Posture Exercises for the Back + Knees–
One of the most common pitfalls of any exercise programme, including walking and Tao movement arts, is knee injuries. In order to protect your back and prevent knee damage–among many other potential injuries–you must start with the proper stance.
Align Your Feet + Knees
Stand with your feet parallel and shoulders width apart. First, lock your knees, then take your knees off of lock and bend them just enough to feel the thighs engage to hold up your bodyweight. Make sure that your knees are not forward of your toes.
Image © iStockphoto.com/Eraxion
Align Your Spine
To best align your spine, first relax the back of your pelvis and your lower spine.
Next, allow the tailbone and sacrum to drop down towards the earth. Don’t push down or tuck under your tailbone in any forceful way; instead, just let go to gravity. Initially, the results will be less dramatic, but later they will become more profound as the nerves in that area release and the sacrum and tailbone naturally drop and tuck forward slightly. You want to create a sense of the spine rising from above the sacrum to the base of the neck in a smooth wave but, again, you don’t want to apply any force. If done correctly, this sense of rising will take pressure off the thighs and knees–without changing the shin-thigh angle.
To “sit” the head on the top of the spine, the centre of the eyes and ears should be horizontal, while the centre of your head is over the centre of your body. You will get a sense of the face dropping towards the earth as you bring your chin and throat back gently. As you do so, become aware of the occiput area, which is located in the back of your head where the skull meets the spine. Make sure this area remains relaxed and soft. Again, do not force, push or strain this area. Do what is comfortable now and let your accuracy improve over time.
With the legs and spine in good alignment, let the rest of the body relax and sink down. Let go of all your muscles, organs and energy, leaving your legs and spine where they are while everything else–including the rib cage, shoulders, arms and hands–release to gravity. This is an important aspect to cultivate because it is the spine rising and the rest of your body sinking to gravity that opens up the body and releases tension in a soft and safe manner.
Spine Rises, Tailbone Sinks
As you stand for a period of time it is important that you do not put undue pressure on your lower spine and/or your knees. You achieve this by having a continuous rising in the spine, which holds up your body as you continuously drop your energy and the rest of your body down and into the ground. The tailbone has a continuous sense of dropping through the legs, helping to drop down energy, relax and release the nerves, and lightly stretch the spine and spinal cord. The many benefits include increased brain and body communication that can improve all bodily functions.
Releasing Physical Tension, Boost Powers of Concentration
As you stand in good posture, ask yourself: Do I have a sense of energy dropping down through my body into the ground? This focus helps to release excess physical tension and to ground you, bringing your mind to the matter at hand—in this case working on your body and its energy. Of course, it’d be great if you could maintain these alignments at all times.
Open the Back of Your Knees
Next, put your mind in the back of your knees and, without changing the angle of the shin and thigh, open up the back of your knees, and slightly and gently pull up your bodyweight. Leave your feet flat and solid on the floor. You can do this by either directly opening the backs of the knees or by raising the whole spine up. Just be sure you don’t flex the knee joint. Whichever method you use, relax the front of the knees and allow the kneecaps to drop down a bit.
Your Sacrum and Pelvis Create a Wheel—Rotate It
Now put your attention on your kwa, the leg connection through the pelvis to the spine (see a video on the kwa). You are trying to achieve a dropping and tucking of the tailbone and sacrum, while simultaneously lifting and raising the front of the pelvis. This raising is done from the psoas muscles—if you are able to feel and move them.
Imagine your pelvis as a wheel. Focus on the hub (centre of the pelvis or lower tantien) and rotate the wheel slightly. That is the back of the wheel (sacrum) descends and the front (of the pelvis) rises.
If you rotate this wheel correctly, your torso will remain at the same height and it will be possible to feel a stretch in the back of the knees. Also, you will be able to stand longer without pressure in the knees.
Only rotate the pelvis to whatever degree is well within your comfort zone. Do not force this action. Always adhere to the Rule of Thirds and never exert more than two-thirds of your effort in mind, body or energt. You’re looking to encourage your body into a good posture—not make it happen!
Just relax and let go.
Positively affect Your Kidneys + Bowels
Put your mind into your midriff, the area between the top of your hips and your floating ribs. From deep in the midriff area, raise the upper body leaving the pelvis where it is. This action is done from either the left and right channels or from your quadratas lumborum muscles. (These muscles connect the top of the pelvis and the bottom rib at the back of the pelvis.) If you are successful with this action, the lumbar vertebrae (base of the spine) will open up fully, which has a positive effect on your kidneys and bowels.
However you do it, keep the midriff open and release your shoulders, arms, chest, sacrum, tailbone and internal organs down to gravity.
Take your time.
Smoothly Transition into Your Practice or Daily Activities
Finish by lengthening up the spine gently to the occiput to take out any slack in the system. Then, gently release and drop the energy in your face and brain down through your body to the ground.
You can do this practice to improve your posture a few minutes each day as a stand-alone exercise, or before any Tao meditation arts or other exercise training programme. Whatever the case, be sure to transition as slowly and smoothly into the next activity to maintain the sense of relaxation and good posture you have achieved.