Monthly Archives: December 2011

Human skeleton

Human skeleton

Engraving from the Iconographic Encyclopaedia of Science, Literature, and Art By Johann Georg Heck. Engraved by Henry Winkles. 1851

We all have a skeleton inside us. What is the posture of your skeleton?

Click for link to Front and Back view of skeletonwith bone names labelled.

1940s Importance of Proper Posture

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Human skeleton

There are over 206 bones in the typical adult human skeleton, a number which varies between individuals and with age. Human babies are born with 270 soft bones that fuse together by the age of twenty or twenty-five into the 206 hard, permanent adult bones.

Human appendicular skeleton diagram

Human Appendicular skeleton diagram (from Wikimedia)

Human Axial skeleton diagram

Human Axial skeleton diagram (from Wikimedia)

The axial skeleton has 80 bones together and includes the skull, the spine, the ribs and the sternum (breastbone).

The appendicular skeleton has 126 bones. This includes the two limb girdles of the shoulders and the pelvis) and their attached limb bones (arms and hands, legs and feet).

Horse skeleton diagram

Horse skeleton diagram (from Wikimedia)

Horse skeleton

Horses typically have 205 bones.

The axial skeleton contains the skull, vertebral column, sternum, and ribs. The appendicular skeleton contains the fore and hind limbs. Unlike his human rider the horse has no collarbone, plus the horse is able to lock the legs to rest and sleep standing up.

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Awareness – Body Scan

Twice this week I awakened before dawn when it was still dark outside. Sitting in bed I did some stretching feeling where I was stiff. Where was I holding tension in my body?

I could hear my husband breathing on the other side of the bed and one of our cats quietly snoring at his feet. Moving my joints I heard clicks, cracks and pops. My right knee has a grinding sound just before I straighten it out. When did I develop this sound? Was it when I twisted my knee this past summer? The knee is much weaker now and perhaps damaged a ligament.

How do my joints feel as they move? I note the different ways my hands, elbows and shoulder joints move. What happens if I move my shoulder with my palm up? What happens if I move my shoulder with my palm down? I hear the click and pop of my right shoulder. My collar-bone doesn’t connect to my sternum properly on that side. Could this cause me imbalance in my body? Is there a difference in how my shoulders can move on my left and right sides?

I feel tension in my shoulders and neck. I consciously tell them to relax. Am I still holding tension? Rolling my head from side to side my neck makes quiet grinding noises and then a couple of loud cracks. My neck feels less tense after the cracks.

I imagine the atlas and axis vertebrae and the joints at the base of my skull. Can I move my head on the pivot points without bending the rest of my neck? Feeling with my fingers on muscles of my head and neck I move my head slightly nodding up and down and turning side to side.

I lay back down. I often find myself holding tension. Am I actually relaxed? Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  It’s like my body is on guard and holds tension to prepare to react. Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  Am I ready for fight and flight?  Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.  Can I just focus on my breath and not think of anything else? Even for a breath? Breathe in to count of 4, breathe out to count of 4.

How can I tell the difference between relaxed and tense? I have read about a body scanning technique that presents a contrast to help become more aware of holding tension. The body scan tenses a set of muscles to feel the contraction and tension. After feeling the tightness, then you tell the muscles to relax. Feel the difference.

Starting at my toes I tense each area of my body and hold the contraction a few seconds, then ask the area to relax. – Tense the foot by pointing toe forwards, then relax. Tense the foot by pulling toes backwards, then relax. I work my way up the body tensing and relaxing each area. Continue down my arms. Clinch my fists, then relax. Move to my shoulders. Lastly I’m squinching up parts of my face and sticking out my tongue.

My other cat jumped up on the bed to investigate. I practiced mindfulness by feeling his soft fur on my hands and listening to his rumbling purring. He gave me appreciative licks on my hand with his rough tongue. I got up and the house was dark. Dark enough that didn’t matter if had my eyes open or closed. The house was mostly quiet. Is it ever truly quiet?

Again practicing mindfulness I take the time to just stand and listen. I can hear humming from a computer and the quiet roar of a plane flying over coming into land at the airport a few miles to our south. Is it coming from California and folks on the red-eye?

I stand in the dark hallway with my hands just touching the walls. I try balancing on my left leg, then my right leg. I wobble.  I ask my body questions. Do I tend to tip one way more than another? I seem to tip backwards mostly. When I start to tip over standing on one leg it happens quickly. My feet muscles try to hold me stable and fail. Can I do anything to make myself more stable? Bend my legs, think differently? Would this be easier if I could see and maybe focus on a point? I can’t rely on my body’s proprioception alone to remain stable in the dark. The body’s proprioception system provides informational awareness of your body in space. I definitely need to improve my balance, as well as stabilizing muscles to help me hold position.

I shake out my limbs. First my hands, then my wrists, and my arms. I swing my arms gently and feel the joints of my shoulders and elbows. Next my legs. I bend at my knees and feel how they support me. Where are my hips? I do a hip swivel and swing my entire leg back and forth. I rock my hips up and back and side to side. Watching that belly dancing show has taught me a few things.

Late afternoon now… how am I sitting? I’m slouching in an awful position at my desk. The lumbar support cushion does help, but the chair wants to lean back and takes me with it. Seems easiest to lean back into the chair this way, but maybe a reason I also hold tension in my neck and shoulders and my upper back often hurts.

Awareness is an important step in making changes.

For a practice:

  • Try a body scan and check where you hold tension. Try to tense at least one area, then relax. Note the difference in how that feels.
  • Try moving your synovial joints to notice how they function. See post  “Ride with Your Bones” for definition and examples of these joints.
  • Can you stand on one leg? What about balancing with your eyes closed?
  • If you are sitting now… then are you aligned over your spine? Are you riding the bones of your chair? What is tight in your body?
  • As a mindfulness exercise – close your eyes, try to clear your mind and just listen. What do you hear? Just sit for a couple of minutes and listen.
  • Try breathing in for a count of 4, then out for a count of 4. Can you have your mind empty and just breathe focusing on counting your breath? This is a simple meditation. Try for a count of 10. What does your mind do? Does it wander off?

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Ride with Your Bones

If you “ride with your bones,” your muscles won’t have to work so hard.

Riding with your bones requires an understanding of skeletal anatomy–where the bones are and how they articulate.

– Sally Swift

Skeletons - man riding horse

Photo by Chris League on Flickr (Creative Commons License)

Our bones ride our horse’s bones.

The skeleton consists of both fused and individual bones. Bone is a dynamic living part of the body. New bone is constantly produced and old bone removed. The skeleton supports the body structure and provides protection to major organs. Ligaments, tendons, muscles, and cartilage support the skeleton.

Muscles work with bones as levers to move our body. A ligament is a dense fibrous tissue that connects bone to bone stabilizing the joints. Tendons are fibrous bands that connect muscle to bone. Cartilage is a gel-like substance that provides cushioning between bones.

A joint (or articulation) is a point of contact between bones or between cartilage and bones. There are several different types of joints. Fibrous joints are immovable, for example between the bones of the skull. Cartilaginous joints, such as the spinal vertebrae, contain cartilage to cushion the bones and allow some movement. Synovial joints are the most common and most movable.

Examples of Hinge, Pivot, Ball and Socket synovial joints

  • Hinge joints allow movement in only one direction similar to opening and closing of a hinged door. The elbow and knee are hinge joints. 
  • Pivot joints allow for rotation around an axis, such as your head on the top of your spine.
  • Ball and socket joints are the most mobile type of joint in the human body, such as the shoulder and hip joints. They allow for forward motion, backward motion and circular rotation.

Examples of Condyloid, Gliding, Saddle synovial joints

  • The joint at the base of the index finger is a condyloid (ellipsoidal) joint. It can move side to side and front to back, but cannot rotate.
  • Gliding joints have two bone plates that glide against one another, such as some bones in the wrist.
  • The thumb is a saddle joint allowing for movement back and forth and up and down in two directions.

Try moving and bending your various synovial joints and note the different methods of movement allowed in your body.

A human skeleton riding a running horse skeleton

A human riding a horse, photo by Patrick Gries (from "Evolution")

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Alexander Technique

See if you notice the principles shared between the “Alexander Technique” and “Centered Riding” in these videos.

What is the Alexander Technique?

Now try a couple of Alexander Technique concepts while sitting at your desk. Become more aware of your body and what is around you. “Soft eyes”?

The Four Basics of Centered Riding

  • Soft Eyes – Encourage visual and physical awareness, better peripheral vision, and improved “feel.”
  • Breathing – Using the diaphragm and breathing correctly for better posture, relaxation, and energy.
  • Balance or Building Blocks – Aligns the riders body for improved balance, straightness, and ease of movement.
  • Centering – Using the center of balance, movement and control, located deep in the body, gives quiet strength, harmony and power, as in the oriental martial arts.

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4 Basics of Centered Riding

Understanding of human and horse anatomy, balance, movement, and the mind body connection are foundations of Sally Swift’s method. Centered Riding uses centering and grounding techniques from the oriental martial arts, along with body awareness, mental imagery and sports psychology.

Through increasing body awareness, inhibiting old patterns, and replacing them with a more balanced, free, and coordinated use of self, both horse and rider can move more freely and comfortably, and develop their best performance.

The Four Basics of Centered Riding

  • Soft Eyes – Encourage visual and physical awareness, better peripheral vision, and improved “feel.”
  • Breathing – Using the diaphragm and breathing correctly for better posture, relaxation, and energy.
  • Balance or Building Blocks – Aligns the riders body for improved balance, straightness, and ease of movement.
  • Centering – Using the center of balance, movement and control, located deep in the body, gives quiet strength, harmony and power, as in the oriental martial arts.

Sally Swift developed “Centered Riding”.

Available limited preview of book “Centered Riding 2: Further Exploration” on Google Books:

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Small changes over time

From my understanding… the Alexander Technique concepts work on making small improvements in posture by becoming self-aware of the body.

The technique teaches awareness of tension held in the body and unbalanced ways you are holding your body without your realizing this is causing stress and discomfort. With awareness (mindfulness) you make conscious efforts to make changes of how you hold and carry your body. F.M. Alexander coined the term “constructive conscious control” for the mental awareness and focus used to change the body.

Small changes over time will lead to results to build upon.  Even small changes are difficult to achieve if you don’t have good control over the body due to health issues, but small increments will achieve results. Progress cannot be forced or rushed. Through repeated small efforts we change the habit of how our body holds itself and moves. The changes will feel unusual at first, but with practice will become the more natural way of moving. This more natural movement will lower tension and stress and discomfort carried within the body.

If we are in better alignment within our body, then we are more free in movement, relaxed and at ease. We can have a more focused and peaceful mind. The mind can then be more able to help keep the body in proper form. This becomes a feedback loop between mind and body.

Yoga, Pilates, Tai Chi and Mindfulness Meditation seem ideal for helping to become stronger and more flexible and balanced in the body, as well as to become more mentally focused.

These same concepts also apply to how we can help a horse make small changes to their body and their movement so they can travel more freely, comfortably and able to carry a rider’s weight easier.


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Child’s Pose – Yoga

I am initially working on increasing flexibility and balance with some gentle strength building through easy yoga practice. This also supports mindfulness, relaxation and focusing on the breath.

This is one of my favorite poses called “Child’s Pose” (Balasana).

Yoga - child's pose

Child's pose (balasana)

Bala means child. A pose or posture is called an “asana”. I find it very relaxing and helps to stretch out my spine, upper thighs and feet.

If just trying for the first time, then try finding examples that show a modified version leaning on pillows or with a milder stretch. There are many variations.

If you are a bit more flexible, then this is a good example. Toronto Star writer and yoga teacher Daphne Gordon demonstrates the Child’s pose.

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Sally Swift

I have built up a library of books. These include both of Sally Swift’s books on Centered Riding. If I was going to do lessons or clinics, then a Centered Riding instructor would be on my list.

I’m inspired by Sally Swift. She used body awareness and learning how to change her body to work through a physical disability (scoliosis) using “The Alexander Technique”.

Sally Swift Bio:

“At seven years old, a scoliosis appeared which became part of her daily life and was later instrumental in her development of Centered Riding. After the diagnosis and well into her twenties, she worked with Mabel Ellsworth Todd, author of The Thinking Body. Mable Todd was Sally’s first teacher in “body awareness” and encouraged Sally to explore her new “awareness”. This early training was enhanced when Sally began, and continued, to study the Alexander Technique™ and applied it to riding. Sally’s work with the Alexander Technique™ enabled her to discard the back brace she had worn for many years. “

Good review of Sally Swift’s Centered Riding method with the Alexander Technique concepts.

“One of the key concepts in the Alexander Technique is that use informs function, that is, how you do something affects the result. This idea is made even more apparent when you put a rider on a horse. Every little thing a rider does (all the ways she uses her self) affects the horse.”

Centered Riding by Sally Swift (published 1985)
Centered Riding 2: Further Exploration by Sally Swift (published 2002)

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Sweet things in life

Made on Dec 25, 2010
Authentic Mexican Marranitos (Molasses Gingerbread Pigs)

Moist and rich-tasting beneath a glossy, ever-so-slightly flaky top. Not quite cookie, not quite cake. Marranitos — or cochinos, or puerquitos, as they are called in some Mexican-American communities — are often called “Gingerbread Pigs,” although they don’t actually have ginger in them.

My mother remembered marranitos fondly from childhood when my great-grandmother baked them. She always had some for Christmas. I’m so glad that I made these cookies for us to enjoy last year. Seems my great-grandmother didn’t use as much baking soda, as my Mom’s memory was the cookies were not as fluffy as mine.

My Mom passed away in August 2011.

Spending time with family is so precious. Sure miss her and my mind keeps forgetting that I can’t pick up the phone to say hi or go for a visit.

My great-grandparents & grandparents fled from Mexico to the US during Pancho Villa’s ‘Mexican Revolution’. Starting over from next to nothing, but with their lives, they pursued the American dream! Thankfully back in 1913 immigration was legally just a matter of taking a train ride across the border.

My Grandmother’s marranito handmade cookie cutter is now an heirloom antique and not used anymore to bake.


1 1/4 cups brown sugar
1/4 cup vegetable shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons baking soda
1 1/2 teaspoons cinnamon
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla
1 cup unsulphured molasses
1 egg
1/4 cup milk
6 cups all-purpose flour

Egg wash
1 egg


  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees.
  2. In a large mixing bowl, stir together brown sugar, shortening, baking soda, cinnamon and vanilla until the mixture forms a firm paste.
  3. Add, mixing after each addition until blended, the molasses, egg and milk.
  4. Gradually add the flour, mixing to form a dough; Roll dough out to about 1/4 inch thick; cut with a large pig-shaped cutter; Place each marranito on a cookie sheet lined with parchment paper.
  5. In a cup or small bowl, beat egg; Using a pastry brush, paint tops of marranitos lightly with beaten egg.
  6. Bake for 15 to 17 minutes, or until browned.

Found recipe at

*This recipe is from Fort Worth, Texas baker Marco Rangel, and is used for the cookies he sells at his bakery, the Panaderia San Marcos. It uses the non-traditional addition of cinnamon.

Music: Feliz Navidad (Merry Christmas)
Iranian-Armenian flamenco guitarist and composer

Music: Mi Burrito Sabanero
Con Mi Burrito Sabanero (With my Grasslands Donkey) is a wonderful Spanish Christmas Carol (or Villancico).
Author: Hugo Blanco
adaptation by: XURAZU
ritmo adaptado: Huayno selvatico
Album: Navidad En Las Alturas (Christmas In The Heights)
Members: Luis Ricaldi Rosas, Abel Ricaldi Rosas
Hometown: La Oroya, Peru / xurazu
© 2008 La Oroya – Peru

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