Another Kind of Strength

August 13, 2013

Many if not all aspects of life are a balance between two opposites and strength is no exception. On the one hand there is muscular action and on the other resistance to compression. Without resistance to compression there would be no foundation upon which to base muscular action and without muscular action there would be no force to be exerted from that foundation, so strength is to be found in the balance between the two. Our resistance to compression is a product of the core of our bodies, that internal structure of the head, neck, chest, abdomen and pelvis. It is the quality of the core structure, in terms of its volume, density and pressure that gives us a measure of our resistance to compression. This is the deepest structure of the body and its highest physical essence. Muscles on the other hand are the superficial outer structure and of the lowest order in that they are dependent upon the higher structures of the body.

 As a paraplegic strength has always been hard to find. These days my body is really shaping up and true strength is starting to develop, but for many years I lived with very little internal quality. The volume of my body was seriously depleted and what volume it had was of poor quality soft tissue of low density and pressure. Every push of a wheelchair caused my body to collapse in on itself. Rather than the core of my body resisting compression as I exerted muscular action, there was so little internal quality that the muscles were forced to work against the skeletal structure, placing undue stress on that structure and slowly but surely deforming the structure as there was a lack of internal volume to support it. Without the structure to the body, the muscles themselves (those that were not paralysed) had little foundation upon which to base there use and this resulted in some muscles being forced to take on extra load while others were made redundant.

I have no wish to dwell on the difficulties this imposed upon me; much of life is based upon the struggles we have, but it is often through those struggles that we rise to a higher level. Until I began to look at my body through this understanding of the structural hierarchy within it, I considered strength to stem purely from muscles and sought to build up the strength of my body through muscular effort alone. Little did I realise, at the time, that all I was achieving was the building of an almost artificial muscular shell that even served to inhibit the growth of the higher internal structures. Once I understood the structural hierarchy of the body I very much changed my approach to using my body. I eased off of the muscular effort as much as possible and steered clear of any over exertion. Obviously life had to go on and physical activity had to prevail, but no longer did I view such activity as a means of improving my body. Greater focus was paid to therapy techniques to address the higher structures and physical activity became a damage limitation exercise.

The next step in the discovery of my own body was to gain a greater appreciation of this balance between resistance to compression and muscular action. Although we associate muscular action with movement and power, it was in a passive rather than active state that I found this balance. With a very much depleted stature it took effort to hold my body in a good posture, but by using this muscular effort I could lift my body up into a good posture and once that posture was attained I found that I could relax the muscular level and allow the resistance to compression to come into play and so find that balance. Bear in mind here that this is being done while sitting very still. It is only in that stillness that you can focus on such attributes of the body. Movements achieved through muscular action in this process are limited to the very small changes in positioning of the body necessary to attain to good posture. In learning to be on the cusp in this balance between muscular action and resistance to compression I found that the posture attained through muscular action could be maintained once the muscular level was relaxed. Despite the lack of resistance to compression my body was not sinking back into a compressed state. I was managing to be perfectly relaxed and yet attaining to a sense of stature that in reality did not exist! By being on the cusp another kind of strength seemed to well from within. Is this that legendary strength of spirit of old?

The word spirit comes from the Latin spiritus meaning breath, so is it in the breath that we should look for spirit. Within the structural hierarchy of the body, the muscular level is dependent upon the hydraulic skeletal level. The skeletal level is dependent upon the pneumatic core level and that core level is in turn dependent on breathing for its maintenance. The curvaceous form at the core of our bodies is the structure that through its expansion and contraction results in breathing, but it is not so much the structure that drives the breathing as the rhythmical breathing that drives the structure. Breathing can be a conscious action, but it is more importantly a subconscious action. It is a rhythm of the body that cannot be stopped. We can all hold our breath, but eventually we can hold it no longer; somehow we are forced to start breathing again. How can we describe that force if we do not call it spirit.

So I have come to the conclusion that spirit works into the body through the rhythm of the breath, building and maintaining the core structure of the body by inducing a rhythmical ebb and flow, of expansion and contraction, of the entire structure, to work that structure in a formative manner. In order to draw upon what we often describe as deep inner resources, but what I am describing as higher spiritual forces, we must therefore facilitate the ease with which the subconscious rhythmical breathing flows within the body and this is exactly what we do by living on the cusp between muscular action and resistance to compression.

Although we can appreciate our core pneumatic structure, we cannot consciously work that structure and so all we have access to through our conscious effort is the muscular level. In the passive state I spoke of it is generally speaking the relaxation of the muscles that allow for the ease of breathing, the switching off of the muscular level allowing the core structure to ‘be’ in its own right, and over exertion of muscles that restricts breathing. The same principle also applies to the over exertion of muscles in an active state. If we strain too hard we find it difficult to breath. I say generally because this works on the assumption of a body operating at 100% capacity, that few of us have, and even then it relies on good positioning and use of that body. If through the relaxation of muscles we allow our body to slump into a soft couch then our breathing will undoubtedly be impaired and so in the passive state we must position our body either horizontally or vertically for maximum effect.

When living in a body as damaged as mine, finding the perfect balance between muscular action and resistance to compression is not always easy. The core structure is weak and deformed through missing volume and so it takes the clever use of muscular effort to attain to a good posture, that can allow for the maximum possible capacity of the core structure, before relaxing those muscles to bring that ease of rhythmical breathing into play. This must be done in a meditative manner and through absolute stillness. If this can be achieved then we allow those deep inner resources to well from within and discover what I believe to be ‘strength of spirit’.


  1. Led to your blog by reference to your latest article by one of my Tai Chi students, I have found it all very interesting though not entirely comprehensible. I feel that the playing of Tai Chi may be a good way for people to develop their spirit(us) without being concerned with muscular strength – but sometimes the breath patterns are “conscious”

    • With what I am describing it is important to not focus on the breath. Focusing on the breath will bring consciousness into breathing which will serve to mask the unconscious rhythm of breathing and so deny access to higher resources. Instead one must focus on the balance between muscular action and resistance to compression, which is a structural aspect, but in order to do this you must first come to an internal perception of the higher pneumatic core structure. Thank you for your comment.

      • can you explain “resistance to compression”? not clear on that – I do appreciate that over emphasis on particular breath patterns may not be ideal although I may be in the minority in the Tai Chi world!

      • Resistance to compression is a product of the core structure of our bodies. Scientists may look at our internal organs as having only a metabolic function and being housed within the skeleton for their protection, but they are infact the bio-mechanical foundation of the body. The internal organs (smooth muscle tissue) together with connective tissue etc. make up the curvaceous form at the core of our bodies. We can look at this structure as being pneumatic, not by the fact that we breath into the lungs, but in that the structure as a whole behaves pneumatically by having a volume, density and pressure, ie. conforming to Boyles Law. Both muscular effort and simply the weight of our bodies place compressional forces upon this core pneumatic structure and it is the quality of this structure that gives us a measure of our resitance to compression. With a strong core structure (high quality) we have a high resistance to compression, so attaining to good stature and the ability to effortlessly perform muscular activity. If our core structure is weak then our body will collapse in on itself easily and muscluar activity will be strenuous without the strong foundation upon which to act. I hope this clarifies for you.

  2. Hello Steve, this is a beautiful post. I am glad that you finally brought it. It describes the effect one wants to achieve in all the forms of ABR we have today! Effortlessness of movement based upon relaxation of muscles and the internal balance of strength achieved through the healthy respiration. In a healthy child one can see this effortlessness. The balance between the respiration and muscular effort works unconsciously and in a more or less state of harmony – if the child has not been drilled through either excessive sport or pre-mature intelllectual learning. When the muscles are tired, the child always chooses rest over further activity. He or she does this without thinking. (When the “mind” is tired, the child chooses movement and collects the “hyper-active” diagnosis for something completely natural!)

    The adult can find the balance of the breath in the meditative manner that you describe – allowing him to access deep and undiscovered strengths. The child cannot go this way and is confined to the immediate situation.

    Therefore your posts are so valuable for all the parents whose children cannot put their sensations and improved well being through the heightened internal strength into words.

    Thank you,


  3. Finally I managed to read your latest blogs. You have a Lot to say about the the things you discover both your last blogs were very interesting to read xxx F

  4. As you know Steve, I am a very enthusiastic person, wondering at the moment how superficial my enthusiasm is. After having read your blogs for the second time, I realise how difficult it must have been for you to share in public what your path has revealed to you in the past year or so. I would be very happy to learn ABR exercises to calm the spasms in my legs. The first thing that came to my mind after chatting with you, is a fundamental difference between us. You took a long time to express what you are discovering whereas I have the tendency to run before I can walk. It was the same enthusiasm that made me decide on the spur of a moment to teach construction workers to recognise themselves in their work. I love teaching and it took me a long time to get over the fact that I was no longer able to teach which makes me wonder how much more I could achieve had I more capacity to hold the horses a little bit longer. Maybe I will learn that one day but it is good to keep trying to deepen my capacity to be silent and meditate. Who knows what else your path will reveal to you over time.

    Thank you. Love Fanny x

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