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 Post subject: Breathing relaxedly in a crooked body
PostPosted: Fri Mar 29, 2013 9:50 am 
White Lady
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Joined: Wed Apr 06, 2005 4:18 pm
Posts: 13964
Location: Eriksbråten, Skotterud
Now, I have been writing so much about how complex biomechanics is for a long time, but also how important this is for a rider to understand. So let's show an example. A simple one. Very simplyfied. And see if you can follow it through. I will try to illustrate as well as I can, with just two pictures of myself standing straight up and down on the lawn. Or well, straight is perhaps not the right word:

This is me. When I relax. And no, I am not depressed or angry, even if it looks like it. And yes I was 50 years old when the picture was taken, but hey, look at this one:

What happened? Did I just become 20 years younger? Or more happy? Or did I just concentrate and change my posture? Instinctively we choose the latter picture as the more pleasing one. I look younger, kinder, less witch-like, and... healthier? Perhaps many of you will think that I look more relaxed in the latter one?

Let me tell you, in the lower picture, I was helped by Pelle to straighten up, we spent several minutes aligning all the parts of my body correctly, and it was so stressful and hard for both my muscles and my coordination that I could only hold the position for a very short while, and collapsed as soon as I moved one tiny centimeter. My body does not know how to move in the correct posture. And so I wish to mount a horse? With all the movement from the horse that will flick my frail body around? Get real...


Breathing is a very important part of living. You do it many times a minute through all your life, even when you sleep. Yes, it is self evident, but we never think of this. Breathing is a movement through your thorax because your lungs inflate and deflate. Everybody knows we breathe because of the movement of the diaphragma, but have you ever thought of what happens to the structure of the thorax every time you breathe? And how faulty breathing destroys your movement?

Some place inside your thorax is the muscle called the diaphragma. It pushes downwards every time you breathe, and allows the air to flow into your lungs, aided by the athmospheric pressure. Opposite, the diaphragma relaxes and presses the air out, by moving upwards again when relaxing. This is called belly breathing. As you can see from the picture, when I am standing straight and strong, my body is stable enough to allow for this belly breathing. If done correctly, the thorax expands and stabilizes evenly throughout the whole structure, with no broken points. This often (for me) feels like breathing into a strong support stocking that supports my whole upper body and helps me remain strong. People who are trained singers or have played an instrument often have learnt this well.

This is, for a broken body, very tiring. Because one must stabilize with muscles that are not so strong yet, against very strong and too stiff muscles. I will explain this in more detail below.

But first I want you to consider one thing. Have you been told when riding to just relax? Just sit down, relax, and breathe through your whole body?

OK, I will do that:

OK? Not right? But you told me to relax and breathe naturally? That's what I am doing?

In this picture I am sitting as I did for many, many years. I had horrible pains in my back every time I rode, and also when walking. I had to use crutches for long periods, especially after each child birth. So your instincts are right, this is NOT healthy. And I will not start writing about how this affects the back of the horse in a very detrimental way, it will take too long, so we must get back to that.

In this picture you may see that I am much more upright, I am trying to straighten up. Again, this posture is as much as I was able to stretch at that time, really using all my strength to straighten up. And still there are loads of errors to spot in it, and I was not able to keep this position once the horse moved. Let alone cantered...

And breathing? Well, it comes in gasps..

Breathing into a broken body.

We always hear about how you should breathe with your stomach. Or breathe deep down in your belly. As explained earlier, this is easy for a person who is able to stabilize her upper body correctly. The diaphragma just moves up and down, and there you go. All expansion in the chest goes down into the belly. But it is not possible to explain this to a person with a broken or crooked body in such a simple way. You can of course help this person to straighten up like in my ideal picture, and ask her to breathe, but the breathing will become very strained, and she will give up or think you are cruel or crazy. Because it feels like it is impossible to both breathe and straighten up.

First, we must understand the reasons why it is so difficult to straighten up. I mean, people with no posture problems just ask you to relax, so they must feel relaxed when they are straight. So why is it so tiring to stretch?

Again, we are using my crooked body as an example, but there are of course countless other individual problems a body can fall into. Everyone has different problems. But the principles are the same. It is the principle of muscles that are too stiff and muscles that are too lax. And joints that become blocked because of this.

Here are the problems that most likely are the original reasons for my crookedness. Even when I am as straight as I can, there is a marked broken point in the back chain at the point of the red arrow. We also know that there has been a blockage in the neck at the green arrow. I have all my life been afraid of breaking my neck and have always, since I was very little, got pains in my neck when moving fast.

In order to protect my neck, the muscles around the neck contract. They are constructed in such a way that they pull the head forwards when contracted. This prevents the neck vertebrae from provoking the block, and in a way "protects" the joint, but it makes the body try to prevent shock by flexing the neck in a very detrimental way every time the body moves. This is the reason for the very common "bobbing head" that we so ofte see in both riders and runners. This is NOT healthy, neither for the neck, the head, or the rest of the spine.

These muscles contract constantly and habitually for so long that they become permanently too short. The neck is fixed in this position, and the person is not able to stretch, because all the muscles around the neck are too short. Ordinary stretch exercises does not help, because it is not possible to isolate one or a few muscles to stretch. The head feels like it is tucked inside a turtle shell and locked there.


The front side of the shoulders tenses up, and brings the shoulders to the front. All the muscles on the front side of the upper thorax become too short. The muscles on the back side "give up" and become too long and weak. The person tries to stabilize the body with the neck muscles and the front of the shoulders.

The hip joint is deactivated. The original reasons for this can be many. Often the hip is deactivated because of our lifestyles, with much sitting, but here we may also suspect that the powerful hip joint extension is shut off to protect the blocked neck. The seat muscles (red circle) and the hamstrings (red line), which are meant to be our main propelling power supplies, are turned off and made passive. The front of the hip joint is blocked by stiff hip flexors that try to stabilize and do the whole carrying and propelling job.

The hip joint is really too complex to be treated as simply as this, and I have on purpose not mentioned muscle names, as it then gets way too complex, but I need to mention an important muscle, that often gets the martyr task of stabilizing the whole body. The iliopsoas, that connects the lower back through the whole pelvis to the thigh bone. This muscle alone, without stabilizing from all the other ones, will make the lower back horribly hollow and block the hips.

The hip joint is thus held in a passivised position, not being able to open more than this, and the body is trying to stabilize by stiffening in the muscles on the front of the hips and thighs. This stiffening and deactivation in the hip joint, means that the body needs to move by moving in another place, and the waist gets the troublesome role of wobbling us along:

All in all this makes a few "martyr" muscles take over for all stabilizing work. The other muscles are not allowed to work, and become weak and passive. It is obvious in this illustration that the muscles in these areas are not doing their stabilizing job.


And finally, the lower back just gives up. These poor muscles were never constructed to carry the whole body, to hold the pelvis upright and straighten the thorax. Often they get so over worked that they look like enormous cables, and still they cannot carry everything. So they become overworked, strained and injured. And we get painkillers. Instead of help to straighten up and get the posture and breathing right.

Oh yes, breathing..

Guess how the breathing goes in the crooked body? It escapes every place where the muscles does not stabilize. As long and the rib cage is not stable, the body cannot transfer power, cannot jump, run or ride with balance and precision. The diaphragma MUST be able to move straight downwards into the belly, like it can in this body:

In the beginning, this always feels difficult, tiring and like you become very stiff. It is because you are not accustomed to the correct way, so the body will try to get back to its old ways. Sadly, it will, every time you relax, and especially when you sleep.

The only way to get around the problem, is to stretch the muscles that are too short, and thus inhibit the correct posture and movement. But in order to manage to become straight and at the same time relaxed, you must manage to stretch ALL the muscles that are too short. This is of course a very difficult task, and the longer you have been inside this stiff turtle shell, the more time it will take, but it IS possible. And with all the new techinques that are being developed these days for mobilizing the body, it is absolutely a doable task.

If the time allows, we will get back to more acticles on this, and perhaps show some results. And this is the reason why we have started to include mobilizing of the body in our clinics.

Paradox is a pointer telling you to look beyond it. If paradoxes bother you, that betrays your deep desire for absolutes. The relativist treats a paradox merely as interesting, perhaps amusing or even, dreadful thought, educational.

Frank Herbert.

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