Check out the latest info and research from Coach Chris' explorations in the Subject of Internal Power.
Thoracic mobility is a big subject in the health and fitness world at the moment, mainly due to the modern problem of back problems linked to working at desks or in set positions throughout the day. However, back health and mobility was well and truly on the radar of the old Internal Arts Masters. Although at the time of their creation this modern phenomena may not have been present, the Internal arts and practices also placed great importance on mobility of the spine.
In arts like the old styles of Xin Yi we find that spine mobility is one of the primary components for their particular flavor of Fa jing (explosive release). They will work on flexion and extension in their fundamental practices, freeing up and conditioning the tissues associated with the back to create a high level of mobility and strength like that of a strong, well made Long bow. In other styles like Ba Gua the ability to undulate the spine is fundamental to the evasive movement skill the style is famous for. Further, in some of the Xing Yi systems the ability to produce a 'spine wave' for methods like Pi Quan is fundamental. So it can be said that the mobility of the spine is of great important in internal training.
One of the reasons it is so prevalent in the internal systems is that it allows action at the level of the dan tien to travel up the back efficiently and split to the hands, utilizing the 'through the back' connections discussed previously. If the spine is ‘fixed’ or immobile this force will not be successfully transmitted through the connective tissues, instead The back becomes like a solid stick or pole. This idea of the solid pole can be utilized in some methods where we deal with rotation on a transverse plane, but for spiraling, waving, anything on the sagital plane (often collectively known as the Dragon Body) or for the sensitivity and changeability most common to the Internal Arts, a fixed spine can severely limits our potential and capability.
So we can say that thoracic and Thoracolumbar Mobility are fundamentals that all Internal Arts practitioners should be aiming to achieve. But there is also an important health consideration in the effective and correct use of the back and the position of the spine.
As mentioned previously, a bowed thoracic spine and the practices that can create this, can have some advantages for upper bridge connection, but can also cause some problems relating to health. Healthy backs and a good posture are not only relevant to the aches and pains created by misalignment and poor posture. They are in fact also closley related to our available lung capacity and our ability to breath naturally and fully. People with a centered posture and healthy backs display a greater level of rib mobility and therefore an increased lung capacity than those who have a collapsed chest and deeply bowed spine.
A study on the lung volumes of women with Thoracic Kyphosis is a good indicator to the problems of a kyphotic posture on our breathing.
RESULTS: Vital capacity, inspiratory capacity, total lung capacity, and lateral expansion of the thorax were lower in the osteoporosic group (P < 0.05). There was a significant negative correlation between kyphosis angle and inspiratory capacity, vital capacity, and lateral expansion of the thorax.
CONCLUSIONS: Lung volumes and rib mobility were significantly impaired in women with thoracic kyphosis.
Culham EG1, Jimenez HA, King CE.
Link to study
The lack of breath capacity is something that perhaps many do not consider when thinking about the position of the spine and its overall health. But these findings are a stark reminder that the body is a single unit and every system, if it displays dysfunction, will have an effect on the others.
As we discussed in the previous post the thoracic spine can be an area of tension and 'stuck' tissue for some people. Especially those who work at desks all day.
This video is a demonstration and explination of a very nice Thoracic mobility method I use to help people reverse the effect of a bound spine in this area.
It is a relatively simple method but you have to maintain some of the Key components to make it as effective as possible.
If you, or some of your students suffer from thoracic spine and scapular binding, give this simple method a try!
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The internal arts and methods are perhaps best defined by the way in which they utilize the body to create, receive and transform forces. There are many different ways in which the body is used in this regard from rotating and rolling the Center, to tensioning the connective tissue web, to co-ordinating the limb and body into a unified action. But in this post we will be looking at one of these interesting methods that utilizes the Axis of the body in a ‘wave’. This is often referred to as the ‘spine wave’.
The spine wave is created by the action of the Lumbar Spine, the thoracic spine and associated tissues working sequentially but in harmony with one another. It is often seen in the crashing forward direction of Xing Yi Quan’s Pi or ‘splitting’ method or in TaiJi Quan’s An or ‘push downwards’ method.
In this article I am going to introduce one of the first ideas found in the internal arts relating to the use of the legs. The method we will discuss here has a number of unique advantages, from the co-ordination of multiple muscle groups to the use of the earth in relation to the center. However, more importantly, it means that we maintain legs that are active, rather than simply relegating them to posts that we balance our weight on! The methods in this article are the absolutely basic first step to present the ideas, we will cover more details in future articles.
In the internal arts there is a method for identifying the relationship and the role of our major body joints known as the '3 external harmonies' or sometime the '6 harmonies' depending upon the tradition. These are the Wrists to the Ankles, The Knees to the Elbows and the Shoulders to the Hips.
There are several idea's linked to this association. But two of the major ones explain how the joints align with each other and then their related role within the body.
In terms of alignment, operating outside of our natural joint position or range of motion is a very common cause of joint problems and postural misalignment. People used to leaning on one leg when they stand still will develop problems in one hip and a lopsided gate. Having an acute sense of the position of our major joints in relation to their counterpart will help us to recognize these very clear problems and adjust our posture accordingly.
But we can go slightly further with this awareness and talk about the actual Role of the joints themselves.
So first we say that the Shoulders and hips are 'Mobility' joints. They control the overall mobility of the limb. If you want to touch something in front of you, it doesn't matter how much you can move the elbow and wrist if the shoulder is locked in the down position.
"rooted in the feet,
generated from the legs,
controlled by the waist, and
manifested through the fingers."
Tai Chi Classics.
This famous verse from the Tai Chi Classics identifies how the various parts of the body act in unison with each other to produce whole body connected power. One of the really interesting and often misinterpreted areas of the body for study is the waist. Some people consider this the pelvis, some the ‘hips’, some the area between the lower ribs and the iliac crests, but we can actually look at the muscle groups associated with ‘control’ to better understand why it is so important to the internal artists.
"Kangaroos can jump much farther than can be explained by the force of the contraction of their leg muscles. Under closer scrutiny, scientists discovered that a spring-like action is behind the unique ability: the so-called ‘catapult mechanism’ ( Kram and Dawson, 1998 ). Here, the tendons and the fascia of the legs are tensioned like elastic rubber bands. The release of this stored energy is what makes the amazing jumps possible.
Surprisingly, it has been found that the fasciae of humans have a similar kinetic storage capacity to that of kangaroos and gazelles ( Sawicki et al., 2009 ). This is not only made use of when we jump or run but also with simple walking, as a significant part of the energy of the movement comes from the same springiness described above. This new discovery has led to an active revision of long-accepted principles in the field of movement science.”
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