Getting into alignment
One of the joys of this summer was the chance to work with the inspiring teacher Kulwinder Kaur on her Structural Alignment Course at the Nottingham Buddhist Centre. Kulwinder, “Kindy” to her friends, teaches Shin Tai, a specialism of shiatsu developed by Saul Goodman in the United States. Saul has been practising bodywork since long before Breaking Bad was a glint in Vince Gilligan’s eye, and could give an altogether more positive spin to the catchphrase “Better call Saul”. Shin Tai, is a fusion of Western and Eastern bodywork practices that enables the practitioner to work on the joints and musculo-skeletal system of the client to find and treat them at the most appropriate level of their energy system. This summer’s workshop was concerned with structural alignment and particularly working on the hips and pelvis to release tension and allow the free flow of energy throughout the body.
As practitioners, our work is less about “curing” a problem than about drawing our client’s awareness to an area of misalignment so that the body can marshall its remedial energies to heal itself. By bringing a client’s attention to a point of dis-ease, instead of unconsciously coping with the area by effectively shutting it down, the point of tension is released and energy returned to free-flowing movement. When the work is complete, which can take several sessions, clients report feeling lighter, freer and more positive. Since learning these techniques I use them frequently in my sessions. The first time I tried them out, I had the most exciting feedback I have ever had from a client:
“Thanks for the treatment yesterday. I have to admit, it worked wonders. I feel my posture has changed and I’m more upright. Yoga seemed much ‘easier’…I was able to get into the postures and stay in them longer, plus I could do a forward bend and get my body further towards my legs. Amazing! Never had that before.”
The pelvis is the largest joint, or collection of joints, in the human body. Located at the centre of our being, it is the bridge that allows information to pass freely from upper to lower body. It is the cradle that contains our digestive and reproductive systems and acts as a conduit for the forces that travel up the body to the head as we walk or run, or allows the weight of gravity to pass easily through the body and into the floor via the legs. Any tension, or misalignment of these joints, or the muscles that surround them, can profoundly restrict our capacity to engage with the world leading to problems that can include back, neck or shoulder pain, menstrual cramps, headaches, constipation, depression and other emotional problems. These tensions can be due to a physical habit at work: repetitive actions or tensions from sitting in front of a computer all day; a physical or psychological trauma, or conflict with the conditioning from one’s family or social background. From the moment there is trauma in the body, the mind and body have to use energy to contain the stress in that area and to make physical compensations that allow us to continue to function. The individual’s energy becomes stuck in a stress system, effectively trapped in a memory of the event that caused the trauma. This pattern can be seen in something as profound as the grief at the loss of a loved one or in the shock of an injury while playing sport. The energy locked into helping us cope with an event from the past is no longer available to us to meet the challenges of the present and our energy becomes concerned with maintenance rather than growth.
On Kindy’s course, we learned how to assess the alignment of the pelvis, hips, sacrum and lumbar vertebrae and then how to release tensions that have become trapped there. The aim of the session then becomes about restoring a dynamic and healthy range of motion to each joint. The sacro-iliac joint is hugely important to our neuro-muscular system. It is an area rich in proprioceptors, the nerves that communicate our body’s position in our surroundings and perform precise movements such as raising a glass of water to our lips. When the sacrum is in alignment, it will be able to move freely within the pelvic girdle allowing us to stand upright and on, a psychological level, enables us to feel confident to walk our own path.
I also use what I learned on this workshop to inform how I teach Qi Gong. In my classes I make connections between the exercises of the form and how they encourage flexibility in the spine and pelvis and so strengthen our musculature and develop a more tranquil state of mind. When your back is strong and supple, you can look life straight in the eye and stride confidently into the future.