If you’ve ever had a therapeutic treatment that focuses on the meridians, whether acupuncture meridians, or myofascial meridians, you have probably experienced relief of a problem through work done to a seemingly unrelated part of the body. Perhaps you resolved a shoulder pain by going to an acupuncturist and feeling release of the tension after having needles placed in the legs, for example. How is it that treatment of a part of the body so distal to the area of complaint can elicit such a potent response, yet trying to stretch into the pain and focus all your self-care on the affected joint seems to do very little?
Your body is a unit. Nothing operates independently. The more you try to segment the body into parts, the further away you get from the reality that the whole body is involved in everything we do. Everything you do is involved in your state of health. Not just what you do, but how you’re doing it. Unnatural habitual patterns lead to patterns of distortion. These patterns come from unnatural activities, and guess what, if you live in society, you can’t avoid unnatural activities. Learning what Sotai has to teach you can help identify and transform those habitual patterns, while giving you the tools to counterbalance unavoidable unnatural stressors of modern life.
Sotai is ultimately about developing the body awareness to modify your movement habits in a way that helps you facilitate your body’s own natural healing process. Essentially this is training your habits to get out of your own way and let your body maximize its self-regulatory potential.
There are two muscular systems in the body; smooth muscle, the tissue that makes up most of our internal organs and other structures that are under the involuntary control of our autonomic nervous system; and striated muscle which makes up our voluntary skeletal muscle. Striated muscles are used to actively move our bodies and are an integral part of our movement system. When we talk about the movement system, this includes, bones, cartilage, tendons, ligaments, striated voluntary muscle, fascia, and skin. The nervous system is also associated with the movement system. The movement system includes everything that works directly for the purpose of displacing our bodies, changing physical position, and breathing. Restoring and maintaining balance in this system is the main scope of Sotai healing exercise.
It pains me to use this cliche, but everything is connected. When one part of the body moves, it creates a chain reaction that reverberates through the entire body. In a sense, when one part of the body moves, it creates a chain reaction. If movement can undulate through the body without impediment the body is healthy, but if there is distortion anywhere in the body, compensations will be made that overtime will create more stress in the body if not addressed. The realization that the body moves as a whole and that disease is often the result of unnatural movements and the resulting accumulation of deformation is central to the Sotai viewpoint.
No part of the body moves independently and you can perform a simple experiment to experience this for yourself. Place your hand on a table and move your index finger without moving anything else. Now ask someone to hold your finger down to the table and then try to lift it against enough resistance that you can’t lift your finger. If you try as hard as you can you can observe how much the rest of your body becomes involved. You’ll feel your wrist, elbow, shoulder, and even your spine get involved in the effort. When you feel pain or discomfort in a joint, it’s important to remember that even though you may feel the issue in a certain place, that many distal joints may be involved in the problem (and the solution). This is the central concept behind the meridian system of Traditional Japanese Medicine, especially the musculotendinous meridian channels.
Oftentimes problem areas are hidden, and we don’t feel the abnormalities until we palpate (press) the area, or move the joint through a wide range of motion. You may have experienced this when receiving some bodywork and being surprised by tension in a part of your body that you thought felt fine.
Distortions in the body can be a reflection of poor posture, but forcing good posture is not advisable. It’s more accurate to say that posture is a reflection of the patterns of tension in your body. If your body slouches into poor posture when you relax, and you try to force proper posture, you will be creating compensatory patterns to counter your tension patterns. This doesn’t cancel out your poor posture, it creates a deeper and more complex entanglement of your movement system. In your poor posture, your body has found the most sustainable position to maintain smooth function, and if you want to correct it, you must address the cause of the poor postural alignment.
Correction can be pursued through Sotai exercise, which involves exploring the planes of movement in the affected joints to discover and move in the easier direction as a corrective exercise. Most corrective exercise approaches encourage us to move in the difficult ranges of motion, The benefits of that approach are limited and may even make issues worse. Pursuing the comfortable movement is what releases abnormal tension and deformation. This, combined with learning natural movement principles, and identifying to correct the habitual patterns in your daily life that cause your imbalances in the first place is how you can best support your body’s natural healing process.
When it comes to Sotai’s therapeutic exercise, which joint is selected is very important. The joints of the hips and lower body are always supporting us, they are at the center of all of our movement and deeply connected to all other joints in the body. Even in cases of shoulder or neck pain, the hips and lower limbs need to be addressed.
Our center of gravity lies in our pelvis, and all movement stems from this point. When we fail to control our center of gravity, tension is required to maintain the imbalanced position. If these are regular habitual patterns such as always leaning on one leg when standing, or playing a lot of sports where you swing a club or bat, or throw predominantly with one side, the body will create long-term compensations in the form of tension patterns to make these habits easier to maintain.
Over time these imbalances create (reversible) deformations that eventually lead to restricted range of motion and likely some accompanying chronic pain. When these are simple habits like leaning to one side when standing, we can work to break these habits while using Sotai exercises to correct the distortions. When they are the result of activities such as unilateral sports, or the demands of our occupation, we can use Sotai to counterbalance the effects of these activities to minimize the damage they cause.
The body-weight is supported by the joint where the hip bones meet the femurs, the ball and socket joint called the acetabulum. If the body is imbalanced at this joint, stress will accumulate all over the body. Without addressing the imbalances of this joint, good work done at peripheral joints will yield limited results, and ultimately the problems will continue to return. Sotai is not just about teaching you corrective exercises to restore balance, but to help you retrain your movement habits to address the imbalances that prevent your body’s natural self-regulatory functions.