Big Changes Over 30 Years
Each one of us arrives in the world with all the same working parts that humans have always had. There’s a lot of variation, of course, and some humans may have shorter or thicker bones and other differences, determined by our genetic inheritance. Yet the way our bones and muscles function together as a system of pulleys and levers is always the same for everyone. It’s the natural human mechanical design, and in the same way that all squirrels run and jump like squirrels everywhere, and all giraffes lumber about like all other giraffes, all human babies, everywhere in the world, when given the opportunity to engage in instinctual developmental movements, discover, or teach themselves, how to move like natural human beings.
These class photos from the 1950s and 1960s show students who were supported by aligned skeletons. These children might appear rigid and stiff by today’s standards, yet they’re supported by naturally aligned bones that allow the muscles attached to those bones to be elastic—i.e., neither too tight nor too weak. Just like good old Goldilocks, or a child carrying a younger sibling on his back in Ghana, the natural tension is such muscles is “just right.”
If we could see the skeletons inside the young bodies of the children pictured here, we’d see a somewhat chaotic collection of misaligned bones that are incapable of providing natural structural support for the body.
The Physics of Alignment
As a modern-day culture, we have all but forgotten what genuine, relaxed uprightness looks like. In fact, we often consider postural collapse to be the standard expression of what it means to be “relaxed.” This sort of relaxed posture, however, puts a lot of stress on the body, as certain muscles are forced to compensate for the structural misalignment of the underlying framework of support.
When the bones of the skeleton are arranged in line with the vertical axis of gravity, children are able to sit upright with ease, without effort or strain. They are better able to be present, without restlessness, and more capable of being focused and calm.
The vertical axis of gravity is the body’s natural “home base,” the center around which the skeleton is meant to arrange itself. This natural alignment readily engages homeostasis—a state of equilibrium in a system or structure. In earlier generations, most children lived in a state of easy natural alignment, whether sitting or standing, at home or at school, and so they inhabited their bodies easily and gracefully. They climbed trees and play equipment with ease, ran and played ball without so many of the limitations, physical “awkwardness,” and pain problems many children experience today. There were always exceptions to this, of course, although, today, children who inhabit the body with solid uprightness and move with easy flexibility are more likely to be the exception than the rule.
Changing Times, Changing Habits
Children’s lives today are far less ruled by strict regimentation and formal standards of dress or conduct—and that’s a good thing! Fortunately, the adage that children should be “seen and not heard” has lost favor, now that it’s widely recognized that children flourish when they’re respected and encouraged to freely express themselves. Those who are fortunate enough to be acknowledged in this way develop greater confidence and self-acceptance, as well as a capacity to respect and value others. They sense that they belong to the larger community and demonstrate a capacity for expressing themselves clearly and deliberately.
While relaxing rigid rules of conduct is progress, collapse of essential skeletal support is anything but progress. Hours spent sitting in front of digital screens or in classrooms with poorly designed chairs or on the floor without an understanding of how to sit, greatly compounds the posture problems our children face by reinforcing poor habits.
Thoughtful, conscious parents make their children’s emotional and psychological well-being a priority. They inform themselves about nutritious food choices and go out of their way to provide for their children’s overall health and safety. Even so, through no fault of their own, most parents miss the boat when it comes to understanding one of their children’s most basic physical needs—natural structural support.
The Challenges We All Face
It’s not just parents who misunderstand this basic physical need. In spite of all the advances in modern medicine, most doctors remain unaware of the importance of natural posture, or even what this is in the first place. Too many of their young patients struggle with sensory processing “dis-orders,” various learning disabilities, poor coordination and balance, diminished physical stamina, and a host of behavioral challenges. Physicians can be as overwhelmed as parents and teachers in trying to manage these problems, while working to discover causes and solutions that work.
What is often missing from the equation is an overall understanding of how early the seeds of these problems are usually sown in children’s bodies, extending, in many cases, all the way back to the earliest months of life, when instinctual neurodevelopmental movement plays a key role in establishing a healthy framework of natural support.
The Magic of Movement
Therapists who work with children in helping them overcome, improve, or manage many of these challenges, have recognized for a long time that movement therapy is essential in this healing process. It’s no surprise that many of these movements revisit and recreate steps along the way that were missed in children’s early physical/neurological development.
Such movements are discussed in detail in my upcoming book Healthy Posture for Babies and Children, which will be published this summer by Inner Traditions.
I’ll be discussing natural standing in a future post, with more dramatic images that reveal the widespread collapse of children’s legs (pillars of support for the body above). I’ll be following up in future posts with lots more about natural posture, the epidemic of collapse facing so many children today, why it matters so much, and how we can improve your child’s (and our own!) posture in the only way that truly works—by sharing the knowledge of how the mechanical body works. So stay tuned!
Kathleen Porter is a posture and movement coach. She is the author of Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment (Inner Traditions, 2006 & 2013) and Healthy Posture for Babies and Children (July 2017). She has traveled the world researching and observing populations who live in naturally aligned bodies and who move, work and age with ease. She is the creator of UpRightNOW, an online program she is developing for adults and children alike, and her company Natural Posture Solutions manufactures several small posture aids.
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