This month on the Soul Sanctuary membership we are focusing on Stability from both a physical and mental standpoint. Our asana practices are always centered around balance, flexibility, mobility and stability. We work our muscles, Bandhas, chakras, breathing and mindset through various forms of movement which are all harnessed through our stability - the ability to maintain control of joint movement and co-ordinating our actions, in order to minimise the risk of injury.
We asked leading physiotherapist Joy, from The London Physio to talk to you more about stability. Read what Joy has to say below...
It goes without saying that strengthening your core muscles is at the heart of physical stability and balance. One sure way to enhance this is by being aware of your centre of gravity (CoG). Maintaining great posture throughout the day & whilst practising yoga or other forms of exercise is another.
Healthy bones & joints also play an important role – not just in how stable we feel but how long we can hold those static or dynamic positions for. Surrounding these key areas are important connective tissue such as ligaments and deep muscles. Within the joints themselves, we have very clever structures that help us do things like shock absorb and enhance proprioception (our perception/awareness of the body’s position in space).
Where it is not possible to consciously control every single structure in our body, we can certainly appreciate how important it is to keep as active and healthy as possible, so as to enhance your body’s natural ability to do what it does best.
One thing we can have control over, however, is repetition. We can start by forming good habits like practising yoga and strengthening our core stability muscles regularly. Contrary to popular belief, building a strong core does not involve doing 1,000 sit ups a day, and in fact, we’re not too concerned with superficial muscles like the 6-pack/abs muscle (rectus abdominus). Rather, we want to focus more on the deeper muscles. For example - Transversus abdominis – your body’s own internal corset, Multifidus – a super important stabiliser of the lumbar spine, your internal & external obliques, pelvic floor muscles and a few more.
The simplest way to think about stability is this: for movement to occur effectively, your muscles and tendons contract (shorten) to mobilise surrounding bones or joints. However, this movement can only occur because other muscles and tendons have created a stable base for it by working very hard to keep another part of your body still.
Other important muscles also play a vital role in stability, such as the glutes group and the diaphragm. Although the diaphragm is very well known for its ability to control breathing by creating negative pressure which draws air into the lungs, this unique dome shaped muscle is often not given enough credit for its role in postural stabilisation.
Also, despite the diaphragm being our primary breathing muscle, most people do not learn how to activate it properly. Breathing effectively using your diaphragm should involve taking a deep, slow breath and the feeling of your abdominal wall or rib cage expanding in all directions. This is different to belly breathing which only expands the abdomen forwards, or chest breathing which is rather shallow and involves expanding the chest upwards, using your intercostal muscles.
To truly be stable, we need to be truly present. Our brain, breathing technique, muscles, joints and everything that makes us who we are, in that moment, must all be at one. We must allow our physical state to truly be in sync with our mental and emotional being.
Throwing it back to the CoG, it takes a tiny bit of physics to understand why the law of gravity lies at the heart of stability. To understand this, start by considering what your centre of gravity really is. It’s the point, where you have the most concentration of the combined mass of the human body at any one time. As it is a hypothetical point, it also means your CoG can move as you do – and herein, lies the real magic. This, for me, is the beauty of yoga, not just as a practice but as a visual representation of how life itself can be.
Oftentimes, you find yourself with a stable, wide base of support where you have 2 feet on the floor, standing tall, content with yourself, your goals, work, friends, family & whatever else is important to you. But just as you get comfortable, with no warning, life decides to throw you from a warrior 2 into a warrior 3 pose. Suddenly, within seconds, you have to find your new CoG to avoid falling. You panic. Your breathing becomes shallow and fast. Whilst you’re trembling, you look around you and everyone else seems to have transitioned with grace but for you, it takes a few more seconds – which in real life can mean weeks, months or years.
Suddenly, everything clicks. You realise the stability you seek is really inside you and somehow, it’s just as easy to be as stable in both poses when you stop focusing on others. You develop some trust in yourself. You start to take deeper, slower breaths through your diaphragm. You feel every inch of the sole of your foot against the floor, you brace your pelvis and activate your core muscles as you gracefully extend your arms and body forwards into that warrior 3 like the queen that you are.
You may still be a little nervous of falling but this time, it feels different because you are with YOU. Everything that makes you, you is now connected and in sync. From the grip your toes make with the floor on your one standing leg, to the air that flows through your lungs and the tingling of excitement in your outstretched fingers and toes. It all feels connected because your mind is finally one with your body.
This may not sound like it has much to do with physiotherapy but it’s probably the one thing that defines who we are as humans. That lightbulb moment when we suddenly realise that regardless of what the world throws at us, it wouldn’t matter if we were doing a warrior 3 on gravel or quicksand, somehow, humans always have the ability to dig deep enough to find our stability.
CoG - “the most concentration of the combined mass” – now rethink this. Concentration being where you choose to focus your mind on and “mass” being a physical representation of weight.
I’d love to leave you with this. That our muscles, joints, thoughts and emotions all have memories and how we use them makes a huge difference to the success or failure of the next time. Be still more often, tell yourself you are stronger than yesterday, take deeper diaphragmatic breaths, train your core. Practise throwing your CoG off balance as many times as you can and regardless of how many times you fall, practise trusting that you’ll get back up again. I, of course, don’t mean this only in the yoga sense.
With everything happening in the world, now more than ever, we must practise creating that inner stable foundation for ourselves. Personally, I decided to go off social media for a couple of months. My soul was bleeding. I needed to process. I realised I couldn’t continue to help stabilise others if I was still trying to find my own & that I, once again, needed to put my own oxygen mask on so I can continue to help others.
The time off did me a world of good and it therefore brings me so much joy to join Cat in discussing something that not only rings true with me as a human, but also as a physiotherapist and an influencer.
What a fantastic idea from Cat and My Soul Sanctuary to think of Stability as a theme. As we enter into a second lock down in some parts of the world, I certainly can’t think of a more positive way to unite us all and remind us that what we truly seek is within us.
All my love, Joy x
For any enquiries, please email Joy: [email protected]