What does Isaac Newton have to do with back pain?

rediscoverLearning process, Musician's health

(In this segment I will share some observations that relate to what can be termed as movement biomechanics in relation to the the very simple semantic application of Newton’s observation of the falling apple).

A simple observation

Our roadmap’s starting point is going to take a note from one of the most famous anecdotes in the history of western science: Newton and the falling apple. This anecdote is a way of relating the study of the language of practical bio mechanics as they relate to the study of coordinated movements or motor control mastery. In a similar way a musician would studying the language of music and tone perception through the fundamental properties of tone/pitch. Also, a painter would study the language of visual perception via the fundamental properties of colour.

“It was 1666, and the plague had closed many public buildings and meetings. Newton had to abandon Cambridge for Lincolnshire, the modest house where he was born, to contemplate the stellar problems he had been pursuing at the university.”

The young Isaac Newton is sitting in his garden when an apple falls and no one is sure if it fell on his head, but the plot of the story revolves around the implications of the act of the falling apple and Newton’s observation of it, so we are told. And this incident inspires a solution to a problem that Newton had been seeking answers to.

“Why sh[oul]d that apple always descend perpendicularly to the ground, thought he to himself; occasion’d by the fall of an apple, as he sat in contemplative mood.”

“Therefore does this apple fall perpendicularly or towards the centre?

If matter thus draws matter; it must be proportion of its quantity. Therefore the apple draws the Earth, as well as the Earth draws the apple.

Ok, so what?

The notion that is important for our study of language of practical bio mechanics is that the power of gravity functions vertically. This is extremely obvious, right?

If matter thus draws matter; it must be proportion of its quantity. Therefore the apple draws the Earth, as well as the Earth draws the apple.”

The central importance of Newton’s discovery as told in this story is that he had to deduce the not-so-obvious concept of ‘ground force reaction’ from the somewhat obvious conception of the verticality of the downwards force of gravity and the proportionality of the pull of gravity based on the weight or mass of object in question.

But there is also something else:The downwards pull of gravity on a ‘body at rest’ can not be ‘felt’, but its real and physical effects can be deduced and predicted. When the apple hit the ground, Newton might have thought to himself:

“Well, here is an object that seemed to be at rest and now it has fallen in a straight trajectory, and it seems to be at rest again.”

But, then he realised that although the apple seemed to be ‘at rest’, it was always falling, and once it hit the ground it continues to still fall. The force of gravity is at play all the time.

“That tricky apple is trying to fool me into thinking it is ‘at rest’! But, ahah! I’ve got one better!!! This apple is continuously falling and I’m gonna figure out the actual mathematics that proves it!!”

This concept of forces of gravity that are continuously at play upon the structural form or framework of our living body is the most important concept in Alexander technique! It provides us with a constructive problem. The comprehension and discernment that we gain by learning the language of applied bio mechanics gives us a dynamic solution to this problem.

In learning this language, we use a real and physical framework to study the implications of the pull of gravity on an articulated structure (the human torso), that due to its living intelligence is subject to infinite and unpredictable trajectories. In this process we never arrive at a static or fixedanswer.

The practical implications of Newton’s observation that objects that are seemingly at rest continue to be subject to the pull of gravity are huge for the art of prevention, which forms the cornerstone of Alexander technique. By ‘prevention’ we are referring to the prevention of degenerative and disintegrating effects of the forces of gravity.

With a practical way to understand and implement the art of prevention, we can start preventing unnecessary:

Muscle/Skeletal ‘degeneration’
Muscle/Skeletal ‘wear and tear’
Mental ‘degeneration’
Mental ‘wear and tear’

From Russia with love

It was early in the 20th century that Nikolai Bernstein started to look into human movement in terms of mechanics in the application of tasks.  His legacy is still alive and his research forms the cornerstone of the field referred to as biomechanics.  The variability and dynamic reality of movement is a fact that did not deter him from forming sound theories about how skilled movement acquisition can be aided.  Every road seems to lead back to the fact that we can learn to improve our skill! It all sounds too rational and ‘duh’ when we phrase it in these simple terms, but the complexity of human movement behaviour must thrive on being complex to be healthy!

At least this is how my work with individuals who want to increase their movement efficiency starts out.  I don’t see them as  ‘broken’ segments of muscular pathologies needing a ‘quick fix’.  I see them as dynamic and complex human beings wanting to learn.