lamp, your salivary glands will salivate as a result of the inborn reflex. But if you repeat this experiment several times, your brain will start to connect food to the red light.  As a consequence, you will salivate if a red light is switched on, even without any food. This is now a conditioned reflex.

Of course, we can think of many more complicated and fascinating reflexes which influence us. For example, when a particular day of the month is approaching, we start thinking about our salary. Or if we’re driving on the freeway and see a highway patrol car, it causes a reflexive spasm somewhere in our stomach, even if we weren’t speeding.  According to Pavlov, our whole life consists of reflexes.

So let’s come back to our cats. The concept of tone is very important. Many people use this word without understanding what means its original sense. Tone is weak background muscle tension that does not cause any movement.  Remember that muscles contract under the influence of electricity. You know this is true because if you put your fingers into a light socket, you will pull them back unconsciously. When you sense electrical signals in a resting muscle, the muscle doesn’t move, but its thin fibers contract. They tense up to prepare for sudden contraction of the whole muscle. A muscle cannot start moving without this preparation. So when tension is increasing, muscle tone is increasing as well. That’s why muscle tone changes when position or a pose is changed. In this case, some muscles relax, while their antagonists (the muscles that perform the opposite function) tense or increase their tone. This process takes place without any action on our part. Our brains and spinal cord perform this automatically.

 In our cat, in particular, the position of its paws depends on its head. If you bend the head forward, its back paws will straighten and its front paws will bend. If you bend your cat’s head back, then everything will be vice versa: the cat will sit down on its back paws and straighten its front paws. If you turn its head to the side, its paws will bend on one side and straighten on the other. Turning its head to the opposite side will change the tone and paw-bending to the opposite one. So the position of the head and neck serves as the stimulus to which the body switches “on” the reflex and defines what the tone for all four paws should be. This reflex is connected with a change of pose and tone, and is called postural-tonic.  

Life and nerve activity influence the work of the reflexes. A cat hunts, eats and sleeps.  A man performs these activities too, not even noticing his postural-tonic reflexes. When it’s a matter of the simplest movement, for example, when we have to keep our balance, we are much like animals. We’re being controlled by innate postural-tonic reflexes, even though we are the Crown of Nature. We “kings” can talk on the phone standing on one leg while stirring a bowl of hot oatmeal. We perform multiple tasks simultaneously.

If you doubt this, think about driving a car.  On the one hand, when you drive, you’re using simple natural reflexes. On the other hand, you have learned a complicated system of actions needed for operating a motor vehicle. Complex programs of activities have been recorded and memorized by your nervous system. You have large files and depositories of programs of various moves and poses you combine and use while driving.

This is very important! It helps us realize that both pose and posture can be changed and improved. Practicing different poses can help form a program in our nervous system that will start working when we need it, without us having to use our will.

Summary

  • Neck and head pose is the main factor that defines the position of the whole body.
  • Nerve reflexes control poses and posture.
  • It is possible to develop a program of moves and poses by training. Your nervous system will memorize and use them without your direct volitional participation. (they will become automatic)

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