HOW TO PLAY BETTER WITH LESS EFFORT...EVENTUALLY
What is Posture?
Simply, it is how we hold ourselves
It is an action that is constantly resisting gravity, forces and tendencies that might destabilize or compromise the intention of the task at hand. It is definitely not a static moment. For example; sitting in a neutral position (more on that later) and at the same time playing the trombone. Posture is the dynamic foundation for action. Posture is a prerequisite for movement. Think of how a video sampling can be broken down into thumbnails. Each one of those thumbnails is a 'posture' for that moment.
Posture, regardless of its' shape is a continuous acquisition that requires mindfulness/awareness ... 'internal radar', consistency, adaptation and endurance. For example; the ability to maintain a neutral and vertical spine with a slide moving between 1st and 7th position. That particular challenge might become apparent when observing a section playing a fast passage. Slide technique aside, if one is bobbing about that could be considered a distruptive force. The tail should not wag the dog.
Discussion of the demands of human movement for playing the trombone could take longer than this entire conference is scheduled for. I will illuminate some important anatomical, neurological and functional connections that will hopefully compel trombone owners to be better prepared and consequently better performers.
Rather than just listing some movements and exercises that I think are relevant and leaving it at that I believe that if one understands why these preparations/interventions hold intimate value they will leverage a willing compliance.
It is no coincidence that almost all of body parts that trombone players use that bark back at them are directly or indirectly connected via muscle, fascia and/or nerve supply to the action and function of the respiratory diaphragm.
The diaphragm is a horizontal, circular muscle that attaches to the lower six ribs. It is 2mm -4mm thick. At rest the diaphragm is shaped somewhat like a parachute. The heart and lungs sit on the top of the diaphragm while below are the liver, spleen digestive tract etc. The central tendon is just that. The inner circumference of the diaphragm attaches to the central tendon. The tendon by definition is elastic somewhat but not contractile. Only muscles contract. When the diaphragm contracts it pulls the dome, the top of the parachute, down towards the edges, the ribs. The ribs, ideally expand circumferentially in all directions but not upwards in normal breathing. The diaphragmatic attachments to the bottom of the lungs creates a negative pressure and air is drawn in.
The strongest part of the diaphragm attaches to the spine at the junction of the thoracic spine and the lumbar spine. It is much more meaty than the circular part of the diaphragm. It is called the 'crura' because it is cross shaped. Here in Iowa, where they know a thing or two about beef, a butcher would lable the circular part the skirt steak and the crural part the hanger steak. Jus' sayin'. The strong crural part has different wiring than the circular part. The crural part does the heavy lifting for breathing and the circular part administers the co-ordination with the many and various attachments, wires and functions that have to be co-ordinated with respiration. This is where is gets interesting.
Without going into too much detail here is a list of the other bits that connect to the diaphragm: the heart, the lungs, the liver, the ribs, abdominal muscles, the muscles of the pelvic floor (the 'other' diaphragm), the sternum (the chest bone), the cervical spine, the larynx and the pharynx (yet another 'functional diaphragm', the clavicle/first rib, the floor of the mouth, the back muscle system, the lumbar spine...
The thoracic diaphragm sits at a cross roads of information from all of these structures and our brain/nervous system attempts to co-ordinate the functions of all these systems at once, with every breath, with every swallow, dare a say with every honk.. The diaphragm may be influenced by all these other structures and systems as well. So... respiration, speaking swallowing and chewing, prehension (reaching) the diaphragm contracts before the rotator cuff to stabilize the spine while reaching, sitting, standing ... hence it is a postural muscle that is influenced by postural attitudes and spinal mechanics. This suggests that if there is thoracic diaphragm malfunction, aside from local pathology, the origins may arise elsewhere.
The diaphragm is the great inhaler but it is not primarily responsible for exhalation other than its' own elastic properties.. That is the job of some of the rib muscles, the global abdominal system and many of the back muscles. Some say NOT to use back muscles in breathing but quite honestly I don't see how that is possible or how to selectively choose which muscles do the work. The brain thinks in terms of function not necessarily muscle sequencing for mature tasks.
How we as trombonists literally position ourselves has an effect on two major information systems and pathways that use the same body parts. The respiratory system shares gears, levers and connections with the locomotor Movement) system. So when something goes awry there may be local biomechanical effects i.e. poor shoulder mechanics that lead to compromise of reaching, thoracic outlet syndrome, scapula-thoracic dysynergies (shoulder blade stuff) and also adversly feed back into ideal diaphragm function. Slumping in the chair turns off a part (the circular portion) of the diaphragm activity, elicits an imbalance of abdominal muscle activity and can focally load (overload) portions of the spine (thoraco-lumbar) that may effect actions of the back muscle stabilizing system. Slumping may elicit a head forward posture which can change the shape of the airway, alter TMJ function and adversely feed back into the diaphragm. Head forward posture adds an exponential mechanical stress factor to the neck. One inch past the neutral zone can be orthopedic job security.
Apical breathing or breathing from the upper chest to initiate inhalation is a spinal destabilizing strategy...Karel Lewit. It causes the spine to hinge more at the thoraco-lumbar junction than is necessary and can lead to spinal issues of the tissues if that becomes the default respiratory mechanism.
To play at a down facing angle (nose heavy) the pivoting should ideally occur at the hip. The pelvis should roll forward. This requires increased co-contraction between the the back muscles and the global abdominal muscles to maintain the pressurized abdominal cavity and neutral range spine.
Discussing the nature of tectonic plates, 'She was pure as the falling snow, but she drifted...' Mr. Diamond, my high school geology teacher.. Drift-age may be a side effect of fatigue, wonky radar, poor habits, inadequate conditioning to hold the instrument
Slumping is an easy default but is counter productive as demonstrated above. Better posture is demanding, requires more work and training.
Poor posture often leads to compromised rib excursion. More often the 'posture of the ribs' is stuck in partial inhalation. Then we attempt to inhale more and on exhalation we return to the stuck-in-inhale rib stiffness, utilizing only a portion of our potential and missing an opportunity to fill the tank and get more milage with each breath.
If Glen Gould had to blow into the piano he would likely have had a miserable tone.
An accumulation of even small postural and movement faults may lead to compromised performance over time.
Today we will explore a few foundational exercises that are potentially potent enough to either short circuit an impending shoulder/arm storm, neck/back pain or help manage an existing one.
Don't be a 'tight-ass'. The thoracic diaphragm has anatomical and neurological connections to the pelvic floor via the levator ani muscle group. There will not be a quiz, but know that when this section of the pelvic floor contracts it tucks the tail bone (coccyx) under. That predisposes the lumbar spine to round backwards which sets the dominos in motion to slump which compromises ideal respiratory function. Know that this action may also reflect a guarded/emotional environment. Some individuals never 'let go'. I had a patient who had habituated to this action and subsequently it was discovered that when they were able to release their fear of spontaneous evacuation and 'relax' their external sphincter much of their back pain resolved ..Note: there are two anal sphincters; the internal sphincter, comprised of smooth muscle is controlled involuntarily via autonomic mechanisms (thank goodness). It keeps stuff in..most of the time. The external anal sphincter, comprised of striated muscle is allegedly under voluntary control. When one is lifting heavy loads i.e. tossing Volkswagens or playing in a section with Charlie Vernon we close all the windows and doors and bear down. The patency of the sphincters assure that the 'pressurized capsule' of the the abdominal cavity is locked from that end. How much pressure over comes the operation of the sphincters? The question is, 'When, in playin the trombone, is it appropriate to contract the eternal anal sphincter?' Ever? Never? What does Yoga have to say about this? Exercise: Squeeze your butt tightly. Notice if your anus is also squeezing. If it is squeezing can you release the external anal sphincter tension without letting go of the butt squeeze. Notice what happens when you play high+hard+loud...
In summary...No two humans or two trombones are identical. We all need something different for maintenance, sustenance and thrival BUT we and our slippery metallic companions need things to stay vital. Many old horns appear to be beat up but while their history is writ on patina their slides may work well, you should pardon the expression. We wouldn't likely suffer a bumpy and wonky slide for too long. The question is begged, 'What do we strive for and tolerate in our own selves to achieve our musical goals...?' Embouchures don't exist in a bubble but rather are supported by the rest of the human. A hiccup in any part of the chain may ultimately express it self in what comes out of the bell. It is all connected.
When we watch how people move we get a sense, a qualitative sense, of grace, ease or over effort, rigidity, stiffness in just a few moments. The first time a new person enters your workspace is a great opportunity to gather information about how they move.
Prof. Vladimir Janda would sit at his desk at the Charles University Hospital in Prague and invite a new patient to enter. As they would walk across the room to sit at his desk for history taking I observed Prof. Janda to have completed most of his evaluation by the time the new patient ambled over. They appeared speechless as he inquired about their specific maladies before a speck of history was even taken. Sometimes he would take the history, mostly to please the patient.
I knew at that moment my life was turning in a way I had never imagined and could never get enough of, ever.
Years later, when I was assisting Prof. Janda in his North American seminars he remarked that it took him only 50 years or so to know that what he was seeing was actually so. He was confident in his assessments just as a mountain knows its’ place.
That was the first time I heard the term Human Locomotion from a systems perspective that was to serve not just the study of but the improvement of human locomotion and with budgets that dictated low tech nearly the entire way compared to North American standards.
The study of human function by necessity has to compartmentalize each discipline to better understand it. Lewit and Janda and their mighty colleagues attempted to see and understand human locomotion much as cardiology, nephrology, pulmonology seeks to demystify those functions. In fact Lewit stated that because much of the organ system is incapable of reporting dysfunction from within its’ own borders the locomotor system is recruited to receive messages for the benefit of the interior. Many body aches and pains originate from the organs and in order to be a good diagnostician from the somatic perspective one must be knowledgeable enough in all the other camps that send signals that need differentiating. No small task.
As we evolve in our bodywork profession we seek tools to leverage success. Experience allows us to take broader strides in applying an array of techniques hard won over years of study. We ‘feel’ better and so our patients and clients feel better as well.
We suggest to you that those with the most techniques do not necessarily win but that when there are organizing methods, techniques take their rightful place at the table; that is to serve Principles and therefore to better aid our clients and patients.
Gravity organizes or disorganizes movement, the principle of least effort is a gold standard, awareness precedes control is a gimme.
The patterns of movement that we will begin to look at are recognized; the challenge is in unlocking their meaning in our work. Infants develop, when they are healthy, in predictable processes and timelines. We can use this understanding and extrapolate those developmental anti-gravity and stability functions to adults in a similar manner.
Reflex Locomotion has the potential to elicit instructions for movement that are hardwired at birth. We civilized folks are relentless in the ways we pollute and corrupt these original intentions by simply living. We are not yet perfect, perhaps we are perfectly imperfect and having an insurance policy is not an entitlement to good health.
When these primitive patterns are successfully activated, even momentarily, movements are organized, joints are ideally aligned ‘centrated’ if you will, easy breathing is released and we are given a thread to follow if we can.
I will say, however, that if you didn’t play the violin before entering the room you will likely remain that way until some learning is done. Sometimes the work is learning not to work so hard unnecessarily. So, patterns of learning must be understood as well.
Studies have revealed other patterns that can be subsets. Andre Vleeming has furthered the loops and slings of SIJ stabilization and the contribution of the pelvic floor. Before that Benninghoff was a leader in espousing the deeper connection of anatomical loops and slings even when the connection seem tenuous. Kolar took Vojta, Baniel championed Feldenkrais, PNF begins to look suspiciously familiar when examined from this patterned perspective. It’s not a co-incidence.
We will openly share with you what we have experienced in our work and hope that it gives you pause and reason to expand your world as well.
In theory there is no difference between theory and practice, but in practice there is.
A reflex loosely defined is an automatic instinctive unlearned reaction to a stimulus. The advantage of reflex locomotion is that it eliminates the filter of cortical input. Theoretically these creeping, crawling and turning reflex movements are available to spinal cord intact mature humans. While they can be voluntarily shut down they are not interfered with by the cortex on elicitation as voluntary movements are.
Reflex locomotor movements may appear marginally different on different subjects but are identical in their intent. That is, to create a perfectly stable anti-gravity environment within. The very moment the switch is flipped to ‘voluntary’ a constellation of history, experience and interpretation takes over the controls and individual variability rules. Even if it grossly looks the same, organization and effort is vastly changed as to be a fingerprint from another human, yet we all have fingers in common. Like the admonishment to the actor, ‘If you can fake sincerity, you’ve got it made’.
These idealized reflex patterns become the touchstone for all the voluntary movements that follow. That is the great divide. We add voluntary/cortical and we are taking some form of scenic route by comparison. Even the rapid response form of training using quick balance demands in SensoriMotor treatment is ultimately a learned response.
RL response is the EasyPass to more mature movements. It is not the movement itself per se but the background foundation to build Posture, Gait, Prehension, Respiration and Orofacial mechanisms that may be considered vital functions. Yes, there are many other ways to achieve these goals and in fact training is nearly always a follow up to RL but the training ideally must match the intent of the RL and that is where the algorithm can turn into a bird’s nest of chaos and entropy.
Strength. That’s the answer most people give when asked, ‘Why exercise?’.
To some extent that is the easy, down and dirty answer. It’s surely part of the process, but I wouldn’t want to be an adhesives expert and sell only Scotch tape.
One of the strategies currently being recommended for self care in acute low back pain is corseting/co-contraction. With muscle tension already present in the back the idea is to create an equal and opposite force in the front to limit movement and allow the days activities to move on however possible. Patients are taught to roll like a log, breath holding may be involved or not and ranges of motion are cautioned to remain ‘in the Neutral Zone’ as much as possible. This not a bad idea but with the same attention to timeliness in the clinic the patient can be taught to normalize adverse (too much or too little) tension, create less demanding strategies to move during the acute stage and only use the more draconian Iron Maiden on steroids approach when necessary. In the bottom of the ocean I am appreciative of the lead boots that aid my explorations. I wouldn’t Tweet that I was wearing them on the street as therapeutic fashion wear.
This unchecked bracing can become a default first line strategy for any future episode or even a way to move through the day when not in distress. Much like the abuses of Prozac, a short-term fix becomes a way of life and the two elephants at the ends of the seesaw get heavier and heavier in order to balance each other out.
Zooming in and zooming out allows a focused attention to subject matter. Zooming in for detail or microcosmic factoids, out for the big picture, to see further reaching but relative values. What roles do we play? In the microcosm of our studio/clinic we deal initially with issues of the tissues. Stepping back we know that skin tone & texture is a mirror into the status of the central nervous system, the Mother Ship. There isn’t a thing that happens on board that Mother isn’t aware of in some way and if Mama ain’t happy ain’t nobody happy.
As bodyworkers we should know that altering body position can reveal a change in tissue tension. Supine, prone, side lying can position fibers at or near end point and/or offer access points and paths to better approximate or lengthen. Try it…you’ll like it.
It could be argued that passive care attempts to mimic the effects of good movement in the tissues, assuming one knows what ‘good’ tissue tone is. A kind of build it and they will come re-set/re-boot button.
We will be recommending different ways to move and position your clients that are not the usual latke posture, prone or supine.
Breath in...breath out, that’s a good start.
If you have the opportunity to watch a healthy baby breathing you may notice it is almost as if they are ‘breathed’. Their whole body reflects a respiratory wave.
Breathing is an automatic function but is still vulnerable to our below the radar poor habits and strategies. Scientists study human respiration through a very objective lens. Our bits and parts are compartmentalized in order to make their study more accessible. If the hardware; lungs, muscles, nervous system commands, workers at the air exchange factory (cells), pumps and pipes pass inspection then one is good to go from a structural standpoint.
The apparatus of breathing is, in the main, solely dedicated to breathing but not entirely.
Breathing can have a significant impact on other vital life functions even if there isn’t a hiccup in the hardware. We have heard that a chain is only as strong as its’ weakest link.
Posture, prehension (the act of reaching and grabbing), oro-facial mechanisms (speaking, swallowing and chewing) and gait (walking) all have functional tie-ins to respiration in a direct or indirect functional way. Most of our muscles are multi-taskers that serve these vital functions, often all at once i.e. standing/walking, speaking, eating and swallowing. If there is a poor co-ordination anywhere along the kinetic (movement) chain it can potentially pollute any of the shared functions given time and opportunity. Effortless respiration is the foundation for all good movement. If Momma ain’t happy, ain’t no one happy.
One doesn’t have to be a monk or certified yoga master to appreciate better breathing benefits.
Relaxed breathing can have a rate and rhythm that requires the least amount of effort. Using as little effort as possible but only as much as is necessary is a principle of good movement including respiration.
There are several common faults that can be addressed simply by paying attention. A gradual change over time may yield wonderful results.
In normal breathing there is an interval between exhalation and inhalation. The good stuff has been taken in and distributed and next breath delivers the next shipment ad infinitum. Sometimes there is such a long interval between breaths that it can be considered a subtle form of breath holding. There is a small effort not to breath and if this pattern is sustained over time it can create a measurable shift in our blood chemistry. This shift can effect our metabolic processes and our moods. Anxiety, depression, hyper activity may be associated with altered breathing patterns. One may beneficially alter these states to some degree by simply practicing a relaxed breathing pattern. While it may be appropriate to brace and hold one’s breath while tossing Volkswagens on the shelf breath holding otherwise stiffens the locomotor system activities and potentially requires more effort than necessary, like driving with the brakes on.
Belly breathing. In the best of circumstances as we breath in our abdominal diaphragm flattens horizontally and our bellies expand to accommodate the compression of organs and lung expansion. If one is a chest breather or partial chest breather in normal resting that takes way more effort to deliver less air where it should go, that is, to the bottom of the lungs. A simple test is to lie flat, put one hand over your belly button and the other in the middle of your your chest bone. What moves first? or at all? or together?
Breathe in...Breath out....practice and pay attention.
Over the last decade peer reviewed studies have established that patient compliance/adherence to plan (health care advice regarding diet, exercise, meds etc.) has been less than ideal. The percentages vary as much as 25-50% at best depending on the situation. They include such actions/inactions as; over/under dosing meds, making up for forgotten doses, stopping short of recommended term. This goes for exercise prescriptions as well i.e., +/- activity, +/- rest, altered frequency, making up for missed/lost doses etc.
It seems a no brainer that good advice in the interest of advocating better health at low to no cost wouldn’t meet resistance but it does.
These health journals observe too many categories to list here but it is interesting to note that those with the most severe illnesses tend to be least compliant. Mitigating factors of stress, depression, other bio-psycho-social issues often play a heavier diversionary role with these individuals.
Those with less severe life threatening illnesses seem to fare better with certain variables. An individuals health literacy is a compelling factor as well as the perceived sense of care and knowledge the health care provider makes available.
Some folks are touch hungry, starved for contact. Some are defined by their illness and fear loss of some recognized identity, their red flag waving as a marker for their place. Some are just ‘too busy’ or imply they are ‘too important’ else the world would stop, the company collapse..Remember that on pre-flight oxygen mask drill that adults with children are cautioned to don their mask first to better care for the children.
Education is invaluable to allow informed choice and is empowering to the patient in that it places the role of responsibility apportioned correctly.
One can not be forced to mend, heal, relax, straighten up and fly right against ones will or desire especially if consistency of related behaviors are key to recovery. Every health care provider has a responsibility to offer some kind of plan and its’ importance clearly.
I often describe the math as 50% of what I do and 90% of what you do. While there may be some wiggle room it is hoped that your health care provider has your best interest in mind and the plan is part of the methodology to get well
When dosage, frequency and term are established with an understanding that any negotiation or lapse only diminishes a better outcome the road to recovery may get rocky, change course, morph into something unexpected.
Each stage of compliance is a window for that moment and while there may be other windows down the line they don’t offer the same view and opportunity. After all the brain, the chemistry, the tissues have missed a feeding and that potentially creates a different environment.
So, how do you get to Carnegie Hall....?
These words seem so close in their meaning yet maintain important distinctions
that potentially yield changes in how we function.
Perception: Loosely, how one organizes, identifies and interprets sensory information. It may be filtered through past learning, memory and expectation.
For example, two individuals are suffering with the same circumstance; they both have a splinter in their right forefinger. The first, a truck driver has had splinters while on the job in the past and has determined she can manage to get from point A to point B without any problem or delay and continues with her job as usual.
The second, a violinist, has also had a splinter in her finger and the results have usually been disastrous or at least less than ideal. Listeners have heard the consequences.
Same input, different response. History, for which there is no substitute and memory, informs our actions
Awareness: The ability to consciously receive information, in this context sensory, but not necessarily to understand its meaning or consequence.
Those individuals who suffer from chronic back pain often lose their internal compass. They may confuse upright with actually (more on Reality later) being off axis, being bent, sidewise or any other point not actually as is. This can create a constellation of problems by coming up short, going too long past the intended point or even falling down as a consequence.
By mis-judging the You-Are-Here spot all the subsequent actions are less than accurate or ideal and may eventually lead to overload/overuse in spite of good intentions.
Reality: The state of things as they actually are rather than as they appear or are imagined.
In the context of movement training and manual therapy it is the job of the therapist to reconcile these states in order to allow the individual to be safe in their activities of daily living. Exercises done in broad strokes i.e. 'I pick things up, I put things down' may offer the sense of having 'done something' but to what end?
Awareness Precedes Control: In the performance of activities of daily living and exercises for better health it is critical to be able to maintain spot on accuracy that is self administered. Perfect internal radar for a smooth flight and seamless arrival.
The Principle of Least Effort: In today's market we want to invest wisely. We hope for the greatest yield for the least amount of investment. So it is with movement.
Often unknowingly, the acts of reaching and grabbing, standing upright, speaking swallowing and chewing, walking and breathing (see last months installation) are so overloaded with extraneous effort and inaccurate movement that they are recipes for orthopedic job security.
When we gradually register what we are actually doing and learn to control movements in a less stressful manner we can be safer, more energetic and productive with resources left over at the end of the day for elective activities.
A well trained movement and manual therapist will consider all these points in order to be the best advocate in your personal process.
Taken from my trombone chair, during Superstar tour...Asbury Park, sometime in the early 70's.
Nikon Ftn, Bushnell 200mm (huge and unwieldy by contemporary standards)
f5.6, body and lens weighed more than a bag of hammers.
The shutter sounded like a barn door closing. Traded all my old Nikon/glass for a Fuji mirrorless.
Now all I need is a live-in LightRoom tutor.
Are there any critters other than humans that sit on anything resembling a chair or a stool? Perhaps chimps trained to stage act or go to outer space are instructed for our benefit and their alleged safety but there is no evidence that sitting on a chair is an evolutionary milestone. Early cavemen and women cobbled up some form of bench likely more to get their butts off the cold and wet ground than offer an early stone age ergonomic aide.
Four legged chairs were not in common usage until the 1500’s. Before that chairs elevated royalty and such to sit raised above the rabble.
In Asian and native Eskimo culture squatting is a way of life. Low stools are squatting aides, not so much training for later sitting postures.
Cultures and societies that squat rather than sit demonstrate a far lower prevalence of back pain than those that sit in chairs. Of course those squatting cultures have a vastly different view of most things that the sitters have, both literally and figuratively. Squatting peoples may not have squadrons of orthopedic surgeons nearby nor the same prevalence of elimination difficulties as civilized sitting folks.
Malasana is a full, butt down, flat-footed yoga posture. Highly recommended for improving organ function, bowel and bladder function, support for pregnant women. Rarely seen in the gym or any trendy places where such a demonstration of hip opening would be deemed, at the very least, socially incorrect.
Back to sitting...literally. It seems our evolutionary cleverness has designed a device that has been woven deeply into our history, culture, design and daily use as to be indispensable and yet is potentially a tool for early death. Early death, really?!
Peer reviewed studies have revealed that those individuals who are required to sit for long uninterrupted periods suffer from a constellation of ailments; decreased metabolic function, increase in belly fat deposition, decreased vascular health, decreased HDL (the good stuff), decreased insulin sensitivity hence a step towards diabetes, chronic spine pains et al. All or any of that can take large chunks of time and quality of life off of ones lifespan.
Standing work stations, slow treadmill work stations are being discovered to elicit equally disastrous effects as long term sitting.
If we want our brains, which seem evolutionarily more evolved than our sitting capacity, to work clearly and efficiently we must respect our slower evolution to endure sitting.
Pick your battle...