by Dominika Borovansky Gaines
In the beginning there are Spinal Motions, the essence of GYROTONIC® exercise. In a healthy person, these movements are a beautiful way to awaken and prepare the physical and energetic bodies for more complex movements. However, we make a lot of assumptions when we expect that these seemingly simple movements can be performed easily.
Spinal motions involve very complex coordination between the visual system (eyes), the vestibular system (inner ear), the brain and the body. Many of us take for granted that we can lift our eyes, inhale, extend our spine and maintain our balance. Yes, we SHOULD be able to do this. Spinal extension is one of our primary developmental movements. But, if the visual or vestibular systems are compromised in any way, this basic movement may need to be regressed.
How do you know if there is compensation or compromise within your systems? Some examples of compensation might be closing the eyes to arch easily, raising the eyebrows in order to look upward, lifting the shoulders or holding the breath. While many of us like to close our eyes to “feel” the movement better, it’s very possible that there is a sensory mismatch between the visual and vestibular systems. Closing our eyes turns off the visual information and allows our vestibular system to better interpret the movement.
The eyes take in 70% of the information our body receives about the environment. (The remaining 30% is through ALL the other numerous sensory receptors, including proprioceptors.) Your eyes’ primary role as far as your brain is concerned is to create awareness of the space around you and scan it for signs of danger. We need our eyes to be able to move in all directions, to easily change from seeing an object near to one far, to follow moving objects. And while our current environments don’t require us to hunt and gather as we once did, the nervous system is still hard-wired to do these things. Blind spots, lack of peripheral vision, inability to see near or at a distance, inability to track moving objects, and having one eye more dominant can all lead to compensation elsewhere in the body.
Developmentally the eyes lead the spine into movement: up for extension, down for flexion, right and/or left for rotation. We likely all experience in our own bodies or see in our clients that the body prefers either flexion or extension, or prefers rotating to one side over the other. It’s possible that some of these preferences stem from the eyes not seeing or moving well in the ranges necessary for movement.
Many of us correct vision problems with glasses, contacts or surgery. Certainly this is necessary for our sense of safety and ability to function. However, like with any body part these solutions create a “cast,” fixing the range of motion at which the eye is seeing clearly and hence inhibiting the natural eye musculature adaptations which should be taking place. Add to that the prevalence of fluorescent and unnatural light, stationary or limited distance visual work we do through the use of handheld devices and computer screens, and the common forward head, and many of us have developed additional compensations within our primary survival mechanism. The eyes need movement variability to remain healthy just like the rest of our body. Fortunately it IS possible to retrain and strengthen the eye musculature.
Both Juliu Horvath’s GYROTONIC®Rejuvenation Course and the GYROTONIC®Breathing Intensive course, which is a shorter training, begin to address the eyes’ need for movement. Within these courses are several eye patterns practiced in a rhythmic way. Yet the length and complexity of the sequences—eye movement and breath combined with other movement and numerous repetitions–may be too much for someone with vision issues, vestibular issues or other nervous systems problems.
I’d like share with you a few simple eye exercises which may be helpful for correcting vision problems and assisting the brain to work more efficiently. I encourage you to begin practicing these skills yourself and become aware of the effect they have on your movement. Initially it may be best to only do each movement 3-6 times, as anything new involving the brain takes a lot of energy. Pay attention to how you feel after you do each skill. I also recommend that you “assess and re-assess”: choose a movement in which you might feel some discomfort (like a tighter rotation) and do it 2-3x, then do your eye skill and re-assess the movement. If you sense the movement has improved, note that eye skill as one to do several times a day.
These skills are best performed standing but may be regressed to seated or lying, with lying the least threatening to the nervous system. Use a pencil, pen, swizzle stick.
Pencil Push-Ups: Holding a pencil in one hand in front of your nose, focus on the tip and move the pencil closer and further. Do this 3-4 times. Your goal is to bring it as close as possible to the tip of your nose and stopping when the image blurs or splits in two. Our goal with this version of this exercise is to strengthen convergence. (This skill is important for reading.)
Smooth Pursuit: This skill is best performed in a series of 3-4 repetitions to each direction, pausing to asses and re-assess between each direction. Keeping your head still, move the pencil horizontally to the right and back to center. Repeat moving vertically, horizontally to the left, and down. Once you are comfortable with these, try diagonals: up and right, down and right, up and left, down and left. Notice which of these might be more challenging, i.e. the movement may become less smooth, your eyes might widen or your brows lift. (This is the ability to follow an object in in space without moving your head.)
Gaze Stabilization: Again keep the head still and move the pencil to one of the positions from above. While you keep the pencil in that place, fix your eyes and hold for 5 seconds, close your eyes for a rest and then repeat 2-3 times. Assess prior to the exercise, then re-assess. (This skill allows you to continue observing something in space without moving and builds positional stamina in the eye muscles.)
If any of these exercises makes you feel unwell, regress to sitting or lying, make the range smaller, hold the position for a shorter duration or do fewer repetitions. We are seeking the eye movements which have the most positive impact on your nervous system.
For my own teaching, I have developed several warm-up movement sequences integrating these skills while lying on the GYROTONIC® bench (or floor). The combination of eye movements, head movements and breath at a gentle speed activates more segments of the brain resulting in improved rotation, more reflexive core activation, easeful and more balanced breathing — in essence better coordination — leading to clearer and stronger movement on and off the GYROTONIC equipment.
I give eye exercises to many of my clients as homework and do them myself. All of my staff who regularly practice vision drills have seen an improvement in their corrective vision needs. This ultimately will result in less compensation and overall better movement which is the goal of all of our efforts in sharing the beautiful GYROTONIC Expansion System®.
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