There seems to be two ways of thinking about structural integrity:
- motionless (standing still)
- in motion.
Really, I consider them to be one. Motionlessness isn’t really possible except maybe approximately (cells vibrate) while holding the breath and the heartbeat. In fact, trying to maintain structural integrity and motionlessness amounts to seemingly contradictory effort. Motionlessness robs the intention of the regulating inputs needed to bring it about. In that sense, motionless integrity is only approachable as a limit. A crystallized summum bonum.
Structural integrity in motion can be looked at from at least these two perspectives:
- in the vacuum of physical forces
- in the context of the person’s values and choices
Let us consider the way we pick up our child. The idea of structural integrity in lifting relatively heavy objects is pretty clear. What we want to do is lift in such a way that the resistance to doing so is distributed equally throughout the body. We don’t want, for example, a style of bending over at the hips and lifting by tightening the muscles of the back and hamstrings because this just focuses the weight in our lower backs, creating shearing forces that can cause ‘slipped discs’. Rather, we could bend with our legs, keeping our back upright, and then stand again using our legs to lift the weight. Or et cetera.
But what does all that have to do with our relationship with our child? Nothing almost everyone would say. It’s a description in the vacuum of physical forces. I differ. I think the way in which we do things reveals our relationship to those things, or the category we’ve lumped those things into at the moment (everything shifts over time, sometimes in patterned, seasonal ways, sometimes moment by moment).
The way that I see it, our motions are animated by purposes. But the way we express those purposes are colored by attitudes. These attitudes decorate our motions. Both can be pieced out, like dimensions of a sound. I used the example of picking up our child because it is a pregnant image. ‘Child’ can be anything we value and ‘picking up’ can be any kind of engagement. How do we approach moving from that which we are engaged to that which we are about to engage?
Structural integrity, I have found, has less to do with the conditions right now than the conditions a moment ago. The best way to be in a good posture is to be conscious of the way you move into the space you are about to occupy. IOW, have good posture by consciously avoiding bad posture. We do that by noticing the tiny little conscious decisions and reactions that go into each and every aspect of how our bodies are moving.
What is our attitude, really, towards how we are required to hold our bodies up against gravity? Remember to tease apart the attitude from the purpose we’re expressing. We may fulfill the same demand in very different ways depending on our mood at the time. How do you open the refrigerator? How do you apply the force necessary? Do you apply too little and your hand slips and you have to try again? Do you apply too much, making lots of noise and causing the whole unit to bump and shift? Do you explore what just enough is?
In any case, whether or not it’s ‘true’, I consider it to be skillful means, or Upaya. Practiced, it certainly has the power to change our relationship to our values and engage our conscious minds with our bodies as we move in our spaces and our lives.