In my membership group yesterday, we began a discussion on biomechanics, and I was asked my opinion on some of the more well-known forms biomechanics training and teaching available to riders. Instead of launching into a critique, however, I thought it would be useful to highlight what I understand to be different about the form of biomechanics that I offer.
The subject of biomechanics is a vast and interesting one. In relation to the teachers mentioned in my group, I have dabbled in the respective fields that are mentioned, but not to the extent where I feel like I have any sort of authority to comment as the specifics of how those instructors or teachers present their work. I feel it would be like someone looking at what I teach briefly and then casting judgments based on those understandings. I would find that frustrating and perhaps a little insulting.
That said, many people plant their flag in the sand when it comes to this subject. If we have spent years honing our bodies in a particular direction, it’s a big deal to recognize that perhaps things can be done differently. The understandings of the body and brain are in such a process of evolution that one would expect some facets of our understanding around our body and position to be discarded and updated, but yet we hang on and are challenged to the point of defensiveness when other concepts are introduced- even before we perhaps understand them ourselves.
With that in mind, these are the underpinning principles of what I teach.
- WE HAVE A VERY CLEAR SEPARATION AND UNDERSTANDING OF THE ROLE OF THE CONSCIOUS AND UNCONSCIOUS BRAIN
We understand that the autonomic nervous system, and specifically the reticular activating system oversees our motor responses, and consequently, the structure of our body at any one moment in time.
Where our structure reflects parasympathetic or unconscious processes is based on the answer to the question:
Are we safe?
The unconscious brain decides this based on sensory input.
When we have been living more in our sympathetic system than not, our sensory nervous system goes offline, and consequently, our structure and biomechanics are reflective of the sympathetic.
Our work here is about rehabituating the sensory nervous system so that we are more adaptable and responsive, and our body can exist in a structural mode that does not compromise one part of the system over another.
Many traditional biomechanics programs pay rudimentary attention to the nervous system but only to the extent of “if you are nervous, you grab with the reins/ close your front body/ round your shoulders”. In other words, they identify the fight/flight reactions, but the response is to remedy this by manipulating the tube of the body (ie. Conscious postural correction or otherwise), which leads me to the next point…
- WE DO NOT CONSIDER IT THE ROLE OF THE CONSCIOUS BRAIN TO CONTROL THE BODY
This is perhaps the most fundamental difference.
Instead, I understand the role of the conscious brain to be:
– Decision making (creating the intention map for the movement)
– Action taking (taking the action without controlling how the action is taken)
– Observation (sensory feedback)
Its role is not to control HOW that action is taken. Instead, the unconscious brain makes constant assessments based on how far the action we took existed from our intention, and seeks to make the motor pattern more efficient and proficient with every future action we take.
For some, this will be a point of liberation and for some, they want to stay with the conscious control model. This work is not going to be for everyone if for nothing else in that… it’s all on you. It’s not a quick fix.
I haven’t found many (any!) forms of riding instruction that does not involve some form of conscious manipulation. From the point of view of this program, to consciously manipulate the outer form of the body only results in a change in outer appearance, and not inner mechanics. If it hasn’t been the decision of the brain to change how the body is arranged, then changing the body forcibly will only result in continued compromise and compression of the structure.
If conscious manipulation and change of the structure created true harmony and wellness, then the overall affect should be more harmony and wellness- in and out of the saddle. Your mental outlook, ease of movement and general wellbeing should be improved, and yet we rarely see these correlations.
- WE CONSIDER AND UNDERSTAND THE DIFFERENCE IN HOW THE BODY EXPRESSES STRUCTURALLY BETWEEN THE PARASYMPATHETIC AND SYMPATHETIC NERVOUS SYSTEM
There is little to no mainstream understanding of the structural changes that occur in the body between sympathetic and parasympathetic.
The majority of the population is so sympathetically dominant that we have normalized this as the way of being. Without this understanding, the only thing we can offer is to take how the body is presenting from an aesthetic point of view and correct it from the perspective of outer appearance.
What I hope to offer here is the understanding that there is a whole range of possibility for our structure and position that sits outside the normal paradigm and to my mind this holds the key to a greater sense of harmony and wellness.
- WE DON’T CONFORM TO ANY AESTHETIC RULES
The main ethos of what I teach from the point of view of biomechanics is that the best position you can take is the one that harmonises with your horse. This is also formulated from the understanding that if we have a fixed outcome or goal as a result of taking an action, we eliminate all possibilities for the brain to learn.
- WE ARE HOLISTIC IN OUR FOCUS
We are interested in the interrelationship of all parts of the body in movement, as opposed to just muscles and bones. For instance, fascia and organs are rarely mentioned in many circles and yet are foundational considerations.
I hope that goes some way to clarifying. More than happy to answer any questions or continue on with the conversation.
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