Alignment (Upd: Sep 28, ’19)

Figure 1, Neutral Alignment

“Keeping his body in a straight posture, holding the chest, neck and the head erect, and drawing the senses and the mind into the heart, the wise should cross over the fearful currents of the world by means of the raft (or boat) of Brahman.” – Svetasvatara Upanishad¹

Though butoh is about breaking form and context, it is advisable to have one place to use as a starting ground for rebellion assuming the practice is sustainable. I believe in developing a sustainable butoh so that the butoh we practice today can be practiced all the way to old age with minimal loss of physical range. If we are privileged in being an abled human, we are constantly inundated with standing, walking, and pacing.

Here I will draw out a neutral alignment that will be used as a launching ground for further movement. Not everybody’s spinal structure will be able to align comfortably with the below instructions. Becoming aware of your body’s place in alignment is the beginning of discovering a more neutral and effortless lifestyle.

1. Top & Bottom String

Feel a string both at the top of your head pulling up and at your perineum pulling down. Like in architecture, when these strings are attached, the strings will give the body tension and the pull of gravity will give the body compression. Feel both. The combination makes a subtle spring.

2. Feet

Find three equal points of balance between heel, and two points on the mounds right under the toes.

3. Ankles

Soften the ankles. Leave space for a little give.

4. Knees

Soften the knees. Knees should also always be in a slight bend of some sort even outside of butoh practice. Unless one is redistributing tension to the quadriceps, I would suggest always keeping a bend at the knees. Indigenous people who have a tendency to not have knee issues always keep their knees bent.

5. Hips

Soften the hips. Like the knees, allow for a slight bend. Leave space for a little give.

6. Pelvis

Slightly engage lower abdomen, near the point of the symphysis pubis. Have awareness of the Dan tien 3 inches below the naval.

7. Spine

The indigenous J-shape spine where the Sacral-Coccyx is curved out (butt sticking out) and remainder of spine effortlessly stacked and aligned is my preferred neutral spine alignment as opposed to the modern dance/ballet alignment where the Sacral-Coccyx is tucked in slightly to achieve more of a stacked spine throughout. Like with the knees, indigenous people use a J-shape spine and they also do not have associations with back problems.

To get a feeling for what this type of spinal alignment feels like, simply sit down and pull on your butt cheeks. Then just stack and relax the remainder of the spine. Feel this same alignment while standing. It allows for longer periods of standing and sitting.

8. Chest

The chest should not be caved in but not puffed out too much either. Think open but humble. To get a feel of the natural placement of the chest, massage the muscles beside the sternum and also the muscles right under both the distal and proximal end of the clavicle. Then shrug the shoulder up then back and massage again. Repeat with other shoulder. This will cause your fascia to naturally respond to a neutral yet open chest.

9. Shoulders

Roll the shoulders up and over behind you for several rotations then completely relax the tension at a stopping point behind you. Your shoulders should rest at along the coronal line of the body, which should place your middle finger at the same coronal line.

10. Neck

Initiate forward and back movements with the neck. You can imagine your chin engaging the movement. End back and then relax your neck. You should find that your ear canal will be at the coronal line of the body.

11. Skull

Rotate just the skull down and up several times. Just the skull, not the whole c-spine. When the skull comes down, feel the base of the skull slightly engaged. Feel as if this is an anchor point so that your head does not bobble like a bobble head. It is with the anchoring of this position that people can balance items on the central point at the top of the head. Relax face, and especially eyes and mouth. Best to keep lips slightly open as a reminder to relax the whole face. Also this neutral position is humble yet centered. When the head is titled up, there are often associations with ego.

Note: Once, we get this position down, it will then be important to break it. We can draw from any position and posture for butoh or body-based life resonance. Borrow and/or deviate from any posture or positions from yoga, external and internal martial arts, ballet, jazz, contemporary, mime, physical theater, sports, calisthenics, parkour, gymnastics, animals, trees, and landscapes.

¹ Swami Sivinanda, Essence of the Svetasvatara Upanishad.