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Association for Body Mapping Education Training Manual

Section Two Supplement: Balance

Throughout these supplements, Barbara Conable’s language will always be indicated with this font style.

Some people prefer to teach this hour as hour one because the content is so easily grasped and makes such a big difference for students right out of the gate. Feel free to do that if you like. I don’t make that choice because I want the students to have the benefit of the content of Hour One as they explore the content of Hour Two, however little they have actually grasped the content by this time. It’s a judgment call, and you will make it as you see fit.

Remember that there is a whole chapter on mapping errors in “How to Learn the Alexander Technique.” It’s good to review that chapter sometimes just to be sure you are aware of the most common errors and can identify them. Also, of course, to be sure any or all have been corrected in your own body map.

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Image 2.1 Balance Mascot

It will be good if you have a life-size model of a spine to use in this hour. It will also be good if the students have a paper copy of this image. I hand out three copies of this picture. Two are plain, as this image is, and one has stars at each of the places of balance we will explore. That picture serves as a model that students use to place their own colored, sticky stars on one of the plain skeletons as we go along in the course. The third copy, I tell them, is for them to use as a Xerox copy so they may use this information in their studio classes, etc. It’s fun for the students to place the stars as we go through the hour. Sometimes I have them put two or three stars at a time, for instance, I might cover the material about balance at the knee and ankle and then ask them to put those two stars. It partly depends on how late it’s getting, how much time we have.

Sometimes, if the group is small and mostly choral directors and singers, I will give copies of “The Structure and Movement of Breathing: A Primer for Choirs and Choruses” to each participant, and they put the stars on the image on page 15. I call the little gift a party favor. The students like that. By the way, primer is pronounced with a short i, as in ink, not a long i as in prime. I’ve pretty often heard it mispronounced. I think it’s not as familiar a word as I had thought it was. There might have been a better choice. 

There are three main points to cover here at the beginning: 

First, this hour of the course is designed to answer the frequently asked questions: How shall I stand? How shall I sit? The short answer is: according to one’s actual structure, as indicated by this picture. The short answer is: to use Alexander’s term, “mechanical advantage.” The short answer is: using the weight delivering capacity of the skeleton. 

Second, that in order to truly understand and assimilate the information from this hour, we must “inoculate against a couple of cultural viruses,” or sometimes I say “slay a couple of cultural dragons.” Using whatever metaphor, I mean “the posture stuff” and “the relaxation stuff.” I describe the posture stuff as the more virulent virus, or the fiercer dragon, causing more long term damage. I say that some teachers are even in this postmodern age asking little children to flatten themselves against walls and tuck their chins and stick up their little sternums and suck in their tummies and tuck their butts and lock their knees and rock back on their heels, as though it were centuries ago. I say, as far as I can tell, there isn’t one shred of truth to the posture stuff. It’s all, every bit, contrary to the actual structure of the body and it needs to be weeded out of our bodies like crabgrass out of a garden. I make quite a fuss about this, and people enjoy the fuss, because they have intuited in some way that the posture advice is bad advice, and they are confirmed in their intuition. I show the students that the posture stuff pulls them unnaturally up and back, and then that the relaxation stuff (the lesser dragon, the milder virus) drags them down and in, collapsing them and making real buoyancy unavailable. They like hearing this, too. They’ve sensed it, but they haven’t known what to do instead. 

Third: Students will not be able to understand core weight delivery unless and until the penny drops about the weight bearing spine. So I say, “First we must direct our attention to the portion of the core that lies between the base of the skull and either to the bottom of the moving spine, or to the bottom of the torso, as you like.” Of course, I have the life-size spine in my hands and I’m pointing to where I mean. Then I show them that the weight bearing part of the spine is the front part, and that the back part has no weight bearing, weight delivering capacity. I go into some detail about this, pointing to the bodies of the vertebrae and the cushioning disks, making it clear that disks are only in front, where they are needed and where they do not interrupt the spinal cord. I also show that the facets (FACets, with a short a) where the vertebrae meet at the back, in the nervous system housing part of the spine, are not aligned for weight bearing and weight delivery. Rather, they limit movement in the spine to acceptable levels. Then I pass the spine around the room, inviting each person to take as much time as necessary to truly comprehend this fact that all others in this hour depend on, that is, the core nature of the weight bearing, weight delivering spine. 

In discussing the word posture, here is the following from MaryJean Allen, LBME: 

First, I invite teachers to look at the dictionary definition of posture. The roots are positura, which means a position, and ponere, which means to place, "to pose, to place; the position or carriage of the body in standing or sitting, the assumed disposition of the parts of the body in standing, sitting, etc." 

I invite them to stand, sit, move, and sing, trying on on the word posture. They all feel the "placing" and "setting" that the "P" word 

makes their bodies do, especially as they watch each other.


Then I say, because we are talking about movement, we need to teach our students how to find the movements that create the best sounds. Many students tend to "set" and "place" the body, inhibiting movement and leading to physical and mental tension. So I say, how about the words balance, buoyancy, and springy instead of the word posture? Let's try on those words. 

Balance: “a state of equality in amount, weight, value, or importance.” 

I love this definition. Why should one part of the body be more important or valuable than any other? So often with singers, for example, we become "singing heads" -- and ignore the other extremely useful and beneficial parts of our bodies that help us to sing and express music effectively. This definition of the word balance makes me think of inclusive awareness as well. Nothing is "more important" than anything else, it all has equal value and equal importance. 

Buoyancy: “the ability or tendency to float or rise in liquid or air, lightness, resilience.” I always have a great response with this word.

Springy: "to move as a result of resilience." I just love this definition! 

Then, we stand, sit, move, sing, trying on these three words. Their bodies tell them the new words are more effective, which is far more convincing to them. Result: they don't need to defend the old "P" word since they now have the physical proof that the new words are more effective.

See the following from LBME’s Doug Johnson and Melanie Sever about Biotensegrity and Body Mapping:

For more information about Biotensegrity, refer to the following book, which includes an article by Doug Johnson:

Everything Moves: How biotensegrity informs human movement by Susan Lowell de Lorozano

From Sponsoring Teacher, Stephen Caplan, on Biotensegrity:

The Square and the Tower, a book written in 2017 by Niall Ferguson, explains how society consists of both hierarchies and networks. This is not just true today, as we worry about social media outlets undermining democracy, but has been true throughout human history. Often the two systems have been at odds, vying for power. Hierarchies are “vertically structured organizations characterized by centralized and top-down command, control and communication.” (p 21) Examples are monarchies, churches and armies. Social networks are found in many different forms, “from exclusive secret societies to open-source movements.” (p 17) In any network “transactions occur…through networks of individuals engaged in reciprocal, preferential, mutually supportive actions.” (p 23)

A medieval town often had a square where people would gather for trade, gossip, festivals, and other networking opportunities. A prominent feature of most of these town squares was the tower of the Town Hall, a symbol of secular power. Ferguson suggests that the Tower represents the hierarchy of government casting its shadow over the Square, representing the social networks. Then, as now, they were both part of the social architecture, and dependent on each other. Social, political, and economic systems all include coexistent hierarchical structures and networks.

The human body’s architecture also requires two models in order to fully explain its inner workings. A compression model coexists with a biotensegrity model. The body has many networks, including the neuronal circuitry of the brain, the circulatory system, and the fascial networks. The biotensegrity model includes all of these networks “engaged in reciprocal, preferential, mutually supportive actions.” But the body also includes hierarchies. The compression model explains core skeletal support, with the head leading the vertebral structures in movement. The compression model also explains the “centralized and top-down” delivery of weight that influences our body’s relationship to gravity. The two models—hierarchical and network—are not mutually exclusive.


An orchestra reflects both constructs as well. There’s a hierarchy of power—conductor, principal musicians, section musicians; but also a hierarchy of sound—melodies, countermelodies, inner harmonies, bass line and rhythmic accents. A listener may not be aware of these hierarchies, but only hears a vast network of deeply interdependent sounds. And this network of sounds collectively create something greater than the sum of the parts. That’s the magic.

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Image 2.2a and 2.2b: Balance at the A-O Joint

Here is a website on scientific research and the Alexander Technique:

The text below is here for historical purposes. Current Alexander training is less inclined to teach about the weight of the jaw influencing the stretch on the back of the neck in the way she references. 

The most important thing to do with this image is to get people to internalize it by palpating (to palpate is to examine by means of touch, to be distinguished from palpitate, which you don’t want them to do) their own heads and necks. Ask them to put a finger on the base of their skulls and a thumb on their top front teeth and rock their heads forward and back, nodding. Ask them to open their jaw below that unit they are articulating with their hands so that they can really sense that the jaw as a separate unit, a fifth appendage. They will never succeed in balancing their heads if they are thinking to balance a head plus jaw unit. I tell them the anatomical unit they are balancing on that top vertebra is the one Hamlet held in his hand when he said, “Ah, poor Yorick.” The jaw was somewhere else in that grave. Their own, one jaw is just appended to their heads. 


Once in a while a student who has had Alexander Technique lessons will have been given misinformation about the weight of the jaw in front being a big factor in the balance of the head and in the forward and up thrust of the head, putting (they claim) a necessary stretch on the back of the neck. There are many variations on that fantasy, and I’m assured by the scientists at OHSU that there is no truth in any version of it. I generally don’t say that to the students, because I don’t want to undermine their Alexander learning, or to shame the student in any way, but rather just say, “For our purposes in correcting and refining the body map, I’m asking you to think in a slightly different way, in which we do want to be very clear about the distinction between head and jaw.” Something like that.

Here is more from Barbara should you encounter any students or teachers of the Alexander Technique who tell you the weight of jaw puts stretch on back of neck. 


The claim we are trying to correct, as I have heard it stated, is that the weight of the jaw puts a stretch on the muscles at the back of the neck. Therefore, they claim, when you think forward and up you should think you are going with the direction the jaw would take you if you gave into its weight. This is what was being ridiculed at OHSU. My memory of the conversation is that it took place during the research that resulted in the preliminary paper Tim Cacciatore wrote. There was a general dismissal of the idea that seemed to come out of their knowledge of how balance and uprightness really work, more systematically in this case. You can ask Tim, but I don't think we are going to find any paragraphs that specifically refute the notion, though he might be able to point you to an alternative explanation. 

The burden of proof here should be on the part of the people who claim this thing exists not on us who doubt it. It's hard to find an argument that the earth isn't flat. Scientists are busy exploring its roundness. 

When asked about it in my AT teaching--it never comes up in Body Mapping unless people have had AT lessons from AT certain teachers--I said something like, "I've been deeply skeptical of that notion from the first time I heard it in Alexander circles. You will never hear it outside Alexander circles, so it is something peculiar to some of our training schools. I've never read anything in the science of balance and uprightness to suggest that it is true, and I have seen it be very destructive of good use in some students because it focuses a student's attention on the back of the neck at the expense of the whole neck and spine. The student is told there is a stretch put on the back of the neck. They want to feel that stretch, so they create it. It's easy to do. They make that little gesture that tends to flatten the cervical curve. This tenses their necks and prevents the spine from lengthening, so it's really, really destructive, but they feel right, so they go on doing it. It also makes students imagine that the jaw is far heavier than it is. I ask these students to palpate the jaw until they get an accurate sense of how big it really is. I ask them to contemplate how big the muscles would have to be to move the jaw they imagine they have, contrasting that with how small the muscles are that move the jaw they actually have. I ask them to use their kinesthesia to move their actual jaw in all directions to notice how little work it takes and how light it feels." 

I would go on to say, "Look here. I make you this promise. If you cultivate an accurate body map of the A/O joint and focus on the relationship of whole head to whole spine, and if you free your whole neck, you will enjoy so much lightness and freedom you will never be tempted to think stretch again. If there is any kernel of truth in this notion, it will take care of itself if you are thinking whole head and whole spine. If there is any kernel of truth in this notion, it is obviously as a tiny part of a much larger phenomenon. I would just leave it to nature and think whole head and whole spine." -- Barbara Conable 10/5/2011

From T. Richard Nichols:


I am definitely with Barbara on this. This is a very curious notion. The jaw itself is a small part of the head in terms of mass. Yes, it is anterior to the spine, so technically exerts a flexion torque on the head, but this is small compared to the forces required to balance the whole head. More of the mass of the head is anterior to the spine, so the extensor muscles of the neck must be active during waking to support it. When opening the jaw its mass is moved down and toward the neck, resulting in an even smaller contribution to the overall tendency for the neck to flex. Maybe I am missing something here, but I would not give this idea much air time.

I might as well say here as anywhere else that once in a while you will get a student in the course who has a perfect body map. To those people you are saying something equivalent to water is wet. It all seems so perfectly obvious to them that they can’t imagine why anyone would bother to say it. You must recognize these people and do everything you can throughout the six hours to find the relevance of the body map material to them. Constantly refer to the usefulness of the information in their teaching. Find some way to acknowledge that they themselves don’t need to change their maps, but let them know they could be of great benefit to their students if they would figure out how to convey what they know in that deep part of themselves, their internal representation. Challenge them to that. Tell them they, too, have something of great significance to learn from the course, that their students are really, truly at the mercy of their faulty body maps, and the only way to help the students is to support them through acquiring a body map as accurate and adequate as their teacher's. 


If the person with the perfect body map in your course has a bit of an ego, which is somewhat likely, then you may be able to use the person’s good use for the benefit of the other students by using the person as a model. I will say things like, “Well, George here is using his core just the way I hope all the rest of you will learn to.” If George is really game, you can ask him if you may guide him into the positions some of the rest of the students have assumed, back onto their lower backs, back onto their heels, for instance. It will immediately look funny to the students, and they will have a bright light shone on their habits. You can say to George, “Now you have a taste of what some of your students experience all the time. I’m glad you’ll now have a resource for bringing them to the kind of fluid balance you enjoy.” In other words, milk the opportunity, unless you sense that it would not be welcome. Some people are shy and don’t want to be made an example of, even a good example. 


One musician with a wonderful body map told me that the field of music is so competitive, with so few ways to get to the top and stay at the top, that the players with perfect body maps should prefer that no one else figure out how to correct theirs. He said, “The last thing I want is other people playing better.” I said, “Well, take from the course whatever will help you, then, and keep the rest a secret.” 

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Images 2.6a, 2.6b: Lumbar Core

I use my full-sized model of the spine again. I grasp the five lumbar vertebrae in my hand and swing everything above it around so that the students may see that this is a kind of trunk-limbs relationship. I tell them I’m going to pass the spine around again, and I want them to do with it what they saw me do. I tell them they will be illustrating how easy movement in any direction is when one’s thorax is at balance over the lumbar core. Then I lay my other hand and forearm along the back of the spine, with my fingertips at center thoracic and my elbow at the tailbone. I say, “Here where I have my hand and arm is where many people believe they must balance their weight. This misunderstanding is a symptom of the posture virus. Notice that for most of this length there isn’t any bone back there, and the muscles in this area are small and subject to spasm. Notice how many inches forward of my arm the actual core lies.” 

Ask the students to point to the lumbar core by pointing across the iliac crests, as they pointed between their ears to find the place where the head balances. Watch them carefully. Many will point very far back and will need to be instructed forward. 

Thoracic-lumbar balance

Then, ask the students to stand up to explore both the balance of the head on the weight bearing spine and the balance of the head, thorax, and arms on the lumbar core. I tell them they can teach this to their students and colleagues best by analogy to pitch. I demonstrate with my head, saying, “Let’s make the analogy of beautiful balance of the head to being perfectly on pitch, in tune. Then this (pulling my head forward of the spine and rotating it down and back, as tension does) would be flat, and this (pulling my head back in a postury sort of way that tends to flatten the neck) would be sharp. Then I ask them to find the easiest balance they can find for their heads, feeling free to palpate again and rock the head to heighten their sense of the condyles, and then to really register with their brains what that balance feels like. Then I say, “Now let’s all go flat.” I ask them to give me words for what flat feels like. They say heavy, tense, squished, painful, compressed, and other such words. I say, “Everybody experiences it that way.” Then I ask them to go sharp, and again I ask for words. Pushed. Stiff. Achy. Constricted. Forced. Then I ask the students to undo the hard work of going sharp and go back on balance. What does balance feel like? Well, balanced! Easy. Light. Effortless. Free. Poised. Mobile. 

Note: not everyone likes the analogy to pitch. If you don’t like it, don’t use it. 

Then we go on to explore balance on the lumbar core. I say that few musicians go flat there, but everyone should know what it feels like to go flat. It’s usually marimba players and snare drum players who go flat, that is, they bring their body weight forward of the core. I demonstrate it and ask the students to assume that same position. They say it tightens their lower backs. I say that many more musicians go sharp here, that is, they drop their body weight back off the core, onto what they generally call their lower backs. This also tightens the lower back, but in a different way, compressing it rather than stretching it. I ask everybody to come as close to balance on the lumbar core as they can at the moment.

Training Committee Addition​: Give the students the experience of walking backward to find balance around the lumbar core, and ask them to notice what happens differently in that region when they start walking forward in their habitual way. 

I warn them that if they are used to being sharp, they will experience balance as forward. Sure enough, the ones that are really mismapped in this area will come forward some and think it’s too far forward even when it doesn’t bring them all the way to balance. Sometimes I coach them with gestures, as I would if they were maneuvering a car, little farther forward, little farther forward. There! That can’t be right! They feel like they’re on their noses. Mirrors in the room help very much. The students look and see that they are not where they think they are. Or, you can ask the others, “Is Eileen leaning forward?” The others will say no, but Eileen feels like she is leaning forward. I ask her to go forward as far as she feels like she is. She does, and she gets some perspective. I tell her she will need to search for balance many times a day, especially as she practices. She should first look for balance, noticing what it feels like, then she should go back to habit, noticing how far back it really is, then back to balance, then forward as far as habit takes her back, etc. I tell her a few weeks of that will get this all sorted out for her. 


As in that example, keep referring people into the future in their application of what they are learning. 

Probably every second time you teach the course, you will get a question about the relationship of balance on the core to “the center,” especially as it is taught in martial arts. I say there is no direct relationship or correlation between the two, so far as I can tell, who know little about what is meant by “center” in those disciplines, but that many of my students who have also studied martial arts have been quite impressed with the anatomical fact of weight delivery right there through the lumbar core and into the pelvis at the same location where they have been instructed to imagine “a center.” I sometimes say, “Well, this center, which we call core, is just plain anatomical fact. It’s bone, and therefore something you can perceive rather than imagine.” 

I generally find a place to say that for some who are taking the course that day, this information about the lumbar core will be the most important in the whole day, because it will make the most difference in their comfort, their moving, and their breathing. 

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Images 2.8a & 2.8b: Arches of the Pelvis 

This picture is so good it truly is better than a thousand words. You won’t need to say much, but you will want to trace the arches with your pointer, and you want to invite your students to feel the arches within themselves.


Of course, some of your students will have mapped this area so contrary to what they are seeing there on the screen that they have to make a giant leap in correcting their body maps. Some can do this overnight, probably because they suddenly become so much more comfortable, stable, and secure in their sitting and standing than they ever were when they were at the mercy of their cloudcoocooland body maps, which may include legs mapped as straight and meeting their spines directly, without the mediation of the pelvis, and torsos mapped as sitting on legs, as Ben’s funny little picture in WEM caricatures. 


This is the place also to give the good news to those people who think weight ultimately goes to the tailbone. Your trainees may or may not have seen the great damage this body mapping error can do. I have seen drummers and organists whose tailbones are badly inflamed from the pressure put on them by this fantasy, and I have seen X-rays in which the separate pieces of the tail bone have broken apart and float free of each other from the pressure put on them. You will be gratified by the great relief it is to those people to know that the pelvic arch delivers their weight into their sitting bones, which are substantial and allow for mobility, rather than their poor, destroyed little tailbones. 

Training Committee Addition: ​ To elaborate on this “substantial” characteristic of the sitting bones: Often people who complain that their sitting bones are uncomfortable to sit on are not actually sitting on the substantial part where the bone is at its thickest and widest, right under the hip joint, but instead are sitting on the “ridgy” part in front- usually as a part of the good posture disease, or because they have the sitting bones mapped as parallel. When they remap both the diagonal and substantial nature of the sitting bones, they find more balance and comfort in sitting.

I should also say that a few people have very pointed sitting bones, just like a few people have very pointed noses. I worked with one organist whose pointed sitting bones had broken through his skin, they were so sharp, and, before that, had created sores like bed sores. Getting onto the sitting bones was no relief to him, I’m sure you can imagine. He had to make foam circles to place in his underwear to keep him sitting up off the organ bench. Nothing less would have made him comfortable. 


There are a few people with flat areas on the sitting bones. They will not find rocking on the “rockers,” as I often called the sitting bones, easy, because the sitting bones aren’t rockers on those people; they’re more like pedestals. This variation in structure will limit their mobility forward and backward to some degree, but it will not have any effect on the support available from their spines, so they can’t use it as an excuse for any limitation in playing. 

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Image 2.11a: Hip Joint, Image 2.11b: Pelvis

Make the same point here. Show the students with this picture what a pelvis at neutral looks like. Some of the students habitually rock their pelvises far back in sitting and standing, and some rock their pelvises far forward. If pelvic balance is a major issue for a student, respond to the concern by asking the student to rock all the way back and then all the way forward and then look for the kind of balance they see there in the image, not as a place to stay in playing, but as a place to return to again and again from anywhere within the natural range of movement. The students who are chronically rocked back will never rock forward in playing, and vice versa, so you help the students claim the whole natural range of movement. This can do wonders for their playing. 

Training Committee Addition: Some people with a waist mismapping may believe that there is a hinge-like joint at the top of the pelvis allowing it to swing forward and back from the spine. The only way a pelvis can rock forward and back is because the vertebrae of the lumbar spine (below the imaginary "waist") are moving it. Remind students of the Laws of the Spine when rocking forward and back.

Then I sometimes point out the difference between a pattern of chronically rocking the pelvis in this way to the more complicated, layered pattern of rocking it in one direction or the other and then of shoving the whole hip joint (including the top of the leg bone) forward through space [which as Barbara discusses below will be proportional to how far back the upper torso leans back off balance]. I like people to get clear on if they are primarily mismapped with a pelvic tilt or rock (distortion of curve through lumbar vertebrae) or if they have a combination of the pelvic rocking and the shoving of the hip joint forward (arching in lumbar vertebrae, forward travelling of upper thigh bone and locking of all leg joints.) 

The people who have the pelvis mapped as rocked back and then shoved forward (the stereo-typical electric bass player look) are almost always helped in finding balance by backward walking. The people who have it mapped as rocked forward and then shoved forward don’t find as much help from backward walking because they still often waddle or compensate some other way in their backward walking. I find people really like to be given some specific guidance as to which combination of mis-mappings they exhibit so they can more easily unravel it all to get at the truth. 

Make the point here or elsewhere that the hip joint and pelvic floor are the middle of the body up and down, not the waist. Illustrate this with your little skeleton, if you use one, just by folding the model double at the hip joint and hanging it in the air. This gets a laugh, and it makes an important point. If that important point is not utterly clear to you, then reread the diatribe against the waist in “How to Learn the Alexander Technique.”

You have a further point you must make about the place where the pelvis and thigh bone meet. When people go sharp off their lumbar core, driving backward into their lower backs, the patterns of compensation drag the hip joint forward. I’ve taught electric bass players whose hip joints were pulled so far forward in space that the return trip to balance was a matter of eight to ten inches, at which point they felt like they were sticking their butts out behind them, though they were not, and could only confirm their actual position by use of a mirror. The pulling forward of the hip joint will generally be proportional to the dropping into the lower back. 

Some of your students will have their hips joints mapped as interior to their pelvises, and some will have them mapped much, much higher on the pelvis, sometimes at the very top. Dancers often have the hip joint mapped very far forward and inward, sometimes just on either side of the pubis. Ask the students to palpate the top of the thigh bone, in so far as they can, and to do a little marching in place so that they can feel the thigh bone moving under their fingers. You’ll see an immediate change in the walking of the students who were seriously mismapped in the hip joint, and they will enjoy how deliciously easy walking is compared to what they have sadly become accustomed to. 

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Image 2.13a, 2.13b Knee Joint

The most serious mismapping you are countering with the truth in this area of the body is the mismapping that substitutes the knee cap for the knee as a place of balance. This will have reached almost grotesque proportions in those people who are seriously dropped “sharp” off their lumbar support. A resulting pattern of muscular tension drives the weight as it is experienced subjectively into the knee cap, and the knees themselves, where weight delivers from the large thigh bone to the large lower leg bone, disappear from experience. This gives a person a terrible instability in sensation, and the stability they will feel when they have balanced on their lumbar core and balanced at their middle, upper half of the body on the lower half, will amaze them, and they will begin to perceive the location of the actual knee. 

By the way, I prefer to say lower leg bone [or shin bone] rather than its Latin name tibia. In general I avoid the Latin, except where there is no easy English equivalent to the Latin, as there is not for ulna and radius. You can do as you like with Latin, of course. 


Image 2.15: Knees Locked, Balanced, Bent

I have watched choral rehearsal and private lessons in which the conductor or teacher was nearly obsessive about locked knees, fiercely enjoining the students to unlock the knees throughout the lesson or rehearsal. I don’t know what to make of the motivation for this obsession, but I know it to be a destructive one for the students. Here’s what you must make clear to the students who take What Every Musician Needs to Know about the Body

  • There are three conditions of knees: locked, balanced, and bent. 

  • Knees remain at balance when a) mechanical advantage is present above the knees, and b) the body map of the knees is accurate concerning the location of the knee. 

  • The locking of knees occurs when body weight is thrown “sharp,” back onto the lower back. A person needs to go only a little off balance in the lumbar area for the knees to lock. 

  • The knees lock as compensation for the loss of mechanical advantage in the lumbar area and the pelvis. 

  • This pattern of compensation is highly advantageous under the circumstances, for it stabilizes the body in a way that limits pressure on the lumbar disks. We’re far better off with locked knees than with pressure on the lumbar disks, and merely dropping weight back there is already more pressure than the area can easily bear. 

  • Teachers should never ask their students to unlock their knees if there is mechanical disadvantage above their knees. If mechanical advantage is restored above the knees, the teachers will not need to ask the students to unlock the knees. It will happen automatically because the knees only locked as compensation, and when balance is restored, there is nothing to compensate for. 


Do not feel you must address the matter of locked knees in this hour. I usually wait until the leg hour unless a question arises about it here, as it often does. 

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518 Andover-Proj4 foot(frontal-phal) FA.jpg

Image 2.17a,b,c: The Ankle Joint

I hope you can all find a little Halloween skeleton like the one I carry with me every time I teach the course. It incorporates most of the mapping mistakes we talk about in this hour, so it’s highly instructive and a good source of humor. I say, “It’s far scarier than its designer knew!” The little Halloween skeleton has the great virtue of displaying a truly L shaped foot. Every student can see just how bad an idea an L shaped foot is and just how contrary to the actual structure, which is arch shaped.


  • Remind the students that the foot has multiple arches: the arch as experienced on the inside, at the instep; the arch as experienced at the outside of the foot; all the arches in between the inside and the outside; the transverse arches across the balls of the feet and above. 

  • Make it clear that the toes are not part of the arch. In fact, the students can judge how well they are using their arches by how free their toes are. When weight is thrown off the arches, the toes grip in compensation. 

  • Show how each foot is an arch structure, in which weight delivers from the top of the arch outward to the heel and to the two sides of the transverse arch. 

  • Make it clear that this means weight delivers from the front of the heel to the back of the heel, not the other way round as so many have it mapped as doing. 

  • Show how the mismapping is consistent with the fantasy that weight delivers down the back of the foreleg. Show how the truth is that weight delivers down the front of the foreleg onto the top of the arch. Ask the students to reach down and palpate that weight delivering lower leg bone all the way up and down its length. There’s only a little connective tissue between the bone and the skin, so the students can palpate it very easily. 

  • Get the students on their feet, experiencing their tripods. Ask for words to describe the sensation. They’ll say, Stable. Grounded. Poised. Dynamic. Ready for movement. 

© Association for Body Mapping Education 2024

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