Have you ever had one of those moments where you’re working out, and you suddenly discover a muscle you didn’t even know that you had? Or maybe you discovered it upon waking the next day and that previously unnoticed muscle is screaming at you, because it’s been worked for the first time in a LONG time. There it was, staying comfortable and lazy for years, and then you made it earn its keep.
I had one of those moments, and it re-awoke a sense of stability that I haven’t had since my serious ballet days, before I got injured and had to stop. It’s one of those things that I took for granted while I was in peak physical condition, and then following the injury, I sort of fell into a slump both mentally and physically, and I stopped engaging certain posture musculature that I had used before to hold myself poised on my tip-toes all the time.
These things happen, though, gradually over time, and we all forget in some way or another what natural posture feels like. There’s a multitude of ways in which posture can go wrong, too:
Most often, I see a lot of slumping and rounded shoulders when I observe others, and I’ve become guilty of that sin myself over the years. Not only is it aesthetically unpleasant, it can cause major back pain, damage and it drastically decreases your stability.
Which leads me to my gym-discovery:
I had just finished doing a shoulder and back exercise and in-between sets, I could feel that the muscles just underneath my shoulder blades were rolling my shoulders back and down and then anchoring them there. This sensation gave me the feeling that my chest was broad and open, shoulders and neck relaxed without tension, my abs subtly engaged without being tight and as I breathed, my back and chest opened and closed deeply allowing my spine to feel strong, yet expanded. The thing that hit me was that, now that I had my shoulder stabilized in the proper position, my diaphragm could move more freely. As a result, my whole core felt free to move and incredibly steady. For the remainder of the day, I enjoyed an increased sense of well-being and ease.
Since then, I’ve been being mindful of that sensation in my dancing, and POOF! Like magic, everything has become so much easier. I’m getting more grounded as a lead and as a follow, but most remarkably, the ability to do embellishments as a leader while maintaining the follower’s motion through disassociation has drastically improved. Previously, it always felt like hit or miss.
There are multiple muscles involved in core stability, and when the term is mentioned, the minds of many gravitates instantly to the all-important abs. Did you know, though, that your diaphragm is actually more important than the abs in deep core stability?
Yes, your diaphragm. That muscle that keeps these beauties pumping:
The diaphragm does more than pump air, though. It also continuously stretches and contracts your spine (think an all-day long mini-massage for your back), and it provides a pressurized abdominal cavity against which your skeletal muscles then provide resistance. During the abdominal pressurization action of the diaphragm, the stabilizers in your pelvic floor and that run the length of your spine reach a state of equilibrium.
What I had stumbled back into that day at the gym was proper alignment that allowed for incredibly deep breaths and core stability, and I’ve been riding the wave ever since.
So, if your chest is compacted with rounded shoulders or a tucked pelvis and you have consistently shallow breaths, you cannot reach full spinal stabilization, which will leave you teetering in motions such as pivots, lapices, enrosques, giros, etc… Plus, poor respiration is bad for your health all around.
I made a post a while back about Esther Gokhale’s book on posture (8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back: Natural Posture Solutions for Pain in the Back, Neck, Shoulder, Hip, Knee, and Foot), and I still can’t stop recommending it enough. She touches on this in her book, and all the exercises in it enhance your natural alignment for all your activities, tango included!