THE TALE OF THE THREE TAILS
The Relational Body
Nothing exists in isolation, at least not from what I can see when I look around me. Look around. Isn’t everything in relation to something else? Aren’t the stars in relation, one to the other? Isn’t that how we figure out where we are?
So too with our own bodies. We have a constellation within us. It is a moving constellation, just as the stars, though they look static, are not. The universe is expanding. All heavenly bodies are in motion.
Relationships within a human body are critical to creating harmony and order within us. But sometimes a somatic complex is created that, unless disentangled, prevents the constellation from expressing its original pattern. A persons’ somatic complex may or may not be in the same area as the persons’ dominant acquired center.
Let’s look at two somatic complexes, two relationships I have found that, when understood, not just intellectually, but kinesthetically, make a huge difference in helping to restore our original constellation.
There is the relationship of the head to the spine and the relationship of the pelvis to the hip joints, basically the relationships on both ends of the spine. In a strange sort of way, they are mirror reflections of one another. Imagine you were standing at the edge of a lake. Behind you and above you are tall pine trees, and high above them, white clouds. Below, in the lake’s reflection, everything would be upside down, the tops of the tall green pine trees and the white clouds would be far below you. And your own body would also be below you. You’d be looking down into your own eyes and your eyes below would be looking up at you.
So, when it comes to the relationship between your head and your pelvis, it is as if your head is above the water, and your pelvis is your head below the water. The waterline between the top of your head and the very bottom of your coccyx, would be around the top of your diaphragm.
As above, so below.
It is not quite like that in our body, but enough so for the body to suggest it. Certainly, we can agree that both the skull and the pelvis are sphere-like. And both the cervical spine and the lumbar spine curve in the same way and are neck-like, neck meaning a narrow place. Of course, the way in which the spine joins the skull and the way the spine joins the pelvis are radically different in design and function.
Both relationships, however, have pervasive influence over the entire body. When an undisturbed relationship is struck between the skull and the spine, the whole body begins to reintegrate. When an undisturbed relationship between the pelvis and the hip joints is struck, likewise, the whole body begins to reintegrate. And, when a synergistic rapport is struck between an undisturbed relationship of head/spine in relation to an undisturbed relationship of the pelvis/hip joints, the change within a person’s whole body and being is profoundly liberating.
So, let’s begin to look at them, not in too much detail, but in enough detail to trigger our curiosity. Let’s return to our caricatures of Ward and Pelligrini.
Welcome to my class. This is how I might explain the head/spine relationship to a group of beginners.
Okay. Let’s begin by understanding the relationship spatially, and not concern ourselves at this moment about its anatomy.
Tell me in very few words which way our gentleman’s head is going or what it is doing.
It’s going forward in space.
Good. Anything else?
It’s going down and bringing his body down with it.
Good. Anything else?
The back of his head is rotating back and scrunching the back of his neck.
Good. Anything else?
His chin and the tip of his nose are ever so slightly trying to go up, maybe so he can look straight ahead. Even his brow and eyebrows are going up. Sorry that is a lot of words.
Good. There you have it. His head is going forward, backwards, down and up. That might be a bit confusing for people. I wonder if there is some way to clarify this, to come up with a spatial construct so that everyone is on the same page.
Here is a spatial construct I learned from a good student of mine who knew about creating moving, three-dimensional image software for computers, images that zoom in and out, slide up and down, turn all around, and rotate in every direction.
He said to me, “Bruce, let’s create 3 axes. Given that I learned from you that our skull rests on our spine somewhere in the neighborhood of behind the nose and in between the ears, let’s place the intersection of our 3 axis there.”
“Let’s place one that goes through the front of the nose right through and out the back of the skull. What shall we call that?” “The depth axis,” I say. “Okay. Let’s put one through the ears. What shall we call that one?” “The horizontal axis,” I say. “Makes sense. And the last one? Where would that one go?” “It would go vertically through the top of the head, and intersect with the depth and horizontal axes, so I would call that one the vertical axis.” “Great,” my student says.
“Now,” my student continues, “let’s begin with the depth axis. If you had a ring around the depth axis and it could move, what are the two kinds of movements it could make?” “Well, if it was loose around the axis, I could slide it forward and back along the axis, and I could also roll it from left to right.” “Great. Explain to me what the ring could do on the vertical axis.” I have to think a bit here, but then I say, “Okay, it could slide the ring up and down, and the ring could also rotate left and right. Hmm…but on the depth axis if I roll the ring left and right is would be like I were saying maybe with my head. And if I roll the ring from left to right on the vertical axis it is as if I am saying no.” “Great. Now Bruce, on the horizontal?” “Let’s see, if I roll the ring on the horizontal axis, I’d be rolling it forward and backward, not left to right, and it would be as if my head were saying yes.” “Yes, that is correct,” my student says. “And what would your head do if you slid the ring along the horizontal axis?” “It would be like one of those Indian dancers moving their head toward one ear and then toward the other one.” “Good,” says my student who is now my teacher.
“Now, that is all you can really do between the three axes and the rings. But if you combine them you can get the figure in the computer to move anyway you want, and make it look like it is moving in three-dimensional space.” “Amazing,” I say.
I have learned most of what I know from my students. This piece of information was really important, and I have been using it ever since, for some 20 years, to help people to understand the relationship between their heads and spines.
So, let’s go back to our gentleman who, by the way, is John Arthur Roebuck, born in Madras in 1801, the fifth son of Ebenezer Roebuck. He was a civil servant in India and was a grandson of the inventor John Roebuck. The portrait is by Pelligrini.
Now, let’s analyze which way Ebenezer is moving his head in space. Tell me.
He’s definitely sliding his head forward in space.
On what axis?
The depth axis.
Okay. Say it in a sentence. First state the axis.
On the depth axis, he is sliding his head forward.
In that one sentence we have the axis, the action, the part of the body, and the direction. That is what we want, in that order.
Okay. Now, everyone, wait until I finish giving you the instruction. In the near future I want you to, very slowly and easily, without using any effort, and without tightening your neck, and letting it be very small and soft, on the depth axis, I want you to slide your head forward and backward. Allow your body to respond easily to that action, so that your whole body remains comfortable.
I watch every single person in the room. But I don’t correct anyone. I just take note.
What else is Ebenezer doing?
On the vertical axis, he is sliding his head down.
Great. Can everyone see that? Without yet aware of what they are doing, everyone rolls their heads forward and backwards on the horizontal axis, saying yes.
Now, everyone, wait until I finish giving you the instruction. In the near future I want you to, very slowly and easily, without using any effort, and without tightening your neck, and letting it be very small and soft, on the vertical axis, slide your head down and up. Let your body respond so you remain comfortable. When you slide up, don’t pull. Just allow your head to gently spring up or float up.
Don’t these movements feel familiar? Don’t we do them? Watch me.
Let’s say I am having a conversation with my friend. He says, “Bruce, yesterday I went parachuting for the first time. I actually jumped out of a plane. When I pulled the rip cord nothing happened. I totally freaked out. I thought I was going to die. The next thing I knew, my instructor was over me, like an angel. He pulled the cord and it opened. Just in time.
I say in disbelief, “REALLY?” And as I say this word, my head slides very far forward on the depth plane.
Then I say, as I cross my arms in front of my chest, leaning back while sliding my head back on the depth axis, slightly over-straightening my neck, and tucking my chin into my chest, expressing skepticism, “Is that true!”
I’m getting some laughs of recognition.
Okay. Watch this.
In New Mexico, I live way in the country, in the Jemez Mountains. I have to drive an hour and a half to get into Santa Fe where, once a week, I go shopping for food. I buy everything, get home and Yoshiko, my wife, asks me if I got the tofu and as I say, “Oh no, I forgot.” Feeling guilty, my head slides down on the vertical axis, my neck tightens, and my body goes down with it.
Now she asks, “Did you remember to go to the hardware store and get those batteries I wanted?” “Yes, I did,” I say, and my neck muscles immediately decompress, and with a small measure of pride and relief my head slides up on the vertical axis.
Okay. There is one more axis to go. Which axis have we not done?
The horizontal. Okay what is he doing on that axis?
On the horizontal axis, he is rotating his head backwards.
Perfect. That is what I see too. And I also see he is doing these three actions simultaneously, to varying degrees, with a particular amount of effort, producing a particular result. As he displaces his head in relation to his spine in this way, his whole body has to respond in an attempt to arrive at a counterbalance.
Do we all agree? Everyone nods yes.
Great. Now we are all on the same page, speaking in the same language.
Okay. Listen to these instructions first. Soon, I want everyone to begin by taking a soft, easy slump. When you do that, if you continue looking forward, notice how your head automatically wants to slide forward on the depth axis, slide down on the vertical, and roll back on the horizontal? Go ahead. Find out what happens.
I watch. People are really experimenting. Sensitively. Just what I want.
What did you notice? What did you sense?
It’s just like what you said. When I went into a slump my head just automatically slid forward, down, and rolled back.
Good. Actually, once you know the system, the axes are implied. You can only slide forward on the depth axis. You can only slide down on the vertical, and you can only roll back on the horizontal. So, if you use a shorthand and just say, slide forward, down and roll back.
Everyone is thinking and moving their heads around.
Okay. After you have listened to the instructions, while in your easy slump, you are going to, here are the magic words, the qualifiers, you are going to simultaneously, without any effort, slide back, slide up and roll forward, allowing your whole body to immediately follow. Give it a go.
Wow. That is amazing. My spine is automatically rising.
Did anyone else experience that?
Yes, it’s like I am growing or lengthening, all the way down into my pelvis.
Great. I am glad you said that. Let’s take a break. If you are interested in learning about the pelvis in relation to the hip joints, come back in twenty minutes.