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Five Principles of the Body in Balance

1. The Head Floats like a Helium Balloon

Experiment with the relationship of your head to your neck. Push your face forward—in front of the rest of your body. Do you feel the compression behind your shortened neck? To decompress, tilt your chin toward your throat and glide your head backward behind your neck. Now the back of your neck is too flat and stiff! Release that tension.
Use the image of a helium balloon as the back of your head, behind your ears-not under your chin-so that the back of your neck lengthens and your head floats back and up instead of sinking forward. Imagine that your cheekbones are sliding backward, behind your shoulders. While your head floats up, your spine can fall like a string tied to the balloon. Your head can rotate more freely in this position and your posture has a head start for more ease in balancing.

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2. The Arms Belong to the Back

Have you noticed people who have rounded shoulders, causing their head to reach forward from their neck and deflate their helium balloon? This posture keeps muscles in their back from anchoring their shoulders down and along the sides of their backs. If these muscles aren’t activated, the arms become part of the neck and chest-which is not where they belong!

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When the shoulders are not rounded, the upper spine can extend, allowing your shoulder blades to draw your arms into their shoulder sockets and slide down your back.
Years of rounding your upper back may have tightened your chest muscles. Before you can gain access to the muscles that draw your shoulders and arms into your back, you will need to open your chest. Take some time to experience a broader chest. For this you will need a large towel.
Roll the towel into a long cylinder and place it on the floor. Lie down with your spine stretching from head to tailbone upon the rolled towel. Place the soles of your feet on the floor with your knees bent, and relax your back. Let your shoulders drop so they fall behind your chest and towel onto the floor. You will feel a stretch across your chest to your armpits. Your shoulder blades will fall on either side of the rolled towel toward the floor. Now your arms have fallen away from your chest to their rightful place. They now belong to your back.
Raise your arms straight up to the ceiling and turn your thumbs outward. Now, keeping your arms straight, lower your arms directly out to the side to make a T at chest level. Once your arms are resting on the floor, relax your thumbs, leaving your palms up.
Breathe in to fill your lungs all the way above your collarbones and allow the top of your chest to expand.
Your upper spine will naturally lengthen with the inhalation. Relax your back and neck as you breathe. Don’t tense your rib cage as a response to breathing fully or force your chest as a response to its stretching.
Your heavy shoulders and arms fall wide as you breathe in—from the bottom of your belly to the top of your chest.
When you exhale, empty the air in reverse order, breathing out starting from the top of your chest and completing the exhale from the bottom of your belly.
Start all over again and fill yourself with air from the bottom to the top. Empty from the top to the bottom. Continue to breathe until you feel less of a stretch sensation across your upper chest.

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When you stand up, notice that your shoulders feel broader and your chest is open. You can breathe more fully. Your upper back is less rounded so that your neck flows easily upward into your skull. Your head is over your shoulders instead of forward in front of your neck. With your shoulders falling back and down, you can now access the muscles that connect your arms to your back.
Stand in front of a mirror. While drawing your upper arms backward into your shoulder sockets, pressing and lowering your shoulder blades down, note that the top of your arm moves just a little behind your chest. This was the position of your arms when you were lying on the rolled-up towel. When you let go of your shoulder blades and allow your chest to sink, your upper arm bones release forward. To keep your arms belonging to your back, you will need to train muscles to engage your shoulder blades.
Practice broadening your chest, drawing your upper arm bones back into your shoulder sockets, and sliding your shoulder blades down the sides of your back and away from your head. Your upper arms move slightly behind your chest. There is no need to arch your back. Isolate and gently activate your shoulder blades without forcing your rib cage forward. With your arms belonging to your back, you can allow your shoulders to hang like a clothes hanger, in alignment with your hips.

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3. Abdominal Muscles Connect the Upper Body to the Lower Body

For optimal alignment and balance, your body needs a sense of unified wholeness. Unrelated pieces are hard to control. For instance, what connects the upper half of your body to the lower half? Is it only your back? The answer is: no.
Too much use of your back—contracting your lower back muscles for stability and to stand up straight—inactivates your abdominal muscles in the front of your body. For the purposes of this book, where, as we have discussed, your arms belong to your back, think of your abdomen as connecting your upper body to your lower body. You may need help finding that connection. Be patient with yourself.
Lie on your back on the floor, with your knees bent and soles of your feet on the floor. Feel your spine as long and relaxed, your head and tailbone as heavy at either end. Lower your shoulders away from your ears and allow them to fall toward the floor, behind your chest. Spread your hands on your lower abdomen, palms flat, the fingertips of each hand facing each other. Close your eyes and observe your breathing.
When you breathe in, your abdomen expands and rises; when you breathe out, your abdomen naturally falls and narrows. Feel the movement. On your inhale, the fingertips of your right hand move apart from those of your left hand. As you exhale, when your belly has relaxed all the way down, your fingertips will touch or intermingle.

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At the end of the exhalation, let your abdominal muscles sink and firm further toward the floor. Now, squeeze out even more air. Bring your belly to your back and your sides toward the center. You’re lightly using your abdominal muscles. Don’t let your belly push out and don’t tighten your chest. You won’t need your neck, shoulders, back, or buttocks, either—those are the wrong muscles for the job. Relax your neck, shoulders, back, and buttocks part by part and keep them soft so that you isolate your abdominals.
With your hands on your abdomen, you can feel your bottom ribs travel toward your lower belly as your abdominal muscles firm and flatten. Your navel sinks back to the floor, too. Below your navel, the muscles harden as your belly sinks more. It’s not a lot of work. Actually, the hardest part is relaxing everything else! By activating your abdominal muscles, the falling movement of your rib cage in the front, toward your pelvis and the lower body, is connecting your upper body to your lower body.
Now, stand up and do the same abdominal exercise with your hands on your lower belly, fingertips of your right hand toward those of the left hand. Inhale to feel relaxed expansion of your abdomen. Exhale to gently press the full front of your abdomen back toward your spine. The bottom of your rib cage will move a little toward your legs and your pelvis will link to your upper body.

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Note the subtle feeling of connecting your pelvis to your upper body. Your center of gravity is inside your lower pelvis, so you can think of that center as the connection. The supportive feeling of that connection is your abdominal muscles unifying your torso, with its relaxed spine and open chest, on top of your legs. To finish up, walk around a bit, relaxed and breathing, engaging and sinking your abdomen toward the back
of your body, keeping everything else easy. Since your upper body calmly connected to your center of gravity, low in the pelvis, so that your torso has a front-body feeling of unity over your legs. You can stand tall and broad, without hunching, and move freely, connected in the front by your abdominal muscles.

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4. The Secret of Youth Is a Long Front Body

A lifetime of sitting has deadened the nerves and muscles of your derriere. Even when you stand up, your buttocks muscles may still be turned off. Those muscles need to be activated so you can walk with your torso on
top of your legs.

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torso meets your legs to make a bent angle at the hips. From this position, try to contract your buttocks. Now, pull your body up on top of your legs so as to lengthen the front of your hips. Again, contract your buttocks. Which position makes it easier to feel your buttocks muscles engage? These muscles need to be accessible so they can do their work at the hip. The secret of youth is a long front body. Let’s find length in front of your hips.
Lie on your back on the floor with your lower legs up on the seat of a chair, so that your hips and knees are bent at 90-degree angles.

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Slide the back of your head away from your hips and feel the length of your spine with weight at the very end of your tailbone. Relax your whole back. Breathe here for several minutes while you settle into the pull of gravity. The back of your neck or waist may not touch the floor; let those areas be light. This is your neutral spine. If your chin is up and the back of your neck feels constricted, place a slim book beneath your head.

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Now, move the chair slightly to the right so that you continue to rest your right leg at a 90-degree angle on the chair. Lower your left foot onto the floor and slowly extend your leg to its full length along the floor. Do you feel a stretch in front of the left hip? You will also notice the back of your left leg gradually falling closer to the floor. This could take several minutes. Continue to relax your back into a neutral position. After you can feel the back of your left thigh and knee against the floor, change sides. Move the chair to the left and place your left leg back up on the chair seat at a
90-degree angle. Lower your right foot onto the floor so your right leg can slowly extend to its full length. Don’t use force to make your right hip extend. Simply allow the weight of your leg to create the stretch in front of your right lower abdomen, hip, and upper thigh.

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After experiencing a satisfying stretch for the front of both hips, stand
up and notice that your torso feels higher on top of your legs. Your front body is longer. Now that your hips are extended, you can better use your buttocks muscles. Contract your right and left buttocks just to prove they can be activated. Use your new long front body to practice walking. With each step forward, imagine that you are pushing the ground behind you, using the strength of your buttocks. You will alternate right and left-hip buttock contractions as you alternate legs. Don’t forget the abdominal connection between your upper and lower body!

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5. The Feet Articulate

If your feet were as stiff as blocks of wood, they would not serve as a good base for balancing or an easy walking stride. Without flexible feet, you would have to depend more on your thighs and the front of your hips to walk. Articulation, or joint mobility, of your foot, gives you the power to push off from the front of your foot, or forefoot, and your big toe. This push propels your body forward so that walking is falling forward from one foot to the next.

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Relaxed micro-movements of the foot are an important part of standing and balancing. As in walking, if your feet lack mobility, other parts of your body may be working too hard to compensate for a too rigid base.
It will be much harder to balance. Find a tennis ball, or even better, a solid rubber ball of about that size. Place it on the floor and stand where you can touch sturdy furniture or a wall for support. Position your right foot on top of the ball, with the ball under your forefoot. The joints at the base of your toes and part of your forefoot, the metatarsal bones, will take a dome shape from the ball underneath. Gradually transfer your body weight over the ball, allowing the metatarsals to mold to the shape of the ball. It may not feel entirely pleasant at first, so take it easy and go slowly. For one minute, maintain a bearable amount of your body weight over your forefoot while it is cupped and pressing the ball.

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Now, roll the ball directly under the center of your foot and its primary arch. Gradually put weight onto the ball, or as much weight as you can tolerate. For one minute, maintain a bearable amount of your body weight over your arch while it is mashing the ball. After you have released the stiffness from the bottom of your right foot, take your foot off the ball and stand on the floor. Your toes may feel straighter and longer. Your foot will feel wide, long, and grounded, providing a better base. Give your left foot the same treatment. After you have pressed and massaged the bottom, or plantar surfaces, of your feet in this way, you can stand with a solid connection to your newly articulated feet. Walk around the room without shoes. With increased flexibility, your feet will feel more active with each step. Articulate feet have more than flexibility; they have enhanced power.
Become more sensitive to the actions of your feet. Stand with equal weight on both feet and shift your weight forward and backward from toes to heels. The shift from side to side as well. How does it feel when your weight shifts to the inside of the foot? Or to have most of your weight on the outside of the foot? Try moving your weight around in a circle while bringing your center of gravity over your ankles.
Distribute your weight over a tripod composed of your big toe, little toe, and heel. Although your feet are your base, notice the connections and adjustments happening in your whole body. This awareness will serve you well as we approach the 10 Weeks of Daily Activities to improve your balance.

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