Nei Gong and health: stability

This is an older article of mine,  which seems worth reposting.

My aim of deconstructing and freeing the Nei Gong methods of deceptive vocabulary and abstract concepts, is to unveil the knowledge specific for health oriented movement training to ordinary people. I do not claim to be a master, just a dedicated practioner and a person with academic interest in health oriented sports and movement practices. The following article is one part of that effort.

Nei Gong and health: stability

The concept of stability – controlling the center of mass

In terms of exercise, ‘stability’ often refers to postural control, which attends to adjusting the body’s center of mass. In elderly persons, postural control can be severely afflicted by a decrease in the functionality of torso and leg axis. Consequently, this leads to a higher risk of falling due to a reduced ability of the body to react to sudden occurrences like tripping. Figure 1 illustrates three different approaches to shift the body’s weight while keeping one’s balance by controlling the center of mass. In A, we see a healthy man, shifting his weight forward over the balls of the foot without losing his balance. He stays within his limits of stability represented in the figure by the area of a cone. The lady in B is afflicted by physical constraints. Instead of shifting her body weight, she simply leans the torso forward without moving her center of mass. In C, the same lady attempts to lean backwards, but is forced to take a step back to increase her base of support and keep herself from falling over.

According to Karin Albrecht, a straight posture is ideal for stabilizing the body. In this position, the supporting joints are aligned neutrally and in accordance to their anatomical shape which enables them to counteract gravity in an economically optimized way.

Stability and body structure in the Internal Martial Arts – Nei Gong as stability training

The traditional Chinese Internal Martial Arts comprise six harmonies (Liu He) – three are considered ‘internal’ and three ‘external’. The three internal harmonies refer to some extent to abstract philosophical concepts and are of minor importance for stability training. The three external harmonies, however, refer to the structural integrity of shoulder/hip, elbows/knees and hands/feet respectively. Harmonising their interaction and integrating them into a smooth sequence of movements allows for an optimal deployment of gravitational forces. In practice, Nei Gong exercises not only improve the coordination between single elements within the leg axis or torso, but also the intermuscular coordination between leg axis and torso. Nei Gong like in the art Yi Quan comprises exercises of static (ZhanZhuang) as well as of dynamic character (Shili and Mocabu). The common theme of both kinds of exercises is trying to shift the body weight and the center of mass without exceeding one’s limit of stability. Forward shifting is conducted via the balls of the foot, in the same way as was shown in figure 1A. Similarly, backward shifting is also conducted via the balls of the foot and not by taking a step back as shown in figure 1C. At the end of the backwards movement, the body is stabilized by slightly bending the knees.

As Yi Quan belongs to the Martial Arts it aims at acting on an opponent. Being able to destabilize an opponent by manipulating his/her center of mass without losing one’s own balance is an essential skill within Yi Quan. To generate awareness for optimal structures and angles within the body and its parts, practitioners use mental images of balls or springs. The concepts of body structure and stability which are employed in Yi Quan also constitute the basic principles of Nei Gong training. Therefore, Nei Gong training can be considered as stability training in the sense as was described above.

Apart from improving control over the body’s center of mass, stability training with Nei Gong also seeks to meliorate the structure and movement of the spinal column. A „modern“, sedentary lifestyle makes us prone to back problems caused by muscular atrophy and leads to deficiencies in muscle activation and, consequently, to reduced mobility. Often, these factors are also responsible for idiopathic back pain, which is back pain without a specifically determinable cause. Nei Gong training seeks to strengthen the spinal column and the supporting muscular structures by concentrating on the coordination of head, pelvis, back and abdominals. In the static and dynamic exercises, the practitioner learns to observe muscular hyperactivation causing excessive tension, as well as muscular hypoactivation causing insufficient tension. Consequently, corrective action is taken by consciously relaxing tense and hyperactivated muscles and increasingly employing weak and hypoactivated muscles to restore a smooth sequence of movements.

The benefits of Nei Gong training

Nei Gong exercises are executed slowly, mindfully and over a longer period. They affect primarily muscle fibers of Type I, which are essential for posture and stability and tire more slowly than fibers of Type II. A low to moderate training intensity poses a major advantage of Nei Gong. This factor makes it especially suitable for overweight individuals or elderly persons, who benefit from stability training, but are, due to their constitution, not able to engage in core stability exercises of higher intensity (planks or suspension training).

References:

Albrecht, Karin (2006). Körperhaltung, Modernes Rückentraining. Stuttgart, Karl F. Haug Verlag.

Hamilton, C. (2012). Elf Fragen und Antworten rund um die motorische Kontrolle bei lumbaler Instabilität. Manuelle Therapie.

Horak, Fay (2006). Postural orientation and equilibrium: what do we need to know about neural control of balance to prevent falls?

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