Life on Earth – Where Powerful Forces Collide

ID-100218029Check out the little guy in this 30 second video below. Known as a pond skimmer, he spends most of his life perfectly poised on the water’s surface.

In some ways his situation is not all that different from ours. We spend most of our lives on the surface of the earth.

The skimmer can leap up into the air for short periods of time. We can do that too.

The skimmer can push down a bit into the surface below him. We can do that too.

The skimmer is tethered to the earth by the gravitational force which draws it to the center of the earth.  We are too.

When the skimmer looks around, it may notice that despite that downward pull, it remains far from the earth’s center. We can make that same observation.

What keeps the skimmer, and us, on the earth’s surface?

In the case of the skimmer, he’s pushed upwards by a force that exactly matches the strength of the gravitational pull.  That upward push is provided by the surface tension of the water which reacts to his weight by trying to keep itself intact – that is by trying not to allow his weight to distort the water’s surface.

Just like the skimmer, we humans are pushed upwards by a force that exactly matches the strength of the downward gravitational pull.  That “anti-gravitational” force is created by surface we’re on, whether it’s the earth itself, or the concrete sidewalk, or the floor in our home.  Physicists use the term “hardness” to describe that force.

Any material, a wooden floor for example, has a certain degree of this “hardness”.  Hardness means that when we stand on it, it deforms a bit due to our weight, but very strong internal forces try to bring it back to it’s original shape. We make a temporary “dent” in the floor– a very small dent – and the floor tries to repair the “damage” by pushing back up against our feet.

it does that with a force that’s exactly the same strength as that created by gravity, and in exactly the opposite direction.  That’s what allows us to stay on the surface of the planet, and not disappear into it’s center.

The implications for human posture and movement in the operation of these two forces are enormous.  When we’re standing, the downward pull of gravity operates on our center of gravity, a point about 2 inches below our navel and pretty much in the center, front to back and side to side.

The upward force of the ground – our support, so to speak – pushes up onto the soles of our feet.  Between the soles of our feet (being pushed up) and our center of gravity (being pulled down) lie our feet, and our legs.  Together, they can either easily receive the earth’s support, or they can interfere with it’s free transmission to our whole body by creating excess tension.

The skimmer seems to be doing pretty well with this dance between the two forces.  We humans…not always so much so.  In some ways, the Alexander Technique can be seen as a method of helping us navigate these two forces more effectively so that we can move about on the surface of the earth with ease.

Another related method, Up With GravitySM, does this as well, by using our understanding of how gravity works on us, and combining that understanding with Alexander Technique directions.

Here’s a little experiment you might want to try:  Stand as your normally do for a few seconds, and then think, softly, to yourself, “My feet and legs are free to accept the support of the earth.”  What did you notice.  Take a walk with the same thought for a few steps, then throw the thought away and see what you notice.  Then bring it back again.*

Here are two more experiments: Sit on a firm chair, locate your sitz, or sitting, bones (2 projections downwards from your pelvis.  (You might want to put hands underneath your behind to help locate them.)  Then softly think “I’m free to receive the support of the chair.”  What do you notice?  What happens when you toss that thought away?

Finally, when you’re lying down – either on a fairly firms surface as in Alexander Technique Constructive Rest, or on your bed, softly think to yourself, “I am free to receive the support of the table (or the bed).”  Experiment with using that thought, tossing it away, and then bringing it back again.

I’d love to hear about your experiences with these directions.

*If you’re not familiar with using Alexander Technique directions, an earlier blog of mine, Throw it Away, provides some useful information on the topic.  You may also find this podcast useful:


Other podcasts related to the topic can be found here


An interesting aside: The gravitational force we experience is created by the whole of the earth. The upward opposite force is created by the tiny bit of the earth on which we happen to be.  It seems like the earth as a whole wants us to be tethered to it, while the spot we’re on wants to push us away.  I’m sure there are some interesting metaphysical implications here.

Image courtesy of phanlop88 at


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