This is  a German TV show explaining the importance of fascia, or connective tissue.  It’s the stuff we work with as Structural Integrators and something our community of practitioners have known about for 30+ years.  If you’ve ever wondered what’s going on when you’re getting rolfed, this is about the best explanation I’ve heard. Check out the video here.

I often integrate visceral work in most sessions and have developed a set of patterns relating restrictions in the musculoskeletal system to visceral restrictions.  What this means is that by balancing the alignment of the body the organs are positively affected, and by working with the organs the person’s alignment and movement can be improved.  I frequently work from both ends of the spectrum in my sessions.

I recently I wrote this article on the subject for the International Association of Structural Integration Yearbook on integrating aspects of Chinese Medicine to structure a Visceral Manipulation session.  It gives some insight into where my work is going these days.

Murphy 2013 IASI Yearbook

In the last 2 years I’ve really simplified the way I work with people on movement.  In doing work with movement the holy grail is in the “cue”.  This is the direction you give a client for what to pay attention to or what to do.  For example, in standing one of the most useful things you can do is let your knees be soft with the quads relaxed so they aren’t locked back or bent, just right in the middle.  When you initiate walking with soft knees, the tendency is to land more towards the center of the foot without all the shock and hyperextension that comes with landing on the back of the heel.

The problem I’ve run into cues like this with some of my clients, is that there are just too many of them to achieve balanced posture and the gestalt is lost.  Often the tendency will be to try to do all of the cues I’ve given at once rather than to tune into one at a time or even better how that one cue is effecting the total experience.  This generally leads to the opposite result of what I’m looking for which is that the person I’m working with starts walking like Robbie the Robot, hopelessly lost in the mental exercise of managing the cues.   For example, try letting your knees be soft while landing on the pad in front of the heel, while allowing the hips to shift back and keeping your eyes on the horizon.  While you’re at it, allow your arms to swing from your midline and let your jaw be soft, oh yeah, and don’t forget to breath.  It’s easy for these cues to become a bunch of tasks to pay attention to, but that’s not really the point. I’m going to make a brash statement and say we live in a singularly focused culture.  While we may be getting better at multitasking on our iPhones, when was the last time you noticed your breath or whether your body is comfortable, while you send a tweet?  How about right now while you’re reading this?

This brings me back to the question of, what is the goal of movement education and more importantly, what is the gestalt that ties our experience together?  Some of my clients have articulated it as learning how to sit or walk or stand all over again.  That’s not far off, but I’ll offer another suggestion. To begin with, to feel better, but what does that really mean?  How about something like, “being able to maintain easy attention to your internal experience while participating in the world outside of your skin”?  Isn’t that really what’s happening when we feel good?  We are aware of our experience and we’re able to participate with others and engage with the world. Another way of putting it would be to balance internal and external experience.  When it comes down to it, most people come to see me with problems that stem from difficulty at listening to the inside, while doing something out in the world.  Another way of saying the same thing is that it’s easy to forget how to coordinate our internal experience while interacting and moving.  Hubert Godard, the brilliant Rolf Movement teacher uses the words coordination and perception to talk about the same thing.  Essentially, the majority of postural misalignments have to do with two things: 1. how we experience; and 2. How we express ourselves and interact with the world.  To achieve a balance between internal awareness or coordination and external focus requires a lifetime of practice, but the journey begins when we become aware of HOW to focus on either one (perception or coordination).

It will likely come to you as a surprise that core support doesn’t come from doing sit-ups, (a totally irrelevant exercise in developing core support), but instead comes from a balance of perception and coordination.  I’ll give an example.  While you’re sitting reading this article (assuming you’re sitting), your abs are probably not toned much and your awareness is most likely  on the words on the computer screen.  That’s ok.  See what happens if you take your eyes away from the screen and look out at the horizon, letting what you see come to you if you can.  There’s a reason why gymnasts mark the horizon with their eyes while they’re balancing. With one hand on your belly, press into the floor with your whole foot really feeling the floor, and draw your shoulder sockets and hip sockets back towards the back plane of your body (the hip socket is at the hip crease, right in the middle of the thigh).  You should feel a subtle toning or drawing in of the transverse abdominus muscles under your hand.

These are the muscles that lead to stabilization of the spine and help us to get longer, but what initiated the tone was not a squeezing of your 6 pack muscles.  Instead, we got there by coordinating our internal movements (hip sockets and shoulder sockets moving back into the joint), and expansion of our awareness of the ground (through our feet) and our awareness of what’s around us (through the eyes).  When we start to feel misaligned it’s often because of a loss of core support caused by a breakdown of our internal coordination or external perception.   This isn’t a bad thing in and of itself.  It’s often what we do when we rest, but it’s not the easiest way to move.  In a general way we can work on our core support by focusing on our coordination and perception.  So next time you’re out for a walk you might just ask yourself, are my thigh bones softening back into the sockets? Am I able to walk with my attention on the horizon? What’s around me or am I looking at the ground?  Am I able to stay attuned to how it feels on the inside, while being engaged and interested in what’s happening around me?

If you’re a regular barefoot runner or just curious, this will be an event not to miss.   Learn the how and why while hanging out with some of the worlds leading experts on human movement and barefoot running. For more details go to:

The Run…

The 1st Annual New York City Barefoot Run is more than just a race.  It is a weekend of educational and social events for the growing barefoot and minimalist community – beginners as well as experts.

  • Attend clinics on Saturday and Sunday
  • Meet leading barefoot runners (including Dan Lieberman, Erwan Le Corre, and Jason Robillard)
  • Learn more about barefoot running
  • Build a new community of runners
  • Run a new type of race: Run your distance

What is barefoot running?

Barefoot Running is a growing movement where runners use a minimalist shoe…or no shoe at all.   More runners are finding that modern running shoes can cause an unnatural stride, and that they can run better by freeing their feet.  Learn why.

When and where is the event?

The run will take place on Sunday, October 10th at 8:30am on historic Governors Island in New York Harbor.  On Saturday, October 9th there will be clinics in Central Park, as well as party at the Terra Plana store.

See the race schedule and logistics.

Turns out, the more shoe you wear, the worse it is for you.  The NY Times just published this article on motion control shoes.  Apparently someone in the Army asked if all that motion control in shoes was necessary.  Turns out, the better the motion control in a shoe, the more likely you are to get injured.  In other words, the more you let the shoe create the stability and the less your foot has to do it, the more likely you are to get injured. If you’ve ever run barefoot or in minimalist shoes, it becomes apparent pretty quickly how much more your foot has to work to create stability, but also how much more relaxed your foot has to be. Balanced tone, always leads to greater function.

“I can’t prove this, but I believe when my runners train barefoot, they run faster and suffer fewer injuries.”

— Vin Lananna, Director of Track and Field for  U of O, 7-time NCAA Coach of the Year.

Thursday Mornings, 8 AM through the Summer

Prospect Park, Brooklyn

Ok, so you’ve read Born to Run and you’ve got your own pair of Vibram 5 fingers.  What else do you need to know to run barefoot? Well, if you’ve been running barefoot most of your life like the Kalahari Bushmen, not much, but if you’re new to running without a foam mattress under your foot, this experience might be for you. The class will teach the basic form of running barefoot and gentle exercises to run lighter and with more ease.

Benefits of Barefoot Running (or with minimalist shoes):

  • Run faster, lighter and with less injuries.
  • Enjoy looser IT bands and hamstrings.
  • Improve your core strength.
  • Improve your breathing and posture.

Class will include:

  • Instruction for forefoot running with proper form (on grass at first)
  • Video analysis of your form.
  • Tips to avoid common injuries.
  • Simple exercises based on Structural Integration Movement to help you find your postural center in running, improve breathing and run faster.

$10/class. Please send me an email to sign up.

Most of us have the proverbial pain in the neck on occasion and changing the way we perceive the world through our senses can often give relief. A lot of the movement of the neck happens in the top two vertebrae and a lot of neck tension happens because of what’s happening above it. I’m going to start with a few basic assumptions about the relationships between the neck and head and I’ll leave it up to you to decide if they’re true for you. So here are my assumptions:

  • Your top vertebra, C1 (the atlas), is balancing the tension of your brow (if furrowed), your sense of sight, and your inner ear.
  • Your 2nd vertebra, C2, (the axis) is balancing the tension in your nose and your sense of smell.
  • Your 3rd vertebra, C3, is balancing the tension in your jaw, temples and outer ear, or your sense of hearing.

It goes without saying, upper neck tension can be caused by a lot of things, but these are some of the big culprits and in my experience they go hand in hand with a flat neck. When you try the following exercise, consider it a success if you are able to produce even a small change. Developing a richer awareness takes time and commitment to changing the way you relate to your world through your senses.

Start by lying on your back. Try moving your head side to side to see how well your neck moves before starting. Begin by tilting your head back slightly, allowing for a slight curve in your neck, letting your chin lift. As you gently tilt your head back, you should begin to feel a curve forming in your neck as the neck vertebrae shift forward.

C3 and Hearing… Gently place your fingers on either side of C3 (just below the vertebra at the top of your neck that sticks out). The C3 vertebra should feel tighter on the side that your jaw is tighter. Bring your attention to your jaw and imagine all the tension melting away into the floor. Try making the sound “ahhhhhh” and allow your back teeth to float apart. Finally open up your ears. What do you hear? see if you can allow your ears to expand out to meet the sounds. Often in New York we are so overwhelmed with loud noises, it’s easy to develop tension around the temples and ears. Let this go and you should feel your jaw letting go. Check C3, did it soften at all? If not, you may need some more help getting your jaw to release.

The Axis and Smell… To work with C2 find the vertebra that sticks out just below your skull when you let your jaw go slack it will shift forward, but lets see if we can release it with your mouth loosely closed. If you flatten your neck and tuck your chin, you’ll notice that most of the air goes through the bottom of your nose. Now try breathing in through the top of your nose. To do this you might have to tilt your head back a little and relax the bridge of your nose. The upper passage of the nose is where the olfactory nerve allows us to smell. It is no coincidence that the posture of reckless abandon or ecstasy is with the head back. When we are most enjoying ourselves, our heads goes back to take in our environment through our noses. I find that it helps to close your eyes and imagine smelling a beautiful flower to really get the feel for opening this part of your nose. Alternately, flattening the neck and tucking the chin is the posture of disgust (when we don’t want to smell something) or more generally the posture of withdrawl, something we have a lot of opportunities for in New York with summer garbage smells. If you play with breathing through the bottom and top of your nose, you’ll begin to notice a difference in the way things smell, but it is the ecstatic posture of really taking it all in, that allows the 2nd vertebra to lift and open up. You might experiment with some smells you really like-a rose, an incense or fragrance- to see if it helps you to open your upper nose. When it begins to open you will feel a lift and softening in the vertebra with your fingers. Breathing through this part of the nose also facilitates a deeper breath as the breath is directed more forcefully into the bottom of the lungs.

Seeing, Balance and the Atlas… C1, the Atlas, named for Atlas who holds up the globe, is harder to find from the back of the spine because of all the muscles around it. The musculature around the Atlas  both holds up the head and also helps us to know where we are in space. It sits between the skull and the 2nd vertebra. For this exercise feel for the muscles between the 2nd vertebra and the back of the skull. To soften these often overworked muscles, imagine your temples softening and floating away like a balloon, let go of any tension in your brow by first furrowing and then letting go of your brow. This is the proverbial third eye, so you might also imagine an eye in between your eyebrows.  Allow the eye to open and see how it feels.  Allow your regular eyes to relax back into their sockets. If your eyes are open, imagine that the world is coming towards you rather than your eyes having to go out and get the images. When we try to grab what we see with our eyes it throws the head forward and forces the upper neck muscles to tense. Instead, let the world come to you. The inner ear is where we find our relationship to gravity and if we’ve lost touch with our inner ear we instinctively tense our upper neck to brace for a fall.  One way to help jump start the inner ear is to hold your hand in front of one eye (on the tense side) and move your hand back and forth. Notice how the hand blurs? Keep the hand steady and move your head back and forth. Notice how the hand doesn’t blur? That’s because your vestibular system is talking to your eyes and telling them where you are in relation to your environment.  If your neck releases from holding your gaze on your hand and moving your head, it’s likely that the tension in your upper neck is from your vestibular system.  Now check your neck. Did the muscles at the top of your neck soften?

Finish by rotating your head back and forth. Did you gain any range of motion? If your neck is moving more easily, build up to doing this exercise standing and in different environments. Does it change when you’re with certain people or in certain places? If you allow yourself to breath through the top of your nose, soften your eyes, or let the sounds come in, does your experience change? Often it is our relationships to our environment and the people around us that determine whether we are able to stay free in our neck. Did you notice anything else change when you changed your perception? Let me know by sending me an email.

You probably didn’t need me to tell you this, but now there’s scientific evidence to support the idea that sitting for long periods changes your metabolism in negative ways. If you still aren’t convinced, check out the recent NY times article. We might be a long way off from a Surgeon General Warning on sitting, but one thing is certain, sitting with poor posture has a negative effect on wakefulness and for most people leads to poor posture. For more on how to sit in a relaxed way with balanced posture, check out my earlier blog.

Structural Integration has been proven to reduce job site stress and injury. Just ask Starkey Labs, if you’re not convinced (video below). They’ve saved over 1.2 Million a year in workman’s comp claims.

If you think your workplace could benefit from Structural Integration, let’s talk more. I would be happy to put together a team of Board Certified Structural Integration Practitioners to address work related stress and injury on-site. Besides Structural Integration, we can teach skills to improve alignment and alertness, and decrease pain. We would be happy to develop a corporate wellness program designed to work around your companies schedule, keep your employees pain free, productive and happy. On-site services can include Structural Integration, Movement Education, Yoga, and Acupuncture. Click here for more information.

I started shooting video this summer with my friends Weena and Matt, but never got around to a final edit. I decided to cobble together some of the footage to show off Matts video…

In the slo-mo, we shot weena walking the way she normally walks (the way most people with heeled shoes walk), landing on the back of the heel. If you look closely you can see the shock-wave going up her leg, hyperextending her knee. In my experience, this can lead to stress on the knee and a stiffening of the subtalar joint (between the heel and ankle). If you’ve gotten used to wearing heeled shoes, you’re probably doing the same thing without even knowing it.

The other thing we played with that we don’t show in the video is how important balance over the knees is. For Weena, the shock-wave really diminished even more when we worked with her knees. When you stand with your knees locked, it’s much easier to hyperextend your knees once you start walking. While you’re standing, even just unlocking your knees until they’re loose can make a big difference once you start walking. Try it and let me know how it goes.

Weena Pauly is an amazing dancer, trainer and a Yoga Therapist and can be found here…
…and Matt’s various creations can be found here…

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