KineOasis - Moving between Heaven and Earth

Moving between Heaven and Earth

The legacy of generations of explorers of movement belongs to everyone.

Moving between Heaven and Earth

The legacy of generations of explorers of movement belongs to everyone.

Decoding "secrets" for daily life application.

In our first SeniorFLOW class that began in 2024, we explored walking. As most of us know, walking is something we learned very early in our infancy, and then never forgot. 

Or did we…?

As children, our center of gravity is much “lower” than when we are fully grown. Our muscles also are “connected” as a whole, in other words muscle contraction can and does happen throughout the body, with tension equally distributed. Of course, as we grow up, we need to lose that in order to become more efficient at segmenting movements based on tasks.

What also changes as we grow is how our body alignment is influenced by increased mass and size, gravity, habits, and more. In time, our frame and movement adapt to the most common (and necessary) physical tasks. Thus, actions like walking, sitting, running, resting, etc. become engrained and automated into our lives - so much so that we become trapped and limited in our own kinetic efficiency.

Walking is a great example of how our movement is influenced and often dictated by our habits and even lifestyle. We simply walk, but if we look around we also see that almost everyone has their own walk. From body posture to pace, from fluidity to rigidity, from mindset to mindset, walking is universal to our species and yet highly specialized (specific) to each individual.

Let’s explore the universality of walking.

As one of the great teachers of movement that I ever met said, walking is falling forward. In a sense, the combination between our bodies, gravity, and muscle contraction creates a continuous falling forward + catching one’s balance + falling forward and so on. Indeed, most of us walking “normal” push ourselves forward with our legs and feet. However, that push makes us move forward while gravity keeps pulling us down. Therefore, as we push forward, we fall forward, and consequently (hopefully) we catch our balance with our next step. Thus, walking begins. This is universally valid for all humans, exception being cases where physical limitations are at play.

From this process, we begin to modify our walk into running, sliding, turning, climbing, etc., and all throughout we adapt and develop our balance - dynamically keeping us from falling.

Inside this process of forward falling (regardless of pace and speed), we generate and use various degrees of muscle tension in order to function. The quality and intensity of this muscle tension (inside our entire body) determines (1) how much energy we require and spend on the task of walking, (2) how efficient or inefficient we perform the task of walking, and (3) what degree of adaptability we have when it comes to changes in the overall process of walking (body changes, terrain changes, environmental changes).

Logic would lead us to the following thought: we want to walk as efficiently as possible, thus spending minimum energy regardless of where and why we’re walking. Evidently, since this entire process is about falling forward, by efficiency we also assume safety.

We want to fall forward as safely and efficiently as possible.

Once we establish the universality of this process, we can begin an exploration of all the parameters we can modify in order to reach the desired level of safety and efficiency.

This ranges from all sorts of methods and techniques on how to walk (and run) to shoe types and individual choices of eliminating challenges or not. (i.e. most people will avoid walking on ice if they can go around it; some people never go hiking; some will only jog on paved roads, etc.).

In this article I want to focus on a particular aspect of walking, a technique common to Martial Arts (but not only). Very likely you have come across the prompt to “walk upright” and to keep a straight vertical line in your body. Particularly in schools still having a PE program I would hope that kids are helped to understand the value of correct posture in walking.

While the instruction to walk tall is very vague and general, in Martial Arts we pay particular attention to details because posture, balance, and power are very relevant in our practice.

The list of details to keep track of in one's mind may be overwhelming until - through practice - it becomes “second nature.” To make things even more complicated, oftentimes in Martial Arts we encounter elusive and esoteric names and definitions, along with cryptic explanations. 

All this can lead to confusion, frustration, and definitely is not the way to invite efficiency. Teaching, hence learning, needs to be simple, clear, easy to apply. Then, the work (practice) begins.  

In Aikido, there is an expression that defines bodily posture. Some Aikido practitioners will argue that it means much more than that, but as I stated, I will seek the simplest path for me to explain it and the most efficient path for you to apply it. A similar process is also found in Yoga, where generally it only focuses on the pragmatic aspect of posture.

It is said that Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, stated that one cannot learn martial arts without standing on the Floating Bridge between Heaven and Earth.

For those interested in a complex and quite esoteric exploration of what the Floating Bridge means, I recommend this article. But for now, let’s seek the simplest and most pragmatic and applicable path to understanding it and how to apply it immediately, throughout daily life.

All things esoteric aside, let’s establish that Heaven is the Sky, and even more precisely - UPWARDS. Similarly, let’s establish that Earth is the Ground, and even more precisely - DOWNWARDS. Next, let’s establish that Floating is a combination of Awareness and Intention, while the Bridge is the connection, or more exactly the Dynamic Tension in the body, suspended via our Spine.

Structurally speaking, and with some equivalency in yoga, let’s establish that this framework refers to the top of one’s head and their feet, while the 2 legs of the bridge are the pelvis and the neck, specifically the lumbar (which we’ll see involved in the needed pelvic tilt) and cervical vertebrae. (see this article as reference about the Human Spine and this excellent video about the Pelvic Tilt)

The walking exercise we will explore is therefore a structural manipulation where we apply (suspend) specific actions to the pelvic and cervical areas in order to control (float) the overall dynamic tension in the entire body, from head to toes (Heaven and Earth)

Once we go through each step involved, you will find yourself Suspended on the Floating Bridge between Heaven and Earth.

IMPORTANT: First, please read the entire text before trying it out

Let’s begin. 

Goals: the purpose of this exercise is to explore and acquire additional structural efficiency (i.e. balance, coordination, adaptability, etc.) within the context of effort necessary to perform the task of walking in any of its variations (walking, running, dancing, drills, and basically any movement involving footwork).

Common Obstacles: (1) pre-existing conditions that limit a person’s ability to move or structural deficiencies (i.e. weak abdominal muscles, tight quadriceps, etc.) and (2) preconceived metaphysical ideas.

Who can benefit from it (in plain, pragmatic language): anyone who wants/needs to rediscover the ability to move with minimum effort and maximum efficiency - balance, agility, and power.

Prerequisite: Become familiar with what a pelvic tilt is and the terminology related to your spine (see above links included in the article).

Best Practice Tips: Less is better. Take your time to explore this process. Start very slowly with very little effort (strength) involved. Repeat and Pause often.

Possible Side-Effects: Those with chronic neck and/or lumbar issues might experience discomfort or soreness. It is very important to start very slowly and with minimal movement and effort. Remember, this is introspective work, not competition.

PART ONE:

How to find yourself suspended and floating on the bridge between heaven and earth in as little steps as possible.

Please note that it will take you some time to be able to identify every movement and change happening in your body and structure:

Step 1:

For the first time you try this, find a quiet space. After that, this can be done anywhere and anytime.

Step 2:

For the first time you try this, stand. After that, this can be accomplished in any position and any type of movement you can think of.

Step 3:

Very slowly, tuck your chin IN. The angle should be a diagonal line pointing upwards (a vector that starts at the tip of your chin and points towards the very back and base of your skull). This leads to a slight tilt+rise of the head and slight pull upwards of the spine. For the very first time, a millimeter is more than enough, almost just intentional.

🗹 Pay attention to the reply from the back and neck muscles. If you feel contraction (tension), you went way beyond one millimeter on that initial chin tuck.

Step 4:

Maintain the rise of the head from the previous step and using your lower abdominal muscles perform a slight posterior pelvic tilt.

🗹 At this point, your spine will be subjected to a slight decompression, and very likely your abdominal and back muscles will be more tense than usual.

Step 5:

Relax and return to your normal stance.

Step 6:

Repeat steps 1 through 5 paying attention to the tension in your body and what muscles respond to the combined movement that you are generating within your body.

Important Notes Before Continuing:

Tight lower back muscles, weak abdominal muscles, and stiff neck muscles will very likely be your most immediate obstacle. If your body responds with an increased level of tension to your movements, take a moment to observe Asimo’s stance. We will use the hips and legs to create inner space and reduce the tension in your body before going through steps 1-5 again. Please ignore Asimo’s upper body entirely and focus on the way the knees and hips work in tandem.

Asimo, the robot, stands in vertical balance.

People already trained in Martial Arts and Qigong will quickly identify this posture. From a non-Martial Arts perspective, once again, less is better.

🗹 Here is a video of Asimo. In it, you will see how the robot’s posture is using bent knees and a posteriorly titled position of the hips to achieve balance throughout walking, climbing stairs, etc: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JlRPICfnmhw

Should you find this process uncomfortable, one “trick” is to assume Asimo’s body stance before going through the six steps detailed above. To do so, all you need to do are the following:

  • Stand with your feet parallel or almost parallel, depending on your comfort. Keep the feet apart, shoulder width, but not more.

  • Lean your entire body forward just a millimeter or so, just enough to feel your balance shifting forward.

  • Very slowly and slightly bend your knees to bring your body back to a vertical position. You can confirm that you are balanced on that vertical axis by slowly leaning back and forward a few times; when you are balanced vertically you will feel your back and abdominal muscles relax, disengaging from having to work to keep you from falling forward or backward.

“Play” with Asimo’s stance a few minutes before going through steps 1 - 6. Notice the differences in your body’s tension. Consciously engage your awareness towards relaxing more and more with every movement you make.

PART TWO:

Applicability and Applications of floating on the bridge between heaven and earth.

Once you have explored and practiced everything in Part One, you should be able to accomplish a stance where your pelvis is in a slight posterior tilt and your head is very slightly tilted forward and upwards, effectively creating a sense that your spine is being stretched from these two points. Your knees should be also slightly bent in order to allow the spine to feel like it is decompressing.

At this point, your first application of this process is to explore relaxation. As you enter and maintain the stance of being suspended between heaven and earth, start by moving your arms a little, in every direction. Observe how the movement of your arms is INDEPENDENT of your balance. 

If you are properly “suspended” on the “bridge” then any other movement you will create will NOT affect your vertical balance. In other words, the two “legs of the bridge” will be engaged, but the bridge itself will “swing” relatively free without moving the legs of the bridge.

The more you practice, the more you will realize that by suspending your body between the pelvic and cervical points and through the tilts explained above, the rest of the body will begin to find “internal space” as it relaxes. 

DO NOT PROCEED any further until you fully experienced a sense of relaxation and space inside your body and between the top of your head and the base of your spine.

A quick note why this is relevant: 

When your spine is engaged through this process of suspension and the rest of your body begins to relax, you will begin to notice your ability to distribute effort anywhere you want throughout your body, thus being able to also direct power through your movements as needed.

From there on, being suspended between heaven and earth will become applicable to nearly anything you do. With practice, you will regain the ability to move freely, more confident, and with more power. As you explore how this process can be applied to daily life, you will begin to notice that you can stand or walk with more ease, lifting or carrying things will also feel less strenuous. Once your state or dynamic relaxation increases, so will your confidence in balancing your body through any kind of step, ranging from dance to hiking and more. The last stage of this process is the “floating” aspect.

I am sure that many people in Martial Arts will interpret “floating” in this context very differently, but as I stated in the beginning, my goal is to explore a concrete process in the context of pragmatic applications for daily life.

Once you suspend your body between heaven and earth, and your personal practice takes you closer and closer to a continuous state of dynamic relaxation, you will also tap into a really remarkable consequence of this process: you will become much more effective at controlling power in your movements. 

With practice - and by that I mean exploration and being curious about what else can you do while “suspended” - you will eventually realize that your entire body is engaged with power in a state of dynamic balance and relaxation. At that point, you will “float, suspended on the bridge between heaven and earth.”

Why does this matter, especially to non-Martial Arts practitioners?

This process is valid and available to any human, regardless of what they do in life. Nurses, Librarians, Teachers, Dancers, Drivers, Carpenters, young and old, everyone can benefit from less tension in their body, better balance, and more power. 

Martial Arts are nothing but methodologies to enhance human abilities and skills for fighting purposes. These same methodologies can be used to enhance human abilities and skills for all activities and purposes - gardening, farming, building, playing sports, performing arts, hard labor jobs, etc.

The legacy of generations of explorers of movement belongs to everyone. We simply need to decode and translate all esoteric language and exclusive means of transmission into an open portal of knowledge, made easily available and accessible to everyone.

Thoughts or Questions about the article? Join the conversation inside our private KineOasis Community

May the river of your life flow gently and strongly under the splendor of many Sunrises and Sunsets, and for many years to come.

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