Monthly Archives: Jun 2016

The Use of the Pelvis; Lifting the Knee

In both in taiji and in qigong there is often the need to raise the knee, either to kick, or perhaps as an exercise for the pelvis, or perhaps just to take a step.
As in raising your arm efficiently, there is a similar method with the leg.

What happens inside you when you lift your knee?
There are several muscles involved in lifting the leg.  If all you want to know is which are the main muscles used to do the job, then they are:

  • The Rectus Femoris
  • The Iliacus
  • The Iliopsoas

For the purpose of this Blog (because it relates to the previous Blog), the only one I am interested in is the last of the three – the Iliopsoas, often referred to as the ‘psoas’.

The nature of all muscles.Muscle mechanics 1
When at rest, a muscle is a flexible piece of ‘elastic’ connecting two fixed points (in red).  The elastic is neither taut nor floppy – a state of ‘relaxed tension’.
Muscle mechanics 2When operated by the nervous system, the elastic can either contract (shorten) or relax further (lengthen). Contraction brings the ends of the muscle together (the fixed points at the ends are pulled together – these are know as the ‘attachments’); relaxation allows the supports (attachments) to move away from each other.

Psoas & Iliacus 3The psoasPsoas & Iliacus 2
This muscle connects the small of your back (the lumbars – the lower part of the ‘S’ bend of your back), and the inside of the thigh bone (the femur).

Lifting your knee.
The act of lifting your knee is a contraction.  The supports (attachments) at either end are trying to pull together… but you don’t want both of them to move.
Crane leg lift 2What you want is the upper support to stay firm, so that the tightening/shrinking muscle pulls the lower support (which is attached to the leg) upwards.
You don’t want your lower spine to be pulled forwards (towards the abdomen); if this happens, you are in effect collapsing one of the main supports. The incorrect use of this muscle is not unlike tying a hammock to an 80 year old oak tree on one side (in this case the leg), and a 2 year old willow on the other (the spine); the willow will bend, providing no support on that side.
And practically?
When you sit down, your knee lifts towards your chest… or to be more precise, you take your chest towards your knees.
So, what happened to the small of your back when you sat down; and what did you do with your pelvis? After all, you never sit down with your bottom sticking out; if you did you’d jar your spine.
When you sat down, you unconsciously straightened out your lower spine, which had the effect of making you tuck your pelvis/bottom under.
So, when you want to lift the knee or raise your leg up in front of you, try gently pushing the lower spine backwards.  This will have the effect of automatically straightening the ‘S’ bend in your lower back, whilst simultaneously causing your pelvis to ‘tuck under’.

Give up those high heels when doing tai chi and qigong.
Wearing very high heels, which throw the pelvis and bottom backwards, will make it more difficult (if not impossible) to lift the knee high.
I must give them up…

Advertisements

‘Sucking & Tucking’

Pelvic tilt, and ‘Sucking & Tucking’
How do you get your pelvis to tilt?Pelvic tilt 4
I’ve found that for most people, it’s very difficult to move the pelvis (other than
turning it to left or right!). It would appear to be the hardest part of the body for many to feel, and I’m fairly sure that for the majority, not only are its contents a mystery, but also where and how the legs connect to it!

When trying to describe it, the concept of the ‘pelvic tilt’ works for some, for others the idea of ‘sucking & tucking’ is useful, and for other people, the exercise below, combined with ‘sucking & tucking’, might work even better.

Try the following…

  • Put the knuckles of one hand on the small of your back.
  • By flexing your spine beneath your knuckles, see if you can push your knuckles backwards. [You can let your knees bend a little if necessary, but your body shouldn’t lean backwards].  To do this you are doing a ‘posterior pelvic tilt’ – see above.

The point of this is explained below.

What happens inside?
At the place where you have just placed your knuckles, the spine has an inward bend, part of the ‘S’ bend.
By straightening this bend (the lower part of the ‘S’ bend), the spine actually lengthens slightly; although the top of the spine doesn’t move, the portion below the ‘S’ does – it pushes down, pushing down on the pelvic bone to which it’s attached.

Pelvic tilt 1‘Tucking’.
If you take a round-bottomed bowl and push down on one side of it, the other side obviously rises by an equivalent amount.
Pushing the lumbar vertebrae gently backwards pushes the back of your pelvis downwards, because the ‘S’ bend in the lower spine straightens.  This is the ‘tucking’ aspect.
If the back of the pelvis drops, the front must rise – just as it does with the bowl.Pelvic tilt 2

‘Sucking’.
However, in both tai chi and qigong, you always need to balance front and back, so it isn’t enough to work only the back, you need to work the front simultaneously.
This is where the ‘sucking’ comes in.  You need to lift the front of the pelvis upwards, and you do this by lifting the pubic bone.Pelvic tilt 1

Why bother?
Because without using this part of your body in every movement, tai chi and qigong stop being what they are and become external movement only … arms and legs slowly flurrying about without the central motor doing any driving.
The two arts become “a tale, Told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, Signifying nothing.”