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The Body's Yin and Yang

Updated: May 25

This symbol, this philosophy, has always been a grounding point for me. I'm sure I wasn't the only middle school kid that owned some kind of jewelry with the Yin and Yang symbol on it. As an adult, I have a t-shirt to whip out when I need the reminder. Yin and Yang originates from Chinese philosophy and it means opposing forces exist in harmony. For me, when poo hits the fan, I think about this concept and remember there is still beauty and joy that exists at the same time. It's not to ignore the difficult feelings or turn a cheek to the hard stuff; it's to look through a broader scope. It reminds of "Yes, and...", an improv theater concept a patient taught me recently (thanks, LM!). This balance and harmony relates to our bodies and minds as well. I wanted to share those ideas with you.

Our bodies are designed to work in synergy. When there is balance, there is harmony. Anterior with posterior, medial with lateral, superior with inferior, and deep with superficial. These areas are connected through fascia, nerves, lymph vessels, and blood vessels. When one area is overworked the opposing area is underworked. Even our autonomic nervous system needs balance, the sympathetic with the parasympathetic.

Dr. Vladimir Janda introduced two commonly observed patterns that reflect muscle imbalances called the Upper and Lower Crossed Body Syndrome.

For the upper body, it looks like a forward head and shoulders posture. According to Janda, it means the following:

  • These muscles are inhibited, which means they don't work very well, and are lengthened or overstretched:

    • The deep cervical flexors: "the core" of the neck

    • Lower trapezius: muscle in the back that help bring the scapula down and back

    • Serratus anterior: the "claw" looking muscle along the sides of our ribs that help with shoulder girdle stability

  • These muscles are overworked and are shortened:

    • Upper trapezius and the levator scapula: muscles at the top of the shoulders that elevate or shrug

    • Sternocleidomastoid: muscle in the front of the neck that looks like a "v" (the vagus nerves run right in front of this muscle!)

    • Pectoralis: chest muscle

For the lower body, it looks like a pelvis that is rotated anteriorly with the low back too extended or arched. Belly out, booty up! According to Janda, it means the following:

  • These muscles are inhibited and lengthened:

    • Abdominals

    • All the glutes

  • These muscles are overworked and shortened:

    • Rectus femoris: one of the quadricep muscles that also goes in front of the hip joint

    • Iliopsoas: "hip flexor" muscle that is attached to your lumbar spine and the top of the femur

    • Thoraco-lumbar extensors: the muscles that go along the spine and bend it backwards

With these common findings in mind, the idea would be to stretch the shortened/overworked areas while you strengthen the lengthened/underworked areas.

Now... I make sure to say "according to Janda" because in actuality, it can get a little more complicated than this. Other factors that can lead to posture or movement pattern changes are past traumas (surgeries, illnesses, injuries, physical and emotional) and visceral adhesions.

Dr. Dan Segiel describes a similar concept of issues that arise when there is an imbalance in the brain. His book, Mindsight, is one of my favorites! Although recently, I've gotten into his literature about children, including The Whole-Brain Child. In this book, he explains left brain vs. right brain and superior area of the brain vs. the inferior area. The goal is to have an integrated brain that uses all of its areas. When we are heavily involved in one area of our brain, we might be too cognitive and ignore emotions and body signals or too emotional and ignore logic, for example.

In the mind-body connection, we can be too in our heads and ignore signals from our bodies until they are screaming at us (pain!). These folks do well with the body scan exercise, where you mindfully take notice of all areas of your body, and meditation. Or we can be too attentive to our bodies and become very anxious, paranoid, and scared of what we are experiencing or feeling. These folks do well with Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) to develop logical skills. Do you see how one size does not fit all? We are much more interesting than a cookie cutter treatment plan!

Remember Yin and Yang when you think about the world, your life, or your body. What can you do to nurture more balance and harmony?


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