Sunday, February 5, 2017

Stuff I Learned - 2nd Semester, Week #3

I've long been familiar with the vestibular system, though my depth of understanding was more that of a dilettante than a scientist. In the past week I've been learning about vestibulation in my Systems Neuroscience (Systems) course; and now I have an even greater appreciation of what I did not know that I didn't know (avidya, again!)

I used to believe that posture
should be perfectly upright.
The vestibular system is made up of ten sensing mechanisms - five on each side of your head. Deep within each one of your ears are three semi-circular canals, and two otoliths. The semi-circular canals are sensitive to rotational movements, while the otoliths are sensitive to movements in the front/back and up/down directions. Together, these ten sensing mechanisms provide the information that among many functions; help us maintain upright posture, and keep our eyes focused even when our bodies are in motion.

On the first day's lecture, I learned an interesting point about the vestibular system's placement in the skull - the entire system is oriented at an inclination of about 30-degrees upward. What does this upward orientation mean? This orientation of the vestibular organs means that the bony structures of the skull are optimized for our heads to face slightly downward.

I found it interesting that our body's bony structure is based on the head being held at a slight angle downward. In my years of practicing and teaching, I've found that many people carry a stiff and rigid view of optimal posture. I've worked with countless people that are suffering from neck soreness and overall stiffness that's related to their striving to maintain a postural ideal that's too rigid and at-odds with gravity.

Learning that the bony structures of the skull are actually designed to be slightly angled forward was further evidence that my old view of posture was at-odds with gravity and the body's relationship to this fundamental force. Now, please don't misinterpret what I'm getting at - I'm not suggesting that we all slouch and let our heads fall into our laps. Far from it! But I am suggesting that the strictest head-held-high posture that many of us have been striving for may not be all that it's cracked up to be.

The horizontal canal's orientation suggests that
our head's baseline position is slightly downward.
I have come to believe that good posture should be easier rather than harder, and that most of us are not so far removed from our optimal posture. Rather than revolutionizing how we sit and stand, I think it's more appropriate for many of us to evolve how we sit and stand. What is your model of good posture based upon? Do the people that model this ideal of posture look at-ease in their bodies, or stiff? Is your ideal ideal?

1 comment:

Wendy Cook said...

Thank you! This is fascinating and makes COMPLETE sense from the Alexander Technique point of view. Mr Alexander discovered that the common collapse of the skull retracting and collapsed backward, thereby head forward of the torso, chine up and usually associated with shoulders hunching, causes a reverberating effect that diminishes our sense of self and our engagement and performance in daily life. The classic work in AT is to create a more organic and optimal relationship with head, neck and back/torso through a non-doing, not a doing. Our postural reflexes know what to do if we get out of the way. We reclaim our birthright integrity which young, healthy children have without effort. AT education and practice results in the orientation of the vestibular system being neutral. Effortlessly. It's not something that has to be held. It's finding the freedom in the atlo-occipital joint and surrounding region; this allows the skull to release back, rock/tilt a little forward at the a/o joint, and, sensing through all of you down into the earth, the postural reflex brings you up. A little taller and lighter. I'm so glad I stumbled upon this blog post. Good stuff. Thanks again.