Imagine beautiful posture supported naturally by your breath, and a friendly relationship with gravity. What if your arms hung easily with support from your spine and internal organs, rather than from tense shoulders? And what if your hips and legs moved in harmony with your spine? Could you experience all that without having to think about putting each bone and muscle in the right place? Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle and I explore these freeing possibilities as she explains a dynamic principle of alignment that she calls, "discovering your domes of uplift".
An internationally renowned instructor, Wendy LeBlanc-Arbuckle has been studying and teaching whole body awareness and self-care principles for almost 40 years. She is the Director of the Pilates Center of Austin where she has been developing and teaching the domes of uplift work, along with other core fundamental distinctions, through her CoreConnections® Pilates 3-Core Perspective.
Wendy began her studies of the domes as a yoga student and teacher. Twenty years ago when she began to study Pilates, she suspended her yoga practice for several years in order to experience the essence of Pilates. During that time she certified to teach, studying with Pilates Elder, Romana Kryzanowska. After four years of doing Pilates exclusively, Wendy says she felt much more "held" in her center than when she practiced yoga only - not better or worse, just different - and that contrast made her want to understand why. What she discovered was that she was over-stabilizing through her abdominals and pelvic floor, and fighting gravity to create length and uplift.
While "domes of uplift" might be a relatively newly coined term, the principle of building with the strong, flexible structure of domes is an ancient one gleaned from the wisdom of nature. Our primary domes are the arches of the feet, the pelvic floor, the diaphragm, the thoracic inlet, the palate, and the cranium (see fig. 2). We also find uplifting dome structures in the shapes of our armpits and hands.
Making Friends with Gravity
When I first started thinking about the domes of uplift, I imagined inflating them like parachutes as an image to lengthen and align my body. But Wendy puts the concept in a more grounded context. She says: "The uplift is an energy that is evoked in your body and spoken of as the "bandhas" in yoga. It is a matter of allowing the body to relax into gravity, so there is a yielding.
As we reawaken our awareness of the organic relationships of the foot to the pelvis, pelvis to diaphragm, and diaphragm to the palate/cranium, what happens is that, gravity and its partner, ground reaction force, re-align with breath, and the body's internal lift expressing itself as energy rebounds upwards. There is no extra effort needed. It is a natural awakening, which reminds us that "core alignment" isn't about "holding ourselves in the right place". Rather, it is a fluid inter-relationship influencing how we are with ourselves, with one another, and in the world. Our whole being becomes more receptive, relaxed, alert and responsive."
Partnering with gravity is a very different idea than what many people think of when they work with posture. Often, we work against, rather than yield to gravity. But yielding to gravity is not collapsing. "Notice how a plant grows: It doesn't effort, it grows up toward the sky, and down into the earth, from a core/center. We're discovering a primal relationship - the two directions of the spine" says Wendy. She goes on to point out that our relationship with gravity is the first sense we develop in the womb.
"When we are born, it is sensing gravity, and the 2 directions of the spine, that allows us to begin to orient ourselves in our world. That orienting relationship with gravity is most natural in childhood. As we age, we tend to hold images of "good posture and alignment" in our body awareness, which is often not where our bodies are comfortable. A good question to ask ourselves is - 'is my experience of my "ideal body" the same as my experience of my "real body'. What I have discovered over the years is that when we experience our natural relationship with gravity, there is no difference. The 'domes of uplift' are supported by the 2 directions of the spine."
"Domes of uplift' might sound like an esoteric concept, but as Wendy says, "Doming happens as a whole body experience of connectedness and expression through the hands, feet, pelvis, organs, head and senses. It is an exquisite expression of aliveness and being in our bodies which gives us access to internal core support in any movement, and allows us to fully express ourselves in the world.
We access our body's domes through cultivating awareness. Wendy puts it this way: " To begin to access the energetic lift of your domes in walking, for instance, as you step forward, if you allow your ankles, calves, knees and lower spine to release into gravity, and allow your upper spine to float forward over your front foot, you'll begin to feel length from foot to head. The key is to discover how our sensory and spatial awareness can guide us, which is very different from someone telling us how to walk."
Next: Finding the domes of uplift.