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Defining Neutrality

One of my goals for my non-athlete athletes (the teachers, moms, doctors) is neutrality.

But what does that even mean? What’s not neutral about me?

It’s reminds me of the intro in Van Halen’s “Hot For Teacher”. I don’t feel asymmetrical.

I don't FEEL asymmetrical

 

Asymmetry is Natural

Forgive the morbid visual, but if you cut yourself right down the middle and looked at your right and left insides, no part of your rational brain would think, “I’m a perfectly symmetrical human being.”

And what does that make you? That makes you and I part of the same Homo sapiens family. That’s it. Asymmetry isn’t weird, it’s normal. It’s necessary.

The biggest internal asymmetries that I like to point out to clients are the size of the thoracic diaphragm, the side of the liver, and side of the heart. These make us really good at standing on our right legs and breathing into our left chest wall.

Where's the left liver?

 

And going back to Van Halen, most people I’m cuing won’t feel asymmetrical until I get them neutral. If you live a life on your right leg (hint: you do), you’d feel weird on your left leg, too! Remember the story I wrote about from that course a few weeks back?

 

 

The Origins Project

It’s impossible to say where or why or how this asymmetry has come about to be so prevalent, but I can make a guess (because that’s what the interwebz is so good for: speculation).

It makes sense to me that this asymmetry has come about from natural selection, just like, you know, everything else. The infamous Pat Davidson recently shared a quote with me that sheds some light on the topic from the point of view of a physicist.

“…right-handed DNA for all is the rule. Evolution plays an essential role in this. As only like spirals can link to make a double helix, there is no advantage if some of us had right and others left, or if we had a mix of both. It appears essential for effective procreation, that the half provided by the male matches that from the female, and the most efficient way is if they have only one and the same handedness. While this does not explain how and when the asymmetry in the amino acids of our DNA originated, evolutionary advantage aided by the vastness of time could be the cause.”
-Frank Close, “Lucifer’s Legacy”, p. 76

If you think about the beginning of life on Earth, making two sets of DNA would, at best, halve the chances of life forming. So these all-right-sided DNAs had a huge advantage in making copies of themselves.

 

Defining Neutrality

If I go any further on origins, I’ll be stepping out of my bounds of education, so let’s shift gears. What am I examining to see whether or not you’re neutral?

Well, as someone who works with bodies and weights, the best way I know how to attack the situation is through movement. Even though not every change is orthopedic, these changes are the most tangible to you and I.

So I do some tests. I look at the position of your lower body with an Adduction Drop Test. This will tell me a lot, but most specifically, it tells me the position of your pelvis. Can you adduct?

There are some other accessory lower body tests that I’ll do to confirm my findings because I mess up sometimes. Hip motion tells me a lot of things.

Then I do some tests to look at the position of your upper body. An Apical Expansion test is the first time I ask you to breathe for me. Can you exhale on the left side? Can you inhale on the right side?

Then I’ll confirm my findings, which I find is especially important for the Apical Expansion test because it’s hard to judge the results without tester bias. Shoulder motion tells me a lot of things.

I always look at the way your neck moves, too. This Cervical Axial Rotation test is important because your neck motion tells me a lot of things.

If I can get all of these tests cleared, you’re neutral. If you’re neutral, you can effectively move side to side. You can walk with two legs instead of a right leg and a left kickstand. You can aspire. You can create.

Based on the natural asymmetry I was talking about earlier, I’m able to make some test predictions. If all of these predictions prove correct, I would call you “classic”. A classic left AIC, right BC, right TMCC. A classic human.

Then I can give you an exercise or push on your ribs to help you get neutral.

 

The Epilogue

After you get neutral (note the wording; I’m not doing it, you are), I give you some homework to make it stick. Neutrality isn’t a forever-defined state.

This reminds me of a tenured client I’ve worked with many times at IFAST. She got neutral months ago and was so proud of the progress she’s made. I imagine me watching this is what it feels like when parents see their child walk for the first time.

Then she got busy at work, started sleeping less, eating worse, not coming into the gym consistently, and getting neck problems. I was able to look at her one-on-one and found out that she’s not neutral anymore. What gives?

The state of your system is dependent on so many factors: what you see, what you hear, the exercises you’ve been doing, what has happened to you in the past, who’s around you… Any perception of threat steals your neutrality and puts you into survival mode. What happens for someone like our client in this case is she forgets what it feels like to be neutral. My job is now to remind her. But how?

For some people who aren’t too far locked into the normal, asymmetrical pattern, the task I give you might be to find your left heel a few times a day while you’re at work. This could be enough to remind your body that you have a left side that likes attention, too.

For most people, I’m going to give you some exercises to do at home and in the gym. You may have years of adaptations and compensations that we need to combat, and those tests I listed above tell me which of these we should focus on. And if you’re trying to get stronger and healthier, these exercises can help mitigate the negative effects of weight training.

Most commonly, I see a locked up pelvis on both sides because I see people who like to lift heavy things. If this is you, part of your program is going to be opening up the outlet of your pelvis. As I tell my anatomy students, this makes it so you can poop. Though this is hilarious to tell people in public, it’s not the only side-effect. Remember Bob Ross?

Then we’ll follow up with a lot of reaching activity. If the butt is closed off, so is the back. Active reaching helps make things stick better.

Then I might give you an exercise that reminds your body how to work as one whole system; an integration exercise. Moreover, I’d like this exercise to be done while standing, because you’ll be standing when you’re going about your daily life without me. I want to teach my baby birds to fly.

This pathway isn’t set in stone, it’s just a blueprint. Some people get different homework. Some people get the same homework for different reasons. Some people get the same homework for the same reasons.

That’s just a quick primer on neutrality. If you know someone at the White House, can you suggest to them that we make the first 24 hours of winter Neutrality Day? Neutral people welcome the winter because they have bodies that can deal with change.

Do you welcome winter?

Before you leave, do me a favor:

  1. Send this article to the last person with whom you talked about neutrality.
  2. If you haven’t yet, subscribe to my newsletter to get the information I don’t put on the blog.

And as always, comments and emails are always welcome.

All the best,
Lance

Impingement and Instability – A Recap

I spent this past weekend in lovely Phoenix, Arizona to reunite with old friends, meet the legend that is James Anderson, and learn all the things. Check out the Twitter action.


Phoenix is seriously 40 degrees warmer than Indianapolis and seven thousand less percentage humidity, so I was immediately caught off guard. Though I didn’t have my physical therapist friends test me right away, I’m pretty sure the unpredictable environment would have stolen my neutrality, had any remained after four and a half hours on a plane.

It didn’t.

I don’t get to put things in practice as much as most of the other attendees, so this overview is both for you to become aware of what the Postural Restoration Institute is doing, and for myself to cement the information.

I’ll give you some of the highlights of my notes in bullet form. Quotations will not be attributed to any one person to protect anonymity. You can assume I said the inappropriate things and that James said the intelligent things.

“PRI is neurology, but the mechanicoventilatory system is used to regulate neurology.”

This is a big deal. A lot of people think PRI’s system is just to strengthen some well-illustrated muscles. This couldn’t be further from the truth. The concept of neutrality is the centerpiece. This neutrality isn’t just a pelvis that is in the right position, but a brain that doesn’t perceive harmless stimuli as threatening. We can use these muscles, your shoes, your eyesight, and a million other things to get you neutral. My good friend and hotel-mate, Zac Cupples, gave me neutrality (albeit only for a short while) by softly saying, “Lance, just go neutral, bro.”

“Ron Hruska puts his hands on a joint – and he’s not thinking about that joint.”

That joint is the farthest thing from his mind. This ties into the previous quote. Neutrality is neurology, not biomechanics.

“Girl, that ganglia’s so hot.”

The new pickup line for women who are stuck in extension. James quickly illustrated this point to us by having my table neighbor, Maegan, stick her arms into some bands running vertically down a stretching cage. The bands represent the sympathetic trunk. Maegan’s arms represent closing of the posterior mediastinum from extension. An extended spine forces the vertebrae anteriorly, which compresses the contents of the posterior mediastinum.

Mediastinum transsection

A side note that I want to mention: this is why PRI is my crack addiction. James prioritized. He opened with the neurology talk and vividly has Maegan demonstrate to us the detriment of an extended posture. As someone who helps others learn anatomy, I admire the teaching ability of the presenters.

“Don’t fight the brain.”

This was something Mike Cantrell opened my eyes to last month at Postural Respiration. A big breath is worth nothing if it’s perceived as a threat, even if you’re doing a manual technique at the time. The purpose isn’t to get as much air in as possible. So if you see someone fighting through inhalation with their neck muscles, you need to stop that. Slow inhales. Let it come in – don’t make it come in. The same can be applied to putting weight on your right leg. You don’t need to only have your left leg down for PRI techniques to work.

“When I wear these shoes, my arm freeze up.”

Frontal plane support at the heel helps you maintain neutrality. Your soft Nike Frees could be throwing you into a state of extension. Check out the 2013 Hruska Clinic recommended shoe list.

“When I squat the way the strength coaches tell me to, I can’t get off my right quad?”

We discussed the bro mentality that more weight is always better. James suggested looking at the objective outcomes like 40-yard-dash time and vertical jump and seeing what actually improves those measures.

“How come I’m squatting heavy, but my vertical is going down?”

See above.

“Make a neurological wedding between the left heel and the floor.”

This alludes to the six reference centers they discuss. If your client can feel those, you’re doing things well. These reference centers are going to be useful when coaching exercises.

“I got Apollo Ohno right butt syndrome.”

Apollo Ohno has to turn left to be good. His right glute max is working well in the transverse plane instead of the general PEC patterned individual’s “sagittal plane only” right glute max.

“‘Trunk’ means above T8.”

This was something I had struggled with for a long time. Now the semantics make sense.

“The key to triplanar performance rests in a triplanar ZOA.”

The Zone of Apposition (ZOA) is not found unless it is found in all three planes. Thoracic abduction (a frontal plane translation), lateral flexion, rotary orientation, and extension all need to be taken care of. Abs are not a good thing if you have them without a triplanar ZOA. Use exhalation to get good abs.

“That’s my favorite weight belt called bilateral low trap.”

Picture the spine as a flagpole. Each low trap can prevent the flagpole from tipping over (in the frontal plane). A right arm reach can orient the spine back to the left. It can also get you a triplanar zone if you couple it with exhalation. Hold the reach. Inhale. Then you get right trunk rotation with filling of the right mediastinum. Right low trap is important to consider because it’s being lengthened from both ends (scapula protracts, IRs, anteriorly tilts while spinous process moves away).

Appreciate the lower trapezius!

“Serratus without low trap day at the gym? Stay home.”

The upper body musculature works together to intricately. Right upper trap opposes subclavius. Low trap is useless without serratus and vice versa.

Look at that serratus sling!

Right serratus anterior acts as a sling on the side of the chest. When this contracts, it pushes the thorax to the left side. A movement called left thoracic abduction. The left low trap pulls the spine into left thoracic abduction at the same time to reinforce this movement. And this is only the frontal plane.

“Breathing is gait and gait is breathing.”

If you don’t use the mechanicoventilatory system as a tool, you’re making things hard on yourself.

“Left pec is a stupid muscle.”

Why is he trying so hard to get air in? Just get a left ZOA instead.

 

I love PRI. It is my addiction. See you at the next course! They’re coming to Indianapolis next year…

This may have further confused my search. What should I do with the rest of my life? Well, I don’t know, but I want to be able to get people neutral. What’s the best avenue for that?

Breathing vs. Anxiety

By a suggestion from Bill Hartman, I’ve started to pick up on Leon Chaitow’s blog. The most recent topic was brought to him from a recent paper by Zieman and colleagues (2009) entitled The Amygdala Is a Chemosensor that Detects Carbon Dioxide and Acidosis to Elicit Fear Behavior.

He states:

So we have overbreathing leading to anxiety, which leads to overbreathing……. a real chicken-and-egg situation that demands attention to the causes of anxiety, as well as the mechanics and causes of overbreathing, to achieve ultimate restoration of health.

Underbreathing can also lead to anxiety as well.

We can find overbreathing in those who are chronic chest breathers (don’t use their diaphragm, which is the muscle on the bottom of the picture below), have irregular breathing patterns (find themselves out of breath when talking), and other things.

Diaphragm

Try to keep your CO2 levels in your lungs in order by slowing things down and taking slow, deep breaths with your belly. This can help you in your fight against anxiety.

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