Massage & Bodywork

MARCH | APRIL 2016

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102 m a s s a g e & b o d y w o r k m a r c h / a p r i l 2 0 1 6 technique MYOSKELETAL ALIGNMENT TECHNIQUES Leveling the Head and Tail Treating Neuromuscular Righting Reflexes By Erik Dalton, PhD The spinal cord is a direct extension of the brain, as both contain the same type of nerve and glial cells. And, although researchers have long dismissed René Descartes's hardwired central nervous system (CNS) model, the spinal cord, in some ways, still resembles a hardwired switchboard and cables (Image 1). As a cable, it connects the brain with the body's peripheral nerves, and, as a switchboard, it coordinates muscle movements and spinal reflexes under its direct control. Optimal positioning of the head, pelvis, and spinal cord enhances nerve impulses and reflexes traveling to and from the brain. By manually leveling the head on the neck and balancing the spinal column on a horizontal sacral base, Myoskeletal Alignment seeks to normalize electrical activity in these righting reflexes. In Image 2, notice how CNS righting reflexes from visual, vestibular, and somatosensory feedback work together to make instantaneous neuromuscular postural adjustments. 1 In his classic 1949 book Body and Mature Behavior, Moshe Feldenkrais offered this explanation of righting reflexes: "When the head has been righted and the body is held in a lateral position, the neck is twisted. The proprioceptive nerve organs in the neck muscles, joints, and tendons are stimulated and the thorax rights itself so as to untwist the head. The twist is now displaced to the lumbar joints, and the pelvis is righted as well by the proprioceptive stimulation arising from the lumbar region. We see here the neck and lumbar-righting reflexes acting so that the body stands properly and follows the movements of the head." 2 Clinically, it appears righting reflexes may trigger neck and pelvic muscle spasticity in an attempt to level the eyes against the horizon. Further, if the reflexive spasm alters ilium and sacrum alignment, the CNS may generate ascending syndrome compensations that spiral up the rib cage, shoulders, and neck, forcing further unleveling of the eyes. Images 3 and 4 show 1 2 The spinal cord as a hardwired switchboard to the brain. Adapted from Dreamstime. CNS righting reflexes make instantaneous neuromuscular postural adjustments. © erikdalton.com. a couple of my favorite iliosacral alignment techniques for leveling the sacral base and relieving reflexive muscle spasm. HEAD RIGHTING REFLEX (HRR) The head houses sensory organs (teleceptors) that connect us to the exterior world. When floating comfortably atop the spine, cranial teleceptors reflexively orient head placement using light, sound, and gravitational sensory information. However, our brains are often unable to make sense of visual input without movement. The eyes must constantly move for light to traverse across the retina, which allows the CNS to construct visual images by comparing adjoining structures in the environment. Teleceptor function is compromised when the head is persistently maintained in an abnormal position. As spastic neck and jaw muscles inflict whole-body reflexive movement constraints, CNS "noise" heightens the body's stress response.

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