How well do you know gravity? You have an intimate relationship with it, and it is the basis of influence for every movement you can make. All movement is a manipulation of your center of gravity, and how you use that center of gravity determines how in sync you are with the forces that act upon you. Gravity can act against you, and it can drive you forward, all depending on how adept you are at manipulating it, and what kind of habit you maintain in daily life.
The center of gravity (or center of mass) is the point around which all the surrounding parts of your body balance. This can shift as you change positions and even be outside of your body, especially when your center of gravity includes the mass of carrying a heavy object. Moving your head, arms or legs, wearing a backpack, and pretty much anything that moves you out of a static position will alter your center of gravity.
Body weight and body mass are different. Your body weight is relative to the force of gravity, whereas your body mass is the same regardless of the force of gravity. In outer space your body mass would remain the same, but your bodyweight would be, by contrast, less due to the change in gravitational forces compared to being on the earth. Your weight is the force that your body mass exerts when under the influence of gravity; the greater the gravity, the more force your body mass can produce.
The center of gravity lies in the seat of our pelvis. From the front, you can measure its center with the width of your hand below the belly button. From the back you can think of it being in front of the 5 fused sacral bones, at the level of the 2nd fused bone. With the front and back as a reference point, it’s easy to visualize a cantaloupe sized ball of energy sitting in the bowl of your pelvis. This position can change based on what you do with your body.
To stand still you must keep your center of gravity in its natural resting position, or use muscular tension to compensate. The latter habit will eventually result in abnormal tension and pain in the body. To move your body and remain standing in place, you must shift your weight and counterbalance to maintain the position of your center of gravity. In order to begin locomotion, i.e. move from your standing position, you must shift your center of gravity in the direction you want to go. For example, if you want to begin walking, you must shift your center of gravity forward, outside of your body so that you can begin falling forward to catch yourself with the next step.
If you watch a ballerina or a graceful dancer, it’s the control of their center of gravity that gives off this heir of finesse. With an exchange in martial arts, whoever is capable of maintaining control of their center of gravity is less movable and manipulations like grappling aims to manipulate a person’s center of gravity away from their core where they have less control and ability to resist.
Manipulating the position of the center of gravity allows you to move more quickly, fluidly and effortlessly. Acrobats who can flip in the air, will suddenly shift their center of gravity to their upper body to pivot around that point and land on their feet. Weightlifters use a sudden burst of power to transfer the combined weight of their body and the object they are manipulating to create a moment of weightlessness as they lift it from the ground, giving them a split second to squat under the weight and catch it overhead.
Without shifting the center of gravity in activities like these, unrealistic amounts of strength would be required to counteract the force of gravity. Instead, the center of gravity is shifted to free our movement potential from the constraints of gravity and inertia for a brief moment. The center of gravity must also be skillfully returned to its original position. Moving the center of gravity from the lower abdomen, then returning it to that position at the end of the movement in proper timing is key. If both of these manipulations of the center of gravity are not achieved, the feat being performed will either fail or appear clumsy and uncoordinated.
The center of gravity is not a static thing, it is always moving, and how much control we have over that movement is an indicator of our relationship with gravity; do we have to fight it, or do we use it to make everything easier?
As a general rule for basic movement, the lumbar vertebrae should be held straight and used as an axis during movement. That means we must pivot on our center line, which passes through our center of gravity to connect with the center of the earth. The greater the distance a pivotal point is from its center, the more imbalanced it will be, which causes distortion and requires too much effort. Having a firm control of your center of gravity allows for the greatest amount of efficiency and mobility with the least amount of effort.
Many people have created postural distortions that throw off our center of gravity. People who sit in chairs often and slouch can develop a distortion of their center of gravity where it is positioned further back (posteriorly) to it’s natural position. Other people with the habit of arching their back can develop a neutral position of their center of gravity that is too far forward (anterior). People who develop the habit of leaning to one side when standing or sitting can have a center of gravity that is off-center. Some people can even have an unnatural rotation of their pelvis resulting from unilateral habitual movement patterns which can also throw off the position of the center of gravity. All of the distortions require abnormal and chronic tension to maintain those positions, which can cause imbalances that lead to pain and problems that can manifest anywhere in the body.
Sotai is about developing awareness and a deep understanding of our center of gravity in how we move and hold ourselves. Developing body awareness changes the way we think about movement and posture, and utilizing these principles to restore balance is something that everybody needs on a fundamental level. Without this understanding and application to daily life, other interventions will yield limited results and imbalances will always return. We must address and replace faulty habitual patterns with the correct natural way of moving the body.