Awareness of Bones: Sensing Alignment

For this month's continuing education focus, Awareness of Bones, we're excited to feature the following masterful voices from the worldwide Nia community. Read on to hear what they have to say about sensing alignment by exploring The Body's Way. Be sure to also listen to the March telecourse call with Debbie Rosas and Lita Curtis.

Debbie Rosas, Nia Co-Creator, says:

This month we’re researching healthy bones and the sensation of alignment, which is vital to functional movement. As a way to begin relating to your bones, know they are alive. If you’ve ever broken a bone, you know how true this is. Bones feel! Think of your bones as being light, dynamic and designed to move. Sense your bones as forming a dynamic body frame in partnership with your ligaments, tendons and muscles. These parts of your body attach to bone and make it possible for you to move freely. Feed your bones with healthy stimulation by consciously adding weight-bearing activities into your life. Keep your bones healthy with movement and energy variety, incorporating Nia's Five Sensations into your movement.

To maintain your bone health, eat nutrient-rich foods, get a daily dose of sunlight and laughter, and consciously give your bones the love and attention they need to perform for you on and off the dance floor day after day.

Loretta Milo, Nia trainer and teacher, says:

Bones are the most basic foundation for the form and structure of your amazing body. How can connecting to the "sensation of bones" contribute to your ideal body alignment? How can sensing the alignment of your bones help you become healthy? Let’s enhance our body literacy by becoming sensation scientists on an exploration of bones.

Your bones are hard and strong, and yet they are wildly alive. They are dynamic, responsive, malleable, regenerative and self-healing. Shifting the perception of bones as dry, crumbly and immobile can alter the way you sense them in your body. Yes, they can be sensed. If you have ever broken or fractured a bone, perhaps you can relate.

So what are your bones made up of? Most all of the bones in your body are made up of the same materials. The outer surface of the bone is called the periosteum (sound: pare-ee-os-tee-um). It is a thin, dense membrane or tissue that contains nerves and blood vessels that nourish the bone. This is where your muscles and tendons attach themselves. The next layer is made up of compact (sound: kom-pakt) bone, a very dense tissue that is smooth and extremely hard. It has minute passageways filled with blood vessels that oxygenate and carry living nutrients and minerals. Go deeper and you will find many layers of cancellous (sound: kan-sell-us) bone; they are sponge-like and porous, lightweight and yet very strong. Bone marrow is the deepest layer of the bone. It is the juicy, living marrow forming white blood cells for fighting infection, platelets to help stop bleeding, and red blood cells for carrying oxygen.

What are the shapes of your bones? Your bones are shaped into four basic forms: long (like the femur–your thighbone), short (like the carpals and tarsals–your wrist and ankles bones), flat (like the scapula–your shoulder blade) and irregular (like the vertebrae–or the bones of your spine).

How many bones do you have? 206! Your 206 bones can be sensed as a total unit (think of Halloween and the skeletons of your youth). They can also be divided into three basic subsets: the core of the body, (consisting of the pelvis, chest, head, and spine), the base of the body (consisting of the legs, knees and feet), and the upper extremities of the body (consisting of the shoulders, arms, hands and fingers).

In Nia, we place our attention on the bones because we can consciously control their movement easier than we can our muscles. Directing movement from the bone is an effective way to move from the inside out. It allows muscles to do what they do without interference.

Your bones are orchestrators that move energy vertical, horizontal, and rotational patterns. We learn this in Nia’s White Belt Principle #10–X-Ray Anatomy. It is the practice of using your eyes, imagination, and intuition to “see through” to the structure and alignment of your bones, muscles and ligaments.

The ability to see and sense your bones allows you to make choices for conscious realignment and self-healing. Imagine you are a superhero with powers to see and sense your bones with super-human sensitivity. Then take the steps below to enhance your awareness of bones. Remember, you are a sensation scientist when you are paying attention to the sensation of your bones!

Loretta's steps for increased awareness of bones:

  • Active your "witness." The witness is the non-judging part of you that can observe with attention.
  • Pay attention to your body's sensations along your bones.
  • Do not initially interfere with what you observe. Just notice.
  • Sense the alignment of your bones individually, bone by bone. (I found that the bigger bones, like the femur, were easier to sense when beginning this practice.)
  • Sense the alignment of your whole skeletal system, including all 206 bones.
  • Alternate from sensing one bone to many bones and then back again (much like a telescope).
  • Assess the information or sensations that your witness provides.
  • Ask, “Body, is this alignment optimum for my comfort and ease?” If the answer is “yes,” continue sensing. If not, adjust with awarness as you tap into your witness.
  • Consciously choose ways to realign your body for better comfort, ease, health and well-being.

Jackie Diner, Nia trainer and teacher, says:

Bones are our movable frameworks; they allow us to sense movement from all directions. They are the foundation of our posture, height, width and density. They are as strong as steel and offer a protective house for the organs, brain and spine. A major mechanical function of bones is to bear the weight of the body–from head to trunk to pelvis to legs to feet. Even though our bones are extremely strong, they have an elasticity that helps them absorb impact.

Inside our bones, marrow is the organic manufacturing plant for our blood cells. The outer part of the bone contains nerves and blood vessels, which provide nourishment to the bones. Below this area is compact (or cortical) bone, which has a smooth but hard quality. Compact bone makes up about 75-80 percent of a skeleton's bones mass. Inside compact bone are several layers of cancellous bone, which makes up the other 20-25 percent of bone mass. Cancellous bone has a sponge-like quality, which gives the overall bone a lighter sensation. The bone matrix is composed of inorganic mineral salts (which give bone steel like qualities) and organic salt known as collagen (which give bone elasticity). When we are born we have a ratio of inorganic and organic salts that is 1:1, but by the time we are 60 or 70 it may be as high as 7:1 (accounting for our bone frailty as we age).

If we look at our bones, we see a great variety of shapes. Our bones are not stacked like boxes, due to all the different shapes and sizes; they are an amazing balancing act. Through our sense of motion we are constantly shifting and realigning. Always seek pleasure in your movement as a way to promote health and well-being of your bones. 

Jackie’s tips on bones:

  • Pay attention to your feet. You have 26 bones in each foot, some of which are very small. Your feet support your entire frame. Massage them, exercise your toes (pick up Kleenex, wash clothes, or towels with your toes), and roll balls around on the bottom of your feet to get into all those small places (tennis balls, super balls, or golf balls work well). Buy shoes that fit your feet; don’t scrunch your bones.
  • If your bones feel tight from sitting to long, especially at a computer, get up and shake them out. Vibration increases circulation and realignment.
  • When walking, imagine your bones being suspended from a hook above your head. Move from the top. Sense lightness in your bones as they hang and move with your natural rhythm.
  • For bone strength and new cell bone growth, do weight-bearing exercise regularly such as brisk walking, Nia, stair climbing, tennis, running or playing basketball.
  • Eat calcium-rich food such as dairy, fish with bones (such as salmon), and lots of green, leafy vegetables. My new favorite is kale, which I marinate in a little olive oil, sea salt and chili caribe, and then dehydrate. Yum!

Britta Von Tagen, Nia trainer and teacher, says:

What do you know about the way your bones are designed? If your bones could talk, what would they say? Do you only sense your bones when you are injured? Do you need an X-ray at the hospital to know what your bones look like? Why, no!

Close your eyes and visualize your skeleton. What bones are vertical? What bones are horizontal? Which ones rotate? Sense your bones as moving in all directions... no 3-D glasses required.

Your skeletal system supports your body the same way that steel girders support a building. It is a protective frame that is both light and strong. Everyone has a skeleton–from the youngest baby to the oldest adult. Bones are made mostly of mineral calcium, mineral phosphorous, a fiber-like protein called collagen. The minerals give bones strength and the collagen makes them flexible.

Bones protect soft tissue and organs, make red and white blood cells, and can be described as very dense connective tissue. Bone tissue, or osseous tissue, gives bones rigidity. Under a microscope, the tissue looks like a crazy, honeycomb structure. (Math lovers listen up!) In geometry, a honeycomb is a space filling of polyhedral or higher-dimensional cells, so that there are no gaps. It is an example of the more general mathematical tessellation in any number of dimensions. Yes, our bones are magically geometric–and so are some of our organs and so is nature!

Britta's tips to study bones on your own:

  • Look at all the little bones through your skin, in your hands and feet. Wiggle them and watch which ones move and which ones don’t. Guess which ones might be used for small motor movement and which ones are used for large motor movement. Notice which ones wiggle and which ones hold still.
  • Make some dancing bones! This is a great visual exercise, especially for kids. You'll need: 12 paper plates, scissors, little brass “brads,“ clear tape and a picture of a skeleton. Using paper plates, cut out a skull, rib cage, collar bones, neck portions, a low spine, a pelvis, and arm and leg bone shapes. Use a skeleton picture to gage sizing and placement. Tape together the longer bones of the body then punch the brads into overlapping paper plate sections (these brands work like joints). Remember this will be a very simplified version of the real thing!
  • Create a "doing-the-dishes" or "cleaning-the-house" dance and visualize just your bones dancing. Try this for 45 minutes and call it your workout for the day!