In this lesson we will extend and generalize the idea of balance. Previously, we discussed balance as a field or zone. To begin with, we were discussing balance in a specific way, having to do with a structure's relationship with gravity.
Now we want to look at systems in balance with respect to forces other than gravity.
Let's consider our arms. First, stand in a normalized posture as described in the previous lesson. Feet should be comfortably side-by-side, pressure on the soles evenly distributed, and relaxed arms hanging with the hands in the Pocket Zones.
Now, slowly begin to move your arms around. Explore the space around your body, wherever your arms can reach. Do this randomly or methodically, whichever you choose.
As you continue to do this, keep paying attention to the distribution of pressure on the bottom of your feet, and do your best to keep that pressure equalized no matter where your arms are. Furthermore, strive to isolate the movement to only your arms. Do not lean with your torso. See where you can move your arm without displacing your shoulder structure (clavicle and scapula).
See if you can find all the positions the arms can be in without affecting the rest of the body and with negligible stretching of the muscles. Of course, to move the arms the muscles will be engaged. But try to notice the threshold where the muscles noticeably begin to stretch. For the rest of this exercise, avoid crossing that threshold, except perhaps to study it specifically.
When you have thoroughly mapped out this territory, you will have discovered your own personal Arm Zones. Everyone's will be slightly different because we all have different musculature, but the general shape is roughly the same.
Any movement away from your Pocket Zones will take some small effort, but take special note of when that effort necessarily increases. For example, straightening the arm fully takes more effort than keeping a slight bend at the elbow. Twisting the arms requires more effort than not. You may flex the elbow freely, but at some point you will notice the forearm starting to run into the the upper arm.
That's a large part of what this exercise is all about
: knowing where it is possible to move parts of our body without running into other parts of the body.
You'll notice that you have large areas of freedom in front of you. You can extend your arms out to the sides, but beware of when your pectoral muscles become appreciably engaged -- you may want to relax those more until your arms are a little on a front diagonal rather than straight to the sides. See if you can touch the top of your head or just above without moving your shoulders. How about the back of your neck?
We can reach behind us, but usually this takes a bit more effort and a bit more stretching. Depending on your girth and upper body build, you may find that you can easily touch the backs of your hands to your tailbone, in a classic "parade rest" position. If so, include this in your map, but notice the threshold here is very close.
Also, as you do this, see if your breathing affects your freedom of movement, or vice versa. Just breathe normally, but notice if breathing assists or impedes movement, and if movement assists or impedes natural breathing.
Why does this matter? For effective action we need to be intimately aware of the ways our bodies can move freely, without obstruction. There are large areas of such freedom of movement, but then we reach thresholds where either the muscles begin to stretch more significantly, other body parts must be enlisted, or balance must be shifted.
Naturally, we want to be able to do all these things as well, but what we are examining here is an optimal Zone of Performance, or Zone of Freedom. In addition to the force of gravity, we are seeking ways of movement which maintain an even distribution of pressure among the muscles and bones. We are finding ways of keeping forces in balance.
Unsurprisingly, the Arm Zones have an inner and outer aspect. When we speak simply of the Arm Zones, it's implied that we are speaking of the Inner Zones. The Outer Arm Zones are those where stretching is desirable or necessary, where we really must extend our reach even if it does mean stretching, engaging other body structures, or shifting balance. To repeat, we want to be able to operate well in the Outer Zones also, but if a task or action can be accomplished by remaining in our Inner Zones, we will find that performance is better, more economical and efficient, with less strain and cost of energy.
In this lesson, we've chosen to focus on the Arm Zones. Although this is somewhat arbitrary, we do physically engage the world very often with our arms. Arms are somewhat complex structural elements, but we are intimately familiar with them (and now more so).
The lesson of the Arm Zones should be extended to the rest of the body. Each system has an optimal position of rest, or lowest energy state, analogous to the Pocket Zones. Deviations or perturbations from that state result in a redistribution of pressure within the system. Some systems allow for much more freedom of movement while retaining a fairly even distribution of pressure. Others have very tight thresholds where deviation from normal results in a more immediate asymmetrical distribution. All systems nevertheless have their Inner and Outer Zones, and these should be studied until familiarity is complete.
The motivated student should learn the Arm Zones well, and use this knowledge for further exploration of all the different Body Zones. There is no need to discuss these in great detail here, but we can easily see that the same principles apply to the head and neck, the shoulders, the spine and torso, and the legs and feet. We should also refine our studies of the Arm Zones to include the details of the hands and wrists, the fingers, and the many stations of twisting and bending.
In each case, we are examining the ways in which a structural system can move freely and efficiently through the right distribution and equalization of pressure; the thresholds where resistance noticeably begins to increase; and the normal or resting position of each system for maximum readiness and return to lower energy states.
Still Point Aikido Systems
Austin TX, USA