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Gravity: Balance of Body - Balance of Mind

by Will Johnson(more info)

listed in bodywork, originally published in issue 12 - May 1996

The Two Faces of Gravity

Gravity is one of the most predominant forces in the universe. An inherent property of every particle of matter, gravity draws objects to each other according to their mass, with smaller objects inevitably coming under the influence of larger ones. In this way it orchestrates the course of planets as they move in an orderly fashion around the sun and establishes our primary destiny as an earth-bound species. Scientists who embrace the theory of the 'Big Bang' as the most likely explanation of how the universe began speculate that the force of gravity came into existence an unfathomably small microsecond after that event occurred and has remained constant throughout the universe ever since.

Our practical experience of gravity comes from the sense of being almost inextricably connected to the ground directly underneath our bodies. We have become so accustomed to this sensation, however, that we take it for granted. When we climb or descend a steep hill we become momentarily more appreciative of the magnitude of this force. Most of the time, though, we remain blind to its presence. Much like the oxygen that fills our air, it is an invisible factor in our lives.

Our physical relationship with gravity determines whether our journey through life will be one of buoyancy and lightness or tension and struggle. To encourage structural balance, we need to align the energy field of the human body with the gravitational field of the earth so that they are able to relate to each other in a mutually supportive manner. If our bodies can assume the structural coordinates that allow for this relationship, then we become balanced, and we reap a sense of well-being as a natural and inevitable consequence. If we are unable to do so, then the experience of well-being becomes maddeningly elusive.

What we are dealing with here are two distinct, yet obviously interrelated, notions of energy. Our practical understanding of gravity is still largely based on the Newtonian conception of energy as a force whose expression and influence are so consistent and unvarying that we can measure it with mathematical precision. Such mathematical exactness allows us to deduce an underlying law or principle, and Newton's observation that energy varies with the square of the distance from the source has proven to be both accurate and dependable. Nowhere can the operation of this law be seen so clearly as in the space program. The rocket engines must initially exert an enormous thrust capable of freeing the spacecraft from the hold that the gravitational field has on it. Finally, after the spacecraft has traveled a great distance, the gravitational force of the earth diminishes to a point where our astronauts are able to experience the phenomenon of weightlessness.

Gravitational energy conforms in all observable respects to Newton's predictions for its behavior. It is highly ordered and unfailingly consistent. Gravitational energy fluctuates only to the extent that an object is capable of altering the distance that exists between itself and the source of the gravity. For all practical purposes this is impossible for us as human beings. We are born on the outermost layer of the earth's surface, pass our life on this surface, and die here. Gravity is the most constant force affecting our lives.

The second notion of energy deals with what might be called "vital" energy. This is the energy of life, which in some manifestation or another, is characteristic of all living organisms. This nonmechanistic notion has nothing to do with distance and even less to do with constancy. It is characterized by pulsation, wildly differing periods of fluctuation which are not reducible to prediction, and sensations of streaming and flow. While it is present during the entire life of every living organism, it may manifest in a disordered electromotive pattern of low overall voltage, or it may appear as a wonderfully organized and coherent force of great magnetism and influence.

One of the major factors in determining how this vital energy will, in fact, present itself is the relationship that exists between the living organism and the gravitational field which acts on it. We cannot change the gravitational field, but we can alter our relationship to this field. If we can change our position so it is more in line and more in harmony with gravitational energy, then our tendency to randomness, disorder, and deterioration will decrease. Put more simply, the quality of energy that is available to a human being depends on his ability to come to balance.

Gravity, then, is simply a neutral force. Only our relationship with gravity determines whether we experience it in a constructive or destructive way. Depending on the structure of the body on which it acts, gravity can either support us and provide a springboard for our activities or it can pull at us and tear us down. Gravity affects us in a positive, supportive way when all the major segments of our body come into vertical alignment in a completely relaxed and balanced manner. Just as successive floors in a skyscraper are stacked directly on top of one another, each bodily segment must be able to rest effortlessly on the segment immediately beneath it, which in turn functions as its support. Seen from the side, the head will appear to rest directly on top of the neck, which is supported by the shoulder girdle and thorax all the way down through the abdomen, pelvis, upper and lower legs, ankles, and feet.

The contact between the bottoms of the feet and the earth is critical. The surface of the earth functions as the bottommost segment of the human body, our final and lowest limb. At this point of contact, the message of the body's balance or imbalance is communicated directly to the earth. Our relationship to this point "underneath our standing" has great bearing on our ability to develop wisdom or "understanding" in our life. By familiarizing ourselves with the ground on which we stand, understanding can arise. The more we understand about ourselves, in turn, the closer we come to gaining access to the "ground of being" that was mentioned at the end of the previous chapter.

Access to understanding is dependent on whether or not a body need exert any unnecessary muscular effort to remain erect. It is easy to see what happens when the structure of the body begins to lose its verticality. Consider, for instance, the placement of the head. In proper alignment and with proper support, it can sit effortlessly on top of the body like a balanced crown. It is shielded from the pull of gravity by the mass of the body supporting it. If the head is too far forward relative to the ideal vertical, however, it presents a whole new area for gravity to act upon. In this case the muscles in the back of the neck must contract to offset this force. If they did not, the head would fall down onto the chest.

This condition is true of any deviation from ideal vertical posture, wherever it occurs in the body. The deviation may appear in the lack of balance between any portion of the right and left sides of the body, the front and back of the body (as in the example of the head and neck), or even between the outermost tissues of the body and the deeper core structures. Given any of these situations, gravity suddenly becomes a menacing force against which we must work to keep ourselves erect. When this conflict is resolved, gravity becomes a highly benevolent support that allows us to remain erect without having to exert any effort at all.

One of the simplest examples of this phenomenon can be demonstrated by trying to balance a kitchen broom upside down on a finger. There is a point when the broom becomes completely vertical and, top-heavy though it may be, seems to balance with effortless poise in midair. As soon as the broom begins to wander away from this perfect verticality, the finger supporting it must quickly be shifted to prevent it from falling to the floor.

A valid question remains as to how the earth's gravity, which by its very nature draws smaller objects on or near its surface to itself, can be responsible for offering not only support, but the experience of buoyancy as well. People whose bodily structure is able to shift in the direction of greater balance, relaxation, and verticality often report that the experience of gravity seems to reverse itself. No longer does the body feel as if it is being pulled only in the direction of the earth. Instead, there is a physical sensation that the body, without any muscular effort, is being lifted upward as though it is being drawn to another as yet undiscovered force, which is analogous to the earth's gravity, yet opposite to it in the direction of its pull. How can this phenomenon be explained?

We must keep in mind that what we are dealing with is the intermingling of two highly different manifestations of energy - one inanimate and the other animate. As human beings we exist much like seeds and are metaphorically subject to the same influences and experiences that condition and characterize the life of a seed. If a seed is thrown onto fertile soil and nurtured with adequate moisture, clean air, and the heat of the sun, it will sprout into the stem of a plant or a flower. As its delicate green shoot rises upward, as though reaching out toward the sun, its roots grow larger and stronger as they sink deeper in an ever more intricate webbing into the earth. However, if the same seed falls upon inadequate soil and is unable to receive a proper amount of moisture and heat, it withers and decays back into the ground on which it fell.

The eye sees more directly than the mouth says. If I, now named reps, show you GRAVITATING as above it can remind you to do it if you see it on a bare wall. As you EXPERIENCE gravitating all I-me-mine melts into it and you are free. Every cell and pore of you already gravitates so why resist this silent mighty power in your honor? At least lessen your troubling.


The eye sees more directly than the mouth says. If I, now named reps, show you GRAVITATING as above it can remind you to do it if you see it on a bare wall. As you EXPERIENCE gravitating all I-me-mine melts into it and you are free. Every cell and pore of you already gravitates so why resist this silent mighty power in your honor? At least lessen your troubling.

Interpretations of drawings originally done by Paul Reps, a twentieth century Western teacher of Zen


As you let sink down you become weightless and like a seed open UP and RADIATE sunward and nothing can stop you. And nothing can stop you. And nothing can stop you. Each instant new all through.

Figure 1 (ABOVE)
Interpretations of drawings originally done by Paul Reps, a twentieth century Western teacher of Zen

Our physical relationship with gravity determines whether our journey through life will be one of buoyancy and lightness or tension and struggle. To encourage structural balance, we need to align the energy field of the human body with the gravitational field of the earth so that they are able to relate to each other in a mutually supportive manner.

The other major source from which this book draws its depth is the tradition of Buddhism and, in particular, the psychological model that tradition has so courageously and elegantly developed.

The force of gravity is one of the major cornerstones of classical physics. As a theory, it has behaved flawlessly for hundreds of years in its ability to predict and explain the behavior of physical events whose size and scale are within the comprehension of human beings. The limitations to this theory have only surfaced in the twentieth century as scientists have begun to turn their attention to the behavior of situations that are not at all related to the scale of personal experience but are, rather, either infinitesimally large or small. While Einstein's conception of a space-time continuum neatly dispenses with the classical notion of gravitational force in its explanation of how the universe is held together, it has little practical applicability to our day-to-day existence as inhabitants of this planet. For us, and for most objects and events whose size is comprehensible by us, Newton's conception of gravitational attraction still holds steadfastly true. Einstein may have proved that, in the way we conventionally envision it, there is no such thing as the 'force of gravity.' However, the fact remains that when the apple is tossed into the air, it unfailingly returns to the earth. So also do our bodies, depending upon their physical structure, experience different sensations that can be understood and explained only in terms of our classical conception of gravity.

When astronauts who have experienced long periods of weightlessness return to earth, they are often slightly taller than they were before their journey into space. Quite obviously they too have undergone a dramatic, if temporary, alteration in their relationship with gravity. The extra length doesn't last that long, however, once they refamiliarize themselves with the earth's gravitational field

Our journey through life is much like that of a seed in search of the conditions that will insure its growth and flowering. As humans we have many of the same requirements as the seed: clean water and air, healthful nutrients, and exposure to the sun. But unlike the seed, we have the ability to move along the surface of the earth. We needn't root ourselves in any one place. Our food comes from the earth, but not from the earth directly beneath our feet. The nourishment that we receive from the ground underneath our feet comes from the gravitational field itself, for it is our relationship with this field that supports a physical sense of well-being in a balanced body.

A balanced and relaxed body can surrender its physical weight to the pull of gravity and still remain standing. This is not possible for an imbalanced body, which must hold its weight up and away from the pull of gravity. If it were to surrender its weight to gravity, it would fall to the ground. By holding itself up and not allowing its weight to drop through the body, however, it exists much like a seed that was sown on a rock and is not able to contact the soil and begin its growth. That seed will die without having experienced the fulfilment of flowering.

When we allow our weight to drop downward into the earth, we establish roots, much like the seedling. We begin to grow and mature. At some point a mysterious phenomenon begins to occur. Our vital energy begins to flower, and while we experience ourselves as fully rooted in the earth, we can also begin to feel a force pulling us upward. The body begins to grow freely, and our sense of being is transformed. At this point we are no longer seeds. We have flowered into a whole new dimension of experience.

To arrive at this point is our birthright as inhabitants of this planet. It is the natural fulfilment of our destiny as human "seeds." Of course, there are no guarantees of success, and a quick look around at the conditions of life on our planet today would suggest that our current crop is not nearly so full and bountiful as it might be. Nevertheless, we appear to be acquiring a growing awareness of our condition and the choices open to us. In our increasing understanding of the healing power that the field of gravity can offer us, we can more actively participate in determining whether we plant ourselves in fertile ground or not. By pursuing the mystery of our relationship with gravity, we can embark on a journey that leads to fulfilment.

Weight, Weightlessness, and grace

A body in conflict with gravity experiences unnecessary heaviness and weight. It holds itself up through the same kind of muscular tensing that is required to lift a large, cumbersome object. A body in harmony with the gravitational field exists quite differently. The fact of its verticality and balance provide it with all the support it needs. Consequently, there is nothing to hold up. The experience of this body will be predominantly one of lightness and buoyancy.

While a body's weight can be measured on a scale with relative accuracy, that measurement says nothing about how that body experiences its weight. A hundred pound person can feel weighed down and heavy. Someone twice that weight can feel as though they were " walking on air. " It all depends on how well or how poorly a body is balanced. In some cultures, for example, people are able to balance extremely heavy objects on their head and transport them with ease over distances that would be unthinkable if they were carrying them in any other way. The same is true of how we move our body from place to place. When the body is not aligned in a predominantly vertical and balanced way, we tire quickly and limit our possibilities. The opposite, of course, is also true.

What we are actually doing when we allow our weight to drop is relaxing those muscles whose chronic contraction creates the experience of weight. Once that relaxation has occurred, any sense of heaviness vanishes as well. It simply drops away. True relaxation, then, is a function of the body's ability to surrender its weight to the pull of gravity.

One of the most commonly mentioned benefits of balance is a sense of lift that accompanies a body's shift toward better alignment. As we align the mass of our body around a more central vertical axis and succeed in altering our relationship with gravity, we often become taller. This, in itself, is not difficult to explain.

Structural rotations occurring at the joints may be present in abundance in an imbalanced body. For example, a lower leg might be facing in a slightly different direction from the one the upper leg is oriented toward. The overall effect of this is to decrease the available span of the whole leg. Much of the work of balancing a body centers around undoing rotations, and as the most pronounced rotations unwind the body lengthens.

What is more difficult to explain is the sense of lift and lightness that accompanies this reorganization of bodily structure. The earth's gravitational field draws us down, keeping us literally "earthbound." However, if the body does not have to resist gravity to remain standing, it often feels as though it is expanding upward, as though it is being drawn in the exact opposite direction from the normal gravitational pull. How can this be explained?

In the first place it is not completely accurate to imply that this expansion occurs only in an upward direction even though this may be what it largely feels like. For this upward and outward expansion to occur at all, the body must first be able to allow its weight to drop. The initiating phase of this expansion, then, occurs very much in a downward direction. Our surrender to gravity, the "invisible" part of the process, precedes and allows for this feeling of lift. The two-fold nature of this process is depicted in Figure 1 and bears a metaphoric similarity to the process of growth that is typical of all plant life. The heights to which a tree grows is entirely dependent on how deeply its roots sink into the earth. All that is apparent to our eye is an expansion upward and outward with the passing of each new year.

Allowing the weight of our body to drop initiates a powerful energetic reaction in the opposite (upward) direction, just as Newton's law of action and reaction indicates that it should. It is easy to see how this works if the weight we relinquish is external to ourselves. For example, you have probably had the experience of carrying someone "piggyback" on your shoulders. After some distance when you finally let the person down, it may have felt as though your body was floating upward. The same will hold true for relinquishing internal weight. By allowing a burden to drop away (a burden of guilt, a sense of not being okay, a deep-seated emotional scar, or an erroneous belief about oneself or the world), we experience a sensation of lift in its place. Personal breakthroughs of any kind are accompanied by a sense of relief or release. People who undergo a positive experience of this kind speak of being "high." If too long a period of time elapses between these kinds of experiences, we report feeling "low." These descriptions of experience, even if only by a small amount, are descriptions of physical fact as well. Physical release is accompanied by lengthening and expansion throughout the structure of the body.


Extracts taken from Balance of Body, Balance of Mind by Will Johnson. Published by Humanics Trade Paperbacks, Atlanta, Georgia. 1993.
Available in the UK from Airlift Book Company, 8 The Arena, Mollison Avenue, Enfield, Middlesex EN3 7NJ. Tel: 020-8443 5333.
Reprinted with permission from the publisher.


  1. s.v. sudhakara reddy said..

    you should have straightly explain is the gravity has an impact on human conscious. If you reduce the gravity and allow the human to stay in, is there any change in the human aspects, should have explained. You should explain how this gravity and human life correlated. why people had different habits from place to place and country to country, is it because of variation of gravity. if you can explain this, i will be more benefited.

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About Will Johnson

A distinguished graduate of Princeton University, Will Johnson studied with Ida Rolf and Emmett Hutchins at the Rolf Institute in Boulder, Colorado before receiving his certification in 1976. The other major source from which this book draws its depth is the tradition of Buddhism and, in particular, the psychological model that tradition has so courageously and elegantly developed.

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