THE SOLUTION TO MOST PAIN PROBLEMS: NATURALLY-ALIGNED BONES!
Take a minute to examine these three bodies and their matching skeletons.
What do you notice?
We all know what’s wrong with THIS picture, right?
We see people standing like this all the time. Maybe you, yourself, spend time in a similar state of collapse. Many people do, since standing upright naturally has been all but lost from our modern day society. A closer look reveals legs that are diagonal instead of straight, the tailbone is “tucked”, the spine is collapsed, vertebral discs and internal organs inside the torso are compressed, and the shoulders and neck are struggling against a heavy head that hangs off the front of the body.
Many words come to mind to describe this way of standing—collapse, weakness, tired, defeated—and it’s not just a matter of not looking great, it just doesn’t feel very good to stand this way.
That’s why so many of us work really hard to pull ourselves “up straight,” like the woman below, right, in all the ways we were first taught by parents and teachers (“Chest up, shoulders back,” sound familiar?) and later by sports coaches, dance teachers, and many yoga and fitness instructors. A wholly different set of words come to mind to describe this corrected stance—strength, upright, good posture, tense.
Tense? Yes, tense.
“Upright,” by today’s standards, is indeed tense.
This is the familiar “tuck-the-butt, suck-in-the-belly, lift-up your-chest, pull-your-shoulders-back” stance that our society-at-large currently believes is what “good posture” looks like. Standing (or sitting) with the chest lifted up this way causes the back to arch (i.e., compresses the spine) and requires constant muscular effort. Even though this is unnatural for human bodies, and is a mostly modern adaptation, it goes largely unquestioned by many fitness trainers, yoga and Pilates teachers, parents, teachers, doctors and other health professionals.
Take a closer look, and you’ll see the legs are still not straight, unable, architecturally, to support the structure above. The rumpling of the shirt in the back match shortened, tense extensor muscles, used to “hold” this overcorrected body upright. This is because bones that are not aligned along the vertical axis are unable to do the job they are meant to do in supporting the body, so certain muscles that would otherwise be “elastic” in their support, must instead struggle in a chronic state of tension.
Both of these postures—collapsed and overcorrected—contribute to most of the back and joint pain experienced by millions of people today.
FIX THE POSTURE, LOSE THE PAIN
Until recently, we didn’t understand that our current way to prevent slouching is all wrong.
True models of naturally relaxed posture are well-developing babies and toddlers, and people in rural societies who still carry heavy loads on their heads (the ones who do this well), and people who have aged into their 80s and 90s with supple spines, authentic strength, easy flexibility, and enduring vitality. Truly authentic natural posture can only be learned by modeling how these people inhabit their bodies.
Our general ignorance of the skeleton’s natural alignment has caused us to overemphasize muscles, as if they are a system unto themselves, instead of part of a musculoskeletal system.
And so we focus on either stretching or strengthening muscles, activities that would seldom be necessary if we inhabited our bodies in an truly aligned way, allowing our muscles to take on their natural elasticity while doing their primary job of moving our bones.
When people learn how to stand, sit, bend, walk—even sleep— with a long, open and relaxed spine, like the one pictured at left, many pain problems begin to resolve themselves and often disappear for good. Stiffness gives way to muscles that gain renewed flexibility, and we are more genuinely strong—bone deep strong—as we find the profound natural support granted by a solidly aligned skeleton.
If you revisit the three bodies pictured at the top of this post, along with their matching skeletons, you probably have a better understanding of what it means for the the weight-bearing joints (yellow dots) to align along the vertical axis of gravity (“plumb line”). Can you see how this places the legs in a vertical position to support the “pole house” that is your body? How the pelvis is shifted into a more anterior tilt, to better support an elongated spine above it? How the entire musculature is evenly elongated and relaxed, and there’s no compression of weight-bearing joints and internal organs?
There’s lots more about these concepts of natural alignment in my book Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living, More and more people are discovering that when they re-learn how to align their bones in this natural way, a host of pain problems and other health concerns are improved, and in many cases, completely resolved. This is because as our bones align, joints also align, tense muscles are able to relax, internal organs function efficiently, the spine elongates and no longer compressed, and disruption of the nervous system by pressure on the spinal cord is resolved.
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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