Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Z-Health relative to T'ai Chi, Qigong or any other Movement Oriented Practice

The question has come up, and reasonably so, about z-health practice relative to any other mobility approach. The questions go something like this: is Z-Health supposed to replace movement practice X, be as good as X, an alternative to X?

Here's my take on these questions: yes and no. Let me explain what i mean. Movement is great. Anything that has us moving in a healthful way is good. So doing Z-Health as a regular movement practice is fabulous. But if someone already has a movement practice, do they need Z-health?

Joint by Joint Specificity. In movement approaches with which i've had any experience (t'ai chi; qigong) the focus has been on the movement in general rather than on the particular range of motion or quality of movement at a particular joint involved in the full movement. One of my favorite examples of such movement is Steve Cotter's excellent series on the Tea Cup pattern:

And then there's this fabulous turn of the last century look at indian clubs with kids:

These are excellent examples of mobility work - especially as shown for the upper body. 

So why Z-Health Mobility Drills? Z-Health's drills move joint by joint so that a person can focus on each joint's movement. For instance, with many versions of shoulder drill to be able to check the joint's entire range of motion, it becomes easier to see where there may be specific challenges to a movement. For instance, trying to do shoulder circles that reach behing a person, without the torso torquing back along with the shoulder suggests that may be a place for some work to get better control of that *part* of shoulder motion.

Joint by Joint Assessment. In R-phase, each of these movements are assessed in "neutral stance" - standing upright - in order to focus specifically on the joint action. In I-phase, these basics are translated to movements that can be applied to sport-specific/life type movements (more on i-phase templates here). For instance, it may be that a person has found in R-phase that their thoracic mobility seems pretty free. However, their sport requires them to turn around while running to leap up and catch a football, and their reach seems a bit restricted when turned around and extending the arms. Z-health i-phase says, ok, let's assume that position, and see what's happening in the movement - how's the thoracic freedom there? let's practice it from that position.

Speed Z-Health also suggests that beyond controlling these joint by joint movements at one speed they need to be controlled at all speeds. To this end, z-health uses  four speeds - where speeds test different attributes of movement from strength to control of form.
Eric Cobb leading cross body figure 8's in Neural Warm Up I (about)

What these specific joint by joint movements enable, therefore, beyond a mobility practice, is a way to assess, support and enhance performance of one's chosen endeavor, whether that's playing football, lifting a load, or dealing with carpal tunnel syndrome from desk jockying, because each joint movement can be explored, and its effects on a whole movement assessed.

Sport Specific Assessment Checks. For example, if a deadlift doesn't feel that great on a given day, I-phase drills offer mobility checks in that sport-specific, deadlift position. For example, suppose the weirdness is felt just as the bar comes off the floor. The person can hold that position and work through wrists, elbows, thoracics, and/or hips and so on, doing drills for one or all of these joints, doing a test for effectiveness, and then re-trying the move.

Sometimes all it takes to improve a movement is to open up the joint mobility of a particular movement to help it become smoother. These drills afford a direct route to working the joints from that sport-specific position which may be more challenging to determine with a tai chi movment. Therefore, the mobility drills offer an immediate way to assess and tune movement practice. These simple but highly specific joint-by-joint drills afford this kind of specific, testable assessment at any time. And sometimes, that's enough.

Visual and Vestibular Work. Here's something else that assessments in z-health offer, and are explored either in one-on-one's with trainers (listing), or at the Z-Health workshop (overview here) and these are visual and vestibular practices and assessments.

Sometimes, a performance issue is not related solely to muscles and joints, but to vision or balance as well. In the Nerual Warm Up I & II and in the S-Phase DVD's especially, there are suites of vision drills, and working up to S-Phase, balance work as well. By learning about visual and vestibular practices, and how these co-ordinate with mobility work to improve movement quality on-the-go, one's athletic practice may be further enhanced.

Complementary Action. This is just a brief overview of a few ideas in Z-Health and how they can complement an athletic endeavor. R, I and S offer mobility, vision and balance work on their own to complement sports/athletic work. Where one already has a full body mobility program, because of the specificity of the proprioceptive, visual and vestibular drills offered, in particular the joint-by-joint drills, it is possible to pin point areas of practice that may benefit from specific focused drills.

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info said...

Hey mc,

Nice post. I strongly agree that isolated mobility work is a great adjunct to more integrated movement practices. Down the line, Tai Chi and Qigong are all about patterns and rhythms that require all the parts to be moving, but without a tool for investigating whether or not a particular body part is playing the right role, you'll never be able to follow the advice of the Tai Chi Classics: "when one part moves, all parts move."


mc said...

Thanks Dan.

Guy said...

Good post mc, as a student of both Z, tai chi & chi kung I see the similarity as the focus on feeling and awareness of the body, combining with the essential skills of relaxation and breathing to elicit maximal efficiency.

As Dan above correctly mentioned, Z at first focus on the anatomically specific before concentrating on the global movement, which mean that the global movement subsequently has more useable space in the brain to operate with a new and more precise control. The control can only come from all separate parts individually knowing the whole!

mc said...

Really delightful to hear an amen from such experienced practitioners of these arts.

Thanks Guy,



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