A FAVORABLE ARRANGEMENT OF THE BONEs
Alignment is the term used to describe how the bones of the human body are stacked up. Babies benefit from optimal alignment because their movement is quick, efficient, and easy on the muscles and joints. When the bones are not stacked up in a favorable alignment, such as in a baby who sits with her spine curved like the letter “C,” her muscles work too hard and she is not stable. This makes it very difficult for her to move. Remember how you took your car in to have the wheels aligned last Spring? The mechanic was looking at the placement of all the parts making the wheels turn. His job is to align the tires, put the tires in exactly the places which produce the most efficient driving.
For much of the first six months, baby is lying on the floor. She plays and sleeps on her belly, on her back, and on her side. The importance of alignment comes in when babies learn sitting and standing. At this stage, babies learn to deal with gravity as they bring more and more of their bones into the upright position. The principles of alignment are governed by the laws of natural forces such as gravity. The human body learns to overcome these forces when moving into the upright position. Baby’s first year includes tasks of overcoming gravity such as sitting, standing, and walking. The better aligned the spine is, the easier it is for baby. And, remember, we all wish the stars were aligned when our babies were born!
Alex is a conga star!
Alex received his first lesson at the age of 10 months. His parents proudly described how he was pulling himself up to standing and managing quite a bit of side-cruising. As I observed the determined baby pull himself up to standing, I noticed that he was standing on a “twisted ankle.” As he put his foot down to support his weight, he placed the foot on its side, so the outer ankle bone was down against the floor. Every time he pulled himself up he repeated this uncomfortable position. His utter determination superseded his inefficient body mechanics as he happily found himself upright and walking sideways! I thought, “Hmmm…let’s show him the more effective way.”
KNEELING FOR PROPRIOCEPTION AND BALANCE
I set out a box that was about twelve inches tall (the width and depth are irrelevant). I asked the parents if they could put Alex on his knees in front of the box. Well, you may know that once a baby has learned to pull himself up to standing, it is next to impossible to keep him down close to the ground. I found it difficult to bend his legs and keep him on the ground; UP he would pop in half a beat! I showed Alex the fun game of banging my hands on the hard top of the box, making a very cool sound, “Pat-a-tat-tat! Pat-a-tat-tat! Everything in the room stopped as Alex looked at me, obviously intrigued. I instructed his parents to put him on his knees in front of the box. This time they succeeded quite easily. “Pat-a-tat-tat,” I repeated. Alex smiled and began banging his hands on the top of the box. I instructed his dad to respond by tapping back with his hands, creating a call and response between father and son. Alex was having a great time.
Meanwhile, I moved his knees closer together, so the knees were in a straight line with the center of the hip joints. The pelvis was directly above the knees, not sitting back on his feet. This brings about the ideal alignment of the pelvis and legs for the standing position. If the knees are too wide, he will stand with too wide of a base of support. And while he played his “conga drum,” he was improving his balance since he is not holding on with both hands at the same time. While one hand holds on, the other is banging the drum. When he gets the action of playing with both hands, he is not really holding on at all. I touched the center of his heels with a rather firm pressure. This is assisting with the proprioception of this part of his body. When we stand, we get our power from our heels as they connect us to the large muscles of the legs and pelvis.
After some play time on our drum Alex began to move around the room. He began to pull up to standing, but now by using the heel of his foot to connect to his leg muscles! Through some proprioception of his heels, he learned a more efficient way to stand up, in less than 15 minutes! After a short while, Alex chose to return to the position of his knees. He played back and forth between the position of his knees and the cruising. I encouraged his parents to find a box and play drums with him once a day while he is on his knees, as this better prepares him for standing and walking. With this lesson, we have no falling stars, only rising ones!
DEVELOPMENTAL MILESTONE: STANDING
Lucy is a rising star!
Lucy received a lesson at about ten months of age when she was confidently crawling and just beginning to stand. By placing a toy on the seat of a chair, she would crawl close on her hands and knees, grab the seat of the chair with her hands (transitioning onto her knees), and then put one foot flat on the floor pushing it down to give her the power to stand up onto both feet. She would stand with her feet wide, holding the toy, and looking quite jubilant! Although she was standing quite well, we would like Lucy’s development to occur at as optimal a skill level as possible. I knew giving a couple of bits of information to Lucy’s nervous system would teach her to stand with improved stability and balance. This also better prepares her for walking. When she crawled close to the chair, I observed that her knees were a bit wide from the crawling. When she held onto the chair, I moved one knee closer to the other one, narrowing her base of support. Now her thigh bones were directly under her hip joints, a much better place for supporting the weight of her body above. Think about the support columns of a building: They sit in a straight line down into the ground. When Lucy’s feet were wide apart, her torso was supported with slanted columns.
The second bit of information that I gave to Lucy’s nervous system was to firmly touch the center of her heel bones with my thumbs for a few moments so she could more clearly feel that part of her body, the part that generates the power to stand. This is proprioception of her heels. Lucy very quickly learned to bring her knees closer together before standing up and to push her foot down into the floor with more pressure, which uses her leg muscles in an improved way. In only a few minutes, Lucy had it! Her mother smiled and acknowledged that she was already standing better and appearing more stable and confident. In one thirty minute lesson Lucy learned to stand with improved skill – another stellar caterpillar is born!
Alignment and Propriocepton
One of baby’s developmental stages is learning to stand. This motor milestone is significant because it marks a transition from balancing the weight of the body on the hands and knees to only the feet. The base of support changes from a wide base with four legs of support (two hands and two knees) to a narrow base of only two tiny feet. Two details of the skill development are the proprioception of the heels and the alignment of the columns of support (legs and feet). A baby who has a clear sense of her heels will use them more effectively, which invites the leg muscles to work immediately and with repetition builds strength. A baby whose legs and feet are in a straight line under her hip joints will feel more stable and then develop improved balance – both necessary for the next developmental milestone of walking. We can observe from Lucy’s lesson that a little extra information will assist baby in not just meeting, but in mastering a milestone.