For centuries, in the Mountains of China, Taoist Monks achieved great health by working with and maintaining a healthy spine and posture. Along with a healthy diet and exercise, they became legendary for their longevity and martial arts ability by displaying amazing balance and power that can, at least in part, be attributed to a term known as "tensegrity".
Buckminster Fuller coined the term in the late 1940's while developing his work on the Geodesic Dome. The dome works by connecting and balancing the tension and compression between its components as opposed to a structure that is built on the theory of stacking the components on top of each other, causing a majority of the weight to be supported by the bottom of the structure.
Your body can function both ways, but which would you prefer? Lumping all the weight on certain joints or distributing it across the entire structure?
As a tensegrity structure, your body keeps the spinal cord healthy and allows the entire system to work efficiently.
Tensegrity is natural from birth.
A baby does not have fully developed muscles. Yet, most people know what its like to put a finger in a baby's hand. The baby's hand begins to tighten around the finger. There is force there but not a brute, locking force. Instead, it is a force caused by the movement of muscles and other soft tissue (tensile component), which is anchored into the bones of the hand (compressive component). This results in the whole hand tightening around the finger.
As the baby gets older, the muscles and skeletal system begin working in conjunction more efficiently. The tensile actions of the body move upward, downward, side to side, and all around. The whole structure gets stronger and stronger: walking, running, lifting objects, and graduating into more advanced movement such as athletics. With this constant pushing and pulling, the internal body is massaged. For example, the large intestines, the kidneys, the liver, the bladder, and all the fascia and soft tissue surrounding the internal organs get exercised through simple movement. If one is lucky, tensegrity will be the ruling principle of movement throughout life. Then bodily functions, especially digestion and elimination, work to optimal potential.
Why do our bodies move away from tensegrity?
Unfortunately, there are many obstacles to maintaining this tensegrity. The resulting denaturing of our bodies moves us towards stacking. As a result, the legs and lower back are not only responsible for bearing most of the body's weight but also must keep the torso from tipping over the hips. The hips and lower back become stronger at first, but the lower abdominals in the front of the body become weaker from lack of use. Over time, the area from the belly button, through the middle of the body, to the spine, and down to the pelvic floor becomes overused and tight.
This can have a direct effect on the colon and elimination. With the area becoming tight, the colon moves less and less. The muscular contractions of the colon become weaker because they have a strong reliance on being exercised by the movement of the lower abdomen, hips, and legs. If there are problems with elimination, it is inevitable that there will be problems with the absorption of the nutrients we consume. So, what do we do?
The answer is to get back to functioning like a baby. Employ the natural tensegrity that the human body is blessed with. Use the tensegrity that eventually pushed and pulled you up onto your own two feet as an infant. The core strength through the legs and up through the abdominals (especially the lower abdominals) must be cultivated and nurtured. Master John Bracy, founder of Chi-Arts.com and the Hsing-Chen school of Martial Arts, has developed a simple method of learning and cultivating one's own tensegrity. It is called Block Training.
Practice this Taoist standing exercise for only 5 minutes each day to strengthen new muscles, realign your body, and promote healthy digestion!
- Simply obtain a cinder block or a piece of wood approximately 6 inches thick. It does not have to be exactly 6 inches; it just has to be noticeably higher than the ground on which you stand and large enough for both feet to stand shoulder's width apart.
- Step up on the block and make sure your feet are facing straight ahead by checking that your 2nd toe (the toe after the big toe) is facing straight. Let your shoulders relax.
- Do a quick check of your body's alignment, making sure that your ears are over your shoulders, shoulders over hips, and hips over the ankles. Knees should not be locked, rather barely bent. Keep the weight from resting on your heels.
- Relax your jaw with teeth touching but not clenched. Place the tip of the tongue to the roof of the mouth.
- Pick a spot in the distance, or on the wall, or you can light a candle approximately 6 feet in front of you across the room and focus on that spot. It can be pleasant to do this when you have a nice view.
I recommend standing for about 5-10 minutes a day to begin with, and increase the time as you see fit. At first, it may seem as if you are not working that hard, but you are. This exercise employs muscles that are NOTaccustomed to being utilized all the time. It is not uncommon to have shaky legs while standing on the block and also when you step down. It is also not uncommon to have sore muscles the next day. You are training core internal muscles that typically get denatured through our everyday modern lifestyles. One of the few body types that appear to escape this denaturing is the surfer body, as they constantly challenge these muscles while riding the waves.
Block Training is simple and easy to practice daily. It causes the practitioner to attend to his/her balance and helps avert the tendency to stress the lower back, and eventually the rest of the body, which can lead to the loss of tensegrity. It will strengthen the legs in conjunction with the use of the hip and abdominal muscles, while improving balance and systematically releasing tension throughout the body.
By Tony Costa, 4th Degree Black Belt BaguaZhang
WHAT TO REMEMBER MOST ABOUT THIS ARTICLE:
Tensegrity is the ability we are all born with to align and balance our weight as we support the functions of our body. However, it is often common for our bodies to move away from tensegrity so that our lower back and legs begin to bear most of our body's weight, causing the abdominals to automatically become weaker due to neglect. This imbalance can cause serious issues in digestion and elimination since the colon will begin to move less and less efficiently. The solution can be found in daily practicing a Taoist standing exercise, called Block Training, which will bring your body back into the alignment you had when you were a baby. Not only is this exercise simple, but it effectively strengthens and balances the body to reduce overall tension and aid in digestion!
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