By Dominika Borovansky Gaines, GYROTONIC® Specialized Master Trainer
This month I am celebrating 10 years as a GYROTONIC Specialized Master Trainer. Teaching this work has been and continues to be a very fulfilling experience. I truly enjoy sharing the system and, in particular, I love the opportunity to assist someone in finding ways to move their body with more ease and fluidity. This means that I am continually seeking and learning, not only through my own GYROTONIC experience but also by studying other movement forms.
Several years ago I discovered the work of Katy Bowman, founder of Nutritious Movement™. Katy is a biomechanist who began her work focusing on women’s pelvic health. Over time she expanded her mission, as it became more evident to her that wellness is a whole body event and that all genders have similar issues and problems of dis-ease. The basis of this work is a series of 50 corrective exercises, collectively known as Restorative Exercise (REx), which focuses on skeletal alignment markers, their relationship to gravity, and how both internal and external forces affect and change the positioning of these markers.
Studying REx increased my understanding of cellular health, cardiovascular health, and our bony structure, and gave me new perspective on alignment. This has had a very positive effect on my experience of the GYROTONIC® Principles. I have become clearer in my understanding of the relationship of the diaphragm to the pelvis, on Narrowing and Suppling, the bony rhythms of the shoulders and more. Through giving me such a distinct biomechanical viewpoint, REx has illuminated the intuitive brilliance of the GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM®.
Here I have outlined two RE principles from which I have found great benefit both personally and as an educator.
Lower Ribs Over ASIS
Rib thrusting and vertebral shear are two commonly overlooked alignment markers when assessing core function. Stacking the lower front ribs back over the ASIS places your diaphragm in the same vertical plane as your pelvic floor. With the ribs and pelvis stacked, the reflexive core is enabled. There is no need for bracing the abdominals for normal function, which is important for reducing intrabdominal pressure. Shifting the ribs back also improves breathing by allowing more air into the lower lobes of the lungs. (I understand that making this shift makes evident our well-masked hyperkyphosis, which may well be another blog topic!)
Arch and Curl, otherwise known as spinal flexion and extension, are fundamental movements of the GYROTONIC Spinal Motion series. Many of us, myself included, have a tendency to displace a segment of the spine–whether the cervical, thoracic and/or lumbar spine–rather than finding a “balanced arch,” which is a result of stiffness in these segments. Overextending the thoraco-lumbar junction, the lumbar area or cervical vertebra is often a reflection of a lack of mobility in the upper thoracic spine. In order to create the appearance of an Arch, we allow the lower ribs to spread and rotate upward, shearing the spine forward (Fig 1). When we do this, we place direct pressure on the vertebral bodies and discs in this area.
The hands-on cueing for Arch and Curl guides the body into elongation. We traction the cervical spine to assist length in Arch (Fig 2) and in Curl specifically draw the lower ribs back over the pelvis (Fig 3). If a connection of the ribs to the pelvis is maintained in the Arch, we create an eccentric lengthening of the Rectus Abdominus and Linea Alba, and a narrowing between the Semilunaris is achieved. This narrowing (called Poisson’s Effect in biomechanics) creates much more vertical support for the vertebra and begins to increase the potential for Suppling.
In order to make true and lasting change, we need to incorporate alignment markers into our daily movement habits. There is no question that practicing GYROTONIC an hour or two a day will change your body, but how you use your body all the other hours of the day has a much greater impact on your overall alignment.
The movement which has most helped me to bring my lower ribs back, changed my thoracic mobility, allowed my reflexive core to be more effective and, best of all, reduced my stress level is the passive Psoas Release.
Psoas Release, NOT Stretch
You’re likely aware of the role the psoas muscle plays in posture and how long periods of sitting, standing asymmetrically, carrying loads on one side, wearing high heels, etc. can cause the muscle to shorten. The most common cure is to stretch the muscle out. Without a doubt, stretching in seated or kneeling lunges (such as in GYROKINESIS® class) and Hamstring Series on the Pulley Tower feels wonderful.
Yet to truly change the length of a muscle it needs to be changed in its RESTING length. By this I mean that it will be better to work on changing its length when the muscle is at rest and thereby increasing its resting length.
Because muscles are elastic, putting a stretch on them when loaded will cause the fibers to lengthen temporarily. But because the postural muscles of our bodies, such as our psoas, are deeply innervated by our nervous system, this can be a lifelong battle. (This is a part of the psoas muscle’s role in fight/flight/still.) In essence, you are asking the muscle to change its length–in this case elongate–while your nervous system and brain perceives that you need it at its current length (short, tight, one side longer than the other) to function.
Which is why the REx Psoas Release works. It is a resting exercise. Taking the time to place the body in a supported position and breathing naturally, the psoas relaxes and lengthens. The Quadratus Lumborum and the thoracolumbar fascia are given the space to lengthen as the back ribs fall downward, which also allows the front ribs to relax. As the front ribs release down toward the pelvis, the thorax is aligned in a (relative) vertical place and the psoas lengthens from its origin at the crura of the diaphragm, along its attachments on the lower thoracic and lumbar spine and all the way down to its proximal attachment at the lesser trochanter.
Again, this is the length we seek when we cue with hands on the lower ribs and around the inner ilium. It’s the position we encourage when teaching Simple Twist and Pull Leaning Back and again in all of the Cradle position work. And finally as we seek Upper Body Openings, we cue to drop the ribs down to stretch fascially the deep front line and engage the reflexive core to bring the arms forward.
I use the Psoas Release as an opportunity for my body to unwind physically and mentally. I have found this to be a wonderful position to rest in at the end of my day. I encourage clients to practice this as well. Unwinding the body at night creates the opportunity for better rest and deeper sleep. The best part? I have consistently better core function and increased thoracic mobility.
Questions? Comments? There is a lot that I have left unsaid here and I would be happy to answer your questions. Experiment and let me know how it goes!
Dominika is available to travel for GYROTONIC Level I Updates and her next will take place in late spring in Templeton CA. Interested in beginning your GYROTONIC or GYROKINESIS journey? Dominika is a Pre-Trainer in both systems, as well as a GYROTONIC Specialized Master Trainer.
GYROTONIC, GYROKINESIS and the GYROTONIC EXPANSION SYSTEM are registered trademarks of the Gyrotonic Sales Corp. and used with permission.