The term ‘kinaesthesia’ was coined by HC Bastian (a biologist and one of the founders of neurology) in 1888 and refers to the awareness of the position and movement of the body and its parts. It’s the sense that tells you where your muscles and joints are, how they move, and what must move or adjust to maintain balance.
Unlike our other senses, which attract attention often, our sense of kinaesthesia goes unnoticed during our daily activities. Without it, we would not be able to move at all.
This lack of attention is the reason we allow ourselves to hunch over a desk, sit up unnaturally straight, or tense up our necks and shoulders. We are so busy with life, work – all the things that demand immediate attention – that we fail to notice the discomfort or even pain in our bodies.
Forcing our skeleton and muscles into these positions and movements and holding them for long periods can lead to:
- Stiff limbs
- Sore feet, knees, or back
- Stiff or sore necks
- Dizziness during long periods of standing
- Hands, wrists, arms or shoulders get sore from using a mouse or other tool
- Shortness of breath (when talking or walking)
- Feeling very tired or sluggish after sitting for long periods
Our sense of kinaesthesia can be dulled by what we believe about our bodies. We move in the way we think is right, sit and stand according to how we think our skeleton works.
Just a little information about the skeleton can make a big difference. Take a look at this picture:
Did you notice …
- That the neck is curved
- The spine is curved in an s-shape, not straight like a rod
- The spine is long, almost half the length of the whole body. It reaches from right up between the ears down to between the pelvic bones
- The size of the rib cage. It is made up of 24 ribs, 12 on each side. They are connected to the breastbone or sternum in the front.
If you place a ruler on top of the skeleton, you can draw a line that divides the body in half lengthwise. This is the “Core” of the body.
The skeleton is the framework for the entire body. If the skeleton is imbalanced somewhere, the rest of the body must compensate.
Ok, so how do I achieve good alignment and keep my skeleton balanced?
This is the fun part.
We are going to learn about 6 points of your skeleton to keep in mind when you move. If you practice being aware of these points and whether they are balanced or not, you’ll develop your overall kinaesthesia and be less likely to move or position yourself in ways that cause pain.
The operative word here is ‘practice’. You have to try this yourself. Nobody can do it for you. You simply have to get up and MOVE. While you learn about the 6 points, try to find them in your own body and test out the limits of each one. Ask yourself, “When does the position feel easy, as if no work is being done?” While you do this, remember that most of us have learned to ignore the tension and pain that poor alignment can cause. We want to become more aware of any tension or pain in our body so that we can correct any bad habits we might have developed.
The 6 points of alignment are:
- The A/O joint
- Lower Spine
- Hip Joints
- Arms & Shoulders
1. A/O joint
Where the head rests on top of the spine is the first, and most important place of balance.
Notice that the top of the spine is not at the back of the head.
This is a view of the bottom half of your skull from above. You can see that the top of the spine is right up between the ears.
The distance from the A/O joint to either the front of the skull or the back of the skull is nearly equal.
It is important to remember that your neck meets your head at this central place, not at the back of your head, or down near your jaw.
Now try to find your A/O joint yourself:
- Feel the bony structure along the back of your neck and notice where it meets the skull.
- Try pulling your head back and straightening/stiffening your neck to find one extreme. What do you feel?
- Now push it forward into a more collapsed posture. Finally, allow your head to float back to a point somewhere in between where there is less effort, the point of ‘no work’.
- Use a mirror for visual feedback. Be careful not to assume where balance is and force your head into that position. Use your kinaesthesia to find the most comfortable, effortless point of balance.
Knowing that this joint is up between the ears and positioning it correctly frees up our breathing and increases blood flow to and from the brain.
2. Lower Spine
The lower spine, or lumbar vertebrae, is the part of the spine between the rib cage and pelvis. Being off-balance in this area directly affects breathing.
Try it yourself:
- Lean forward and hunch over.
- Try the other extreme: stand up really straight, arch your back and push out your bottom. How does that feel?
- Put your weight on one side, then the other. Do you feel pressure on your lower spine when you do this?
- Move forward, back, and side to side, gradually making your movements in each direction smaller until you feel the point of ‘no work’.
- Think of sinking into your hips.
- Don’t stick out your stomach or your bottom, and don’t arch your lower back.
- Remember to keep your A/O joint balanced while you do this.
3. Hip joints
Our bodies divide in half horizontally where the legs join the pelvis.
Our weight is delivered along the front of the lower spine, down and out through the pelvic bones, and into these massive joints on the outside of the pelvis.
When our hips are not correctly balanced, our legs have to work extra hard to keep us upright. This is very tiring.
Get up and find your hip joints:
- Swing your legs, one at a time, to feel where they hinge at your hip joint.
- Experiment with forward and backward movements until you find your point of balance.
When sitting, our weight should be delivered through our sit-bones into the chair.
The knee joint is below and behind the kneecap. Our weight is delivered from our hips into our knees.
We have three possible positions for our knees:
If you are off balance in your lower spine, your knees will lock to keep you upright. Locked knees can make you feel dizzy or even nauseous when you stand for a long time. This is because locked knees restrict circulation.
Try the three different knee positions:
- First, bend your knees. Obviously you can’t hold this position for a long time, but notice how it feels.
- Now lock your knees, tightening them up as much as you can.
- Finally, find the middle point. Release your knees without bending them. Get used to the feeling of released knees by locking then releasing them.
Tip: When your knees are released, you are the same height but the muscles are not locked or tight. Look at yourself in a mirror and release your knees. If you see yourself growing shorter, you are bending your knees.
When you sit, keep your thighs parallel to the ground. This will keep your knees in a comfortable position – not too high or too low.
We may look at our feet and think that the weight from our body goes down the back of our leg and into our heel. But walking or standing as though this were true would send our body off balance backwards! Our weight is actually delivered down the front of our leg, into the ankle and to the top of the arch of our foot. Our feet act like tripods, with the weight being sent to the heel and outward to each side of the ball of the foot.
Time to take a seat and take off your shoes!
- Find the ‘tripod’ by feeling around the sole of your foot. Start at your heel and feel the strong bone structure there.
- Feel along the outside of your foot until you reach your pinky toe. You will find a small bony protrusion just behind the toe.
- Keep feeling towards the inside of your foot. You should feel another bony protrusion behind your big toe.
- Now place your foot on the ground and roll it around to find the same three points.
- Put some weight on the foot and experiment until it spreads evenly to each of the three points.
Your feet should be in line with your hipbones, not your shoulders. Your big toes should be parallel – no pigeon toes or duck feet! Keep your ankles relaxed. They act as ‘shock-absorbers’ that distribute your weight into the tripod of your foot while remaining released and mobile.
When you are sitting, try to keep your feet flat on the ground, in line with your hipbones and with your big toes parallel. To maintain the proper posture, it’s also best to avoid crossing your legs or slouching in the chair. If your chair is too high for your feet to be flat on the ground, try sitting on the edge of the chair. Another option is to sit right up against the back of the chair so that you are well supported. It doesn’t matter if your legs swing loose.
Keeping your feet in the right position might feel strange at first if you’re not used to standing or sitting this way, but remember that we are trying to undo any bad habits we’ve acquired and get into the new habit of standing, walking, and sitting correctly. With a bit of practice, you’ll get used to the feeling and reap the benefits of good alignment.
Our shoes have a big impact on our alignment. High heels are especially bad as they cause your knees to lock, your weight to be thrown forward onto the balls of your feet, your pelvis to tip backwards, your chest to be thrown forward, and your head to tilt back to balance the rest of your body!
6. Arms & Shoulders
If you roll your shoulders forward, the hunched position will compress your rib cage, which makes breathing difficult. Pulling your arms too far back causes your back to arch and led to the front.
- Let your arms hang naturally at your sides.
- Roll your shoulders forward and notice how it affects your balance.
- Pull your arms back so that your back arches. Are you able to maintain alignment in this position?
- Experiment with both extremes, reducing the movements until you find balance somewhere in the middle.
- Keep your upper arms straight next to your body and your shoulders centered and relaxed.
Let’s put it all together:
- Raise your arms above your head and slightly forward.
- Rise onto the balls of your feet. Find balance, thinking about all the points you’ve learned and feeling whether they are comfortable or not.
- Now, gently lower your heels to the floor, bending at the ankles. Ease your weight into the heels until you feel it spreading into the tripods of your feet.
- Check that your knees are released and your hip joints and lower back are properly aligned.
- Lower your arms, making sure that your shoulders and A/O joint are correctly positioned.
Doing this exercise every now and again will help you activate your kinaesthesia and become more aware of your balance. Try walking a few steps and stopping in correct alignment, so you can get into the habit. It helps to use a full-length mirror – but remember, you can’t check your alignment by looking into a mirror from the side, because this will cause you to twist and lose good alignment. Get used to the feeling of good alignment and what it looks like from the front. You can also get a friend or your spouse to look at you from the side and let you know if you are standing correctly.
What about when you’re sitting? Let’s review.
- First the A/O joint – remember it’s up between the ears.
- Now the lower spine – not arched or collapsed so that we hunch forward, but centered and relaxed.
- Sink into your hips, and feel your weight being delivered through the sit bones into the chair.
- Keep your thighs parallel to the ground so that your knees aren’t too high or too low.
- Your feet should be flat on the ground – remember not to cross your legs or slouch in the chair.
It takes time to develop good alignment, but if you work on it at every opportunity it will eventually become a habit. Notice any pain caused by poor alignment. Be conscious of your alignment when you are sitting at work, walking, standing, driving, or doing anything else. Keeping track of your sense of kinaesthesia can help you avoid a lot of unnecessary pain and discomfort.