Chapter Four Standing Postures

"._/Ae /t' Jf AytetAa/iiti t/sc/r as>t demiAu/tMm cseato/vJ. tve/r a/iuna/i tyifuia ¿0 waAA e>/i ¿/¿/v' A///sA AspJ. wnJ a cotfAy c/Ute/i/or /At-/// fo ¿aA< tyt, a//*/r/v are Jti/t/tsiyuip ¿At taJtaAr/uwlS. AA/s mamma Ate,///. yu'/ut etw/ifeA otw a Aus/eA/vsA me/A//'//, j asieAre/vsAe/A// AupA/ tAcp/r-e e^effi/'ee/icp, on ¿As OMw/ytfttM ¿Asi/ ////7//VM/iAh a/* rsva/ct/vJ e/ft/A />//s Aey atfiasA co/vw a/i/A fAisi/ ¿As// wa/A ////¿A ¿A////' yiv/s M a Aoz-exo/t/aA /t<.Aa/te. AA/uArr ef/i/Ai/tc/tJ ¿At AAr/t/e/'M e'J o/u. ¿Aer¿ u>ouA/Atc/>//v/isis/sA,¿At/ euA/ru/'aft/'u. r//"///////>//.■U'/'/ui A////?////// . ¿A/icA // //¿as/isfuzAnics/iA'Arj // t/'aAAing A/t/Ays.

— Elaine Morgan, in The Scars of Evolution, p. 25.

Creatures with an upright two-legged posture appeared along the coastal regions of Africa 4-6 million years ago. How this came to be is still controversial, but the posture is one of the defining characteristics of the modern human form. Another is that we are able to stand erect with minimal muscular activity in our thighs, hips, and backs. By contrast, the stance and gait of a dog or cat, or of the occasional monkey who chooses to walk upright at times on two legs, is dictated by joints in the supporting extremities that are always bent. This enables them to pounce or run at a moment's notice, but it also requires them to use muscular activity just to stand upright. The secret of our stance is simple—we can relax when we stand because we can lock our knees and balance on our hip joints without much muscular activity.

Most of us are only vaguely aware that we can balance our weight on top of the relaxed thighs, but everyone learns about knees in junior high school cafeteria lines when someone sneaks up behind you and buckles your knee 35 you are leaning on one leg. Your ensuing collapse shows you clearly that you were depending on the locked knee joint to hold you up and that your tormentor caught your relaxed muscles off guard.

"Locking the knees" is a phrase that has two implications: one is that the hamstrings will be relaxed, and the other is that additional extension be stopped by ligaments. Instructors in dance, athletics, and the martial arts generally caution against this, arguing instead that the backs of the

knees should never be thrust to the rear in a completely locked and hyp. extended stance. Although this thinking is widely accepted in the movem< it disciplines, and although it is certainly sound advice for all fields of stu ly in which whole-body standing movements must flow freely, weaiy mount, n climbers gratefully learn about a slow, choppy, "rest step," in which tl >y stand for 2-4 seconds or even longer on a locked knee joint—just bones; id ligaments—to save muscular effort before lifting their opposite 1 ot onward and upward. And assuming that you are not preparing to pou -e on someone at a social gathering, locking one knee is hard to fault or standing and engaging in quiet conversation first on one leg and then he other. This is a uniquely human gesture—a natural consequence id indeed the culmination of the evolution of our upright posture. An II-encompassing condemnation of the practice is ill-advised if not downr ht foolish.

Hatha yoga directs our attention to the knees in many postures—the sit ng boats (figs. 3.22a-b), the superfish leglift (fig. 3.19b), sitting forward be ids generally (chapter (>), the celibate's pose (fig. 8.25), and the fullest express ms of many inverted poses (chapters 8 and 9), just to mention a few -in w ,ch generating tension in the hamstrings or releasing tension in the quadri >ps femoris muscles to permit frank bending of the knees would alter the fu la-mental nature of the posture. In such cases there is nothing inhei> tly wrong with simply saying "lock the knees." On the other hand, movei nt therapists are correct in noting that such a directive all too frequently ves students permission to absent themselves mentally from the pot re. I lather than experimenting with the nuances of partially relaxing the 1 m-string muscles, and of alternating this with tightening both the quadr 'ps femoris muscles and hamstrings at the same time, students often tak he lazy way out by simply locking their knees. They might remain untl ik-ingly in a sitting forward bend for several minutes using a combinati > of tight quadriceps femoris muscles and relaxed hamstrings, or they r iht hyperextend their knees in a standing forward bend and suppor he posture with no more than bony stops and ligaments. The result: they nd up in a few minutes with a sense of vague discomfort in their k' es. Therefore, throughout the rest of this book, I'll acknowledge the cui -nt preferences in movement studies by referring not to locking but to extei on of the knees, and I'll suggest accompanying this at selected times ith relaxed hamstrings—essentially locking the knees without using that troi »le-some phrase.

That we can stand with knees locked is obvious; sensing how our we ;ht is balanced over the hip joints is more subtle. Feel the softness in youi Ps with your fingertips as you stand erect. Then bend forward 3~5C from he hips and notice that tension immediately gathers in the gluteal muscle to

4 STANDING IXtSTlIRES 209

control your movement forward. Next, slowly come back up and feel the gluteals suddenly relax again just before your weight is balanced upright.

Our relatively relaxed upright posture is possible because a plumb line of gravity drops straight down the body from head to foot, passing through the cervical and lumbar spine, behind the axial center of the hip joint, in front of the locked knee joint, and far enough in front of the ankle joint to keep you from rolling over backward onto your heels (fig. 4.1). (Because the ankle joints do not lock, keeping your balance will require you to hold some tension in the calf muscles.) This architectural arrangement allows you to balance your weight gracefully from head to toe and accounts for why you can stand on your feet without much muscular effort.

The fact that we can remain in standing poses when we are relaxed, tensed, or anywhere in between often prompts spirited discussion among hatha yoga teachers. One instructor says to relax in standing postures; another says don't for a second relax in standing postures. Both can be correct, and we'll explore how and why later in this chapter. Putting first things first, however, we'll begin with the skeleton. We'll follow that with the general

Figure 4.1. A plumb line of gravity drops perpendicular to the gravitational field of the earth from the crown of the head to the feet in a frontal plane of the body. This plane passes through the cervical spine, the lumbar spine, behind the axial center of the hip joints, in front of the axial center of the knee joints, and in front of the ankle joints. The disposition of this plumb line of gravity allows us to balance upright in a relaxed posture except for enough tension in the leg muscles (front and back) to keep the line perpendicular to earth's gravitational field.

cervical spine lumbar spine cervical spine lumbar spine

Yoga Poses Plumb Line
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Responses

  • luukas
    What is the gravitational line in posture?
    7 years ago

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