Feeling Your Center of Gravity
Feeling Your Center of Gravity
By changing the shape of your body (moving one part relative to another), you can change the position of your center or gravity relative to your body.
However, if you learn to feel your foundation, you can feel where your center of gravity is located, no matter what shape you make your body.
This is actually very basic physics. (Statics and Dynamics 101). And understanding this can make it easier to balance.
Feeling your center of gravity
When standing, we can use our feet as pressure sensors. The weight of our body presses through the bones of our feet which compress the skin of our feet.
The greater the pressure, the greater the sensation.
The trick to feeling where our center of gravity is with respect to our feet is noticing the point of greatest pressure. That's the point (or line) over which our center of gravity is positioned.
How to weigh a truck
You can figure out the weight of a car or truck by putting the front wheels on a scale, noting the weight, and then putting the back wheels on the same scale.
If the weight is even at the front and back wheels (if both measurements show the same weight) then the vehicle's center of gravity is midway between the front wheels and the back.
If the weight is different at each set of wheels, then the difference in weight can be used to calculate where exactly the center of gravity is with respect to the front and back wheels.
We can use the same idea to position our center of gravity evenly between both feet.
Learning to center your weight between both feet
If we feel our feet and notice that our weight is even on both feet then that means our center of gravity is above a point midway between our feet.
To work towards the required sensitivity, a simple exercise is to shift your body to one side, so that your weight is entirely on that foot, then shift back to center. Repeat a few times. Then try it while shifting weight onto the other foot.
Do this slowly and smoothly so that you can feel the increase in pressure as you shift weight to one foot, and the decrease in pressure as you shift weight away from the other foot.
Once you have a feel for these changes in pressure, you can then look for the position in which pressure is even in both feet. This indicates that your weight is centered between them.
Shifting weight to one foot
The same basic exercise can be used to shift weight to one foot.
The idea here is to shift weight to one foot to the point that you feel the other leg relax completely. That indicates that that leg is no longer supporting any of your body weight. If your standing foot and leg is braced sufficiently, you can then lift the unweighted leg without further shifting of your upper body. This is provided you lift the leg straight up, and not out to the side.
Note, when lifting the unweighted leg, you need only lift it high enough that your foot is clear off of the floor.
Shifting your weight forwards and back
You can use a similar exercise to feel your center of gravity as you shift it forwards and back.
The first part of this exercise is to get used to shifting your weight forwards and back. For this you can practice shifting forwards so that your weight is over your forefeet and toes.
Then shift back so that your weight is on the back edge of both heels.
After repeating a few times, try to center your weight between your heels and forefeet. Then try balancing with weight on your forefeet with heels lifted. To do this, shift your weight forwards so that your forefeet and toes press down with maximum pressure. Your heels should only lightly touch the floor. You can then lift them (or they may lift by themselves.)
Then try balancing on your heels with forefeet lifted. Shift your weight back so that your heels press down with maximum possible pressure. Then lift your forefeet.
In any of the above cases, it's important to stop your body as soon as you feel that your weight is shifted over your heels or your forefoot (or in the case of lateral weight shifting, as soon as you feel that your weight is entirely over one foot!)
You can then try the same exercise while standing on one foot!
I'll use Center and CG interchangeably with Center of Gravity.
The blue circle shows the approximate position of my Center of Gravity
Shifting Your Center of Gravity Relative to Your Body
In the above weight shifting examples, we were mainly shifting our body relative to our foundation. Those exercises are good for getting a generally feel for our center by using our foundation.
It's also possible to shift our center of gravity relative to our body. To this end, it helps to understand that each part of the body has it's own center of gravity.
Those parts are: the arms (the forearms, the upper arms), the head, the ribcage, the pelvis, the legs (the thighs, the calves and feet).
The position of the body's overall center of gravity relative to the body depends on the position of all of these elements relative to each other.
Moving one part of the body relative to another shifts the body's center of gravity. While we can move an arm, both arms, a leg or both legs to shift our center relative to our body, we can also simply bend at our hips or our spine to shift our center relative to our body.
Shape changing to shift our center
To start with, it can help to understand that standing upright with our hands by our sides, our center of gravity is generally somewhere within our pelvis.
However, if we push our hips to the side while bending our body, then our center of gravity shifts to a position to the side of the pelvis.
If we push our hips straight back (from the upright standing position) and bend forwards, then we shift our center in front of our pelvis.
If we push our hips forwards (again, from an upright position) then we shift our center of gravity to a position behind the hips.
Standing upright with your weight over one foot, then your center of gravity is in the region of your pelvis. (Bottom left.)
Pushing your hips left while keeping your center of gravity over your foot moves your pelvis relative to your center of gravity. Now your center of gravity ends up to the side of your pelvis instead of being centered within it. (Above right.)
Bending forwards at the hips while balancing on your forefeet, with your arms reaching back, your center has to be over your forefeet for you to stay balanced. (Below left.)
Move your arms forwards, then your hips have to shift backwards for you to stay balanced. This means that your center shifts away from your pelvis and towards your ribcage. (Above right.)
Moving Your Center
If you feel your feet and focus on keeping the weight on both feet the same, even as you move your hips and ribcage in different directions, then your center of gravity stays in the same vertical location (directly over your feet) even as you move your upper body around.
That means that you can move your body independently of your center of gravity.
In plainer terms, this means that you can learn to move your body while staying balanced!
Moving into a standing side bend, you can start with weight even on both feet. The, as you push your hips to the left while bending your torso to the right, you can work at keeping weight even on both feet. This means that you are keeping your center of gravity centered between both feet. You know this because both of your feet are pressing down with equal pressure.
Note that you could start with your weight centered over your left foot. You could then work at keeping your center over your left foot while again pushing your hips to the left and bendin your torso to the right.
To help keep your weight centered, you may find it helpful to use your arms and/or your free leg.
Breaking It Down
As mentioned, our head, ribcage, pelvis, arms and legs each have their own CG.
The sum of all of these centers adds up to one center of gravity that is positioned somewhere in the region of our pelvis (assuming we are standing upright, with your arms by your side.)
One way to feel where this center is located vertically within our body is to lay down on our belly and lift our head, chest and legs so that we are doing locust pose.
(Usually when I do this pose I focus only on lifting head and ribcage. However, for the purpose of feeling where your center is, lift legs and upper body.) You'll probably find that the your pelvis presses down strongly into the floor.
The part of your pelvis that presses down the most is the region of your pelvis where your center of gravity is located at.
If you reach your arms forwards while staying lifted, you'll tip forwards a little (or a lot.) Probably you'll find that your lower belly becomes your balance point.
If you bend your knees so that your shins point up, that shifts your weight even further forwards.
Another prone pose where you can feel your center relative to your pelvis is bow pose, shown below. By increasing the spinal back bend, or by decreasing the knee bend (try pulling the feet back, away from you) and/or by looking more forwards, or even up, the change in shape at the knees and/or spine can cause your center to shift rearwards.
Even though any movement of any part of your body can affect the location of your bodies CG, you can feel where your bodies center of gravity is by feeling your connection with the earth. Whether you are using hands, or feet or head to connect to the earth, you connection with the earth can act as a measuring device, whether scales, pressure sensors or both. And the sensory input from these sensors can tell you where your center of gravity is.
Shifting your center forwards over your knees
As demonstrated above with locust and bow pose, we can use other parts of our body to feel where our center is. If we learn to feel where our center of gravity is via our feet, it's relatively simple to learn to use other parts of our body as pressure sensors. As an example, moving into crow pose, we can learn to use our hands as pressure sensors.
As a precursor to getting used to the necessary weight shifting for moving into crow pose, you could practice forward and backward shifting your weight while kneeling with hips lifted. Starting with your weight back, your feet should press into the floor. Lifting your hips higher if necessary, shift your body forwards so that your weight is centered over your knees. (Use padding under your knees if you find this uncomfortable!) Your feet should then lift. Shift back and repeat a few times.
Shifting your center back to your knees
Another exercise you can use to get used to feeling your center while kneeling is to go on all fours. Bend your elbows so that you can put your face (or chin) on the floor. (Again, use a folder blanket, pillow or other cushioning if necessary!). Using your hands to help, move your hips back to get your center of gravity over your knees. (You may have to position your face closer to your knees!).
When you feel your weight over your knees, or at least most of it, you may find that by reaching your arms back you can lift your chin off of the floor.
Shifting your center over your hands for crow pose
For crow pose, you can rest your knees on the backs of your upper arms. Shift your hips forwards so that your knees press into your arms. At the same time, feel your weight shifting towards your your hands.
This can be scary, so to make it less scary, practice shifting forwards and backwards, increasing the amount you shift forwards gradually. You can then get used to using your hands, and fingers, to feel your center of gravity.
Once you can feel when your center is over your hands (by noticing when your hands and elbows have maximum pressure and your feet no pressure), you can then lift your feet without having to further shift your body forwards, whether you are doing crow pose with elbows bent or straight.
In the top picture my hips, and my center of gravity, are behind my hands. In the bottom two pictures, my center of gravity is over my hands meaning that I can lift my feet.
If doing crow pose with straight elbows, you may have to pinch your upper arms by pressing your knees inwards. But the idea is the same. When you can feel your center is over your hands, you can lift your feet.
Feeling your center of gravity while moving into headstand
If you are trying to lift into headstand with your legs straight, it can help to understand how your center shifts as your posture changes. Even more helpful is being able to use your foundation, in this case your elbows and the crown of your head to be able to feel where your center of gravity is.
In bound headstand, you could choose to keep your weight centered between your head and your elbows. Lifting your legs while keeping them straight, your hips will shift back in order to keep your center of gravity over your foundation.
Notice how my hips move closer to the edge of the scroll as my legs approach the horizontal position.
However, once past horizontal, your hips will shift forwards to keep your center over your foundation.
Notice how my hips move further away from the edge of the scroll as my legs move up from the horizontal position.