Posture

If you keep making that face, it's gonna stick like that

Did your mom ever tell you that?

(My mom didn't, but my grandmom would threaten me that a little bird was gonna come perch on my bottom lip if I kept sticking it out. Duly noted.)

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I hate to tell ya, but there is something to that.

In the post about the 42 pound head, we can see how repeatedly keeping the head in the 'desktop' position creates adaptations in the supporting structures that help to maintain that position.

So, this is a good thing, right? I mean, look at the official definition of adaptation:

Adaptation: 1) adjustment to environmental conditions, such as modification of an organism or its parts that makes it more fit for existence under the conditions of its environment; 2) a heritable physical or behavioral trait that serves a specific function and improves an organism's fitness or survival.

But, consider this point (from biomechanist Katy Bowman's excellent book, Move Your DNA: Restore Your Health Through Natural Movement.):

"In a biological context, adaptation doesn't imply your body has been improved in the sense of having become healthier. Rather, adaptation is the result of your body's constant pursuit to conserve energy. Because we have practiced sitting daily, and for hours, our bodies have responded by making 'sitting' easier on us.

Tissues that spend most of their time in a fixed position will adapt to that position by making alterations that are fairly permanent. The changes are not truly permanent, as they can change over a long period of time with new habitual behavior, but your tissues don't change as much as you might assume - certainly not just because you get up out of a chair at the end of the day."

But, you have a standing desk. Or, you work out a few times a week, or even daily.

Swapping out one habitual static position for another (while the change itself is good) is now going to prompt the body to support THAT position more efficiently, which is really not what we're after.

As far as 'exercise' or working out, your body is adapting to what it's doing (and not doing) ALL the TIME. And, not just on a whole-body level, but on the cellular level.

Meaning, there is a difference between 'exercise' and 'movement' which we'll get into next time.

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In the meantime, take this little "How Much Do You Sit" quiz, to get an idea your ratio between 'sitting' and 'non-sitting' time, or 'sitting' and 'time you could be moving', remembering that your body is adapting to what it's doing the most.

Does this squash make my head look fat?

Last week, I left off by saying we're going to add 32 pounds to your head.

Chances are, you've already done this yourself.

See, there's this fun little graphic floating around bodywork circles that looks something like this (Thank you, Erik Dalton!):

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The explanation is that the average human head weighs about 10-12 pounds, and for every inch it moves forward off the center line, it gains ten pounds.

Not in reality, of course, but in how the head-supporting structures of the body 'perceive' it.

That baby is homegrown!

That baby is homegrown!

Imagine holding a bowling ball like this. (I do not own a bowling ball, so pretend this squash is a Brusnwick TZone. Or something like that).

It's easier to sustain this stress load when the force of gravity can travel through the center of the ball down through my supported arm.

Now, imagine moving it slightly off-center. More ball for gravity to pull on. Pretty soon, my arm would fatigue and shake, and probably drop the ball.

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Or explode onto the floor... creating quite a mess. (Use your imagination...)

With the head, however, this is a much more gradual process that the supportive tissue has time to adapt to, which it does ... by beefing up the muscles in the neck, upper shoulders and back (maybe you sport one of those little to not-so-little humps at the base of your neck?), as it gallantly attempts to keep your head from falling forward into your chest.

Now, it's important to understand, that, while typically 10-12 pounds is still no easy feat to not only balance but mobilize in many directions atop a small stack of cervical vertebrae, we are equipped with an almost anti-gravity-like tent that begins developing from the moment we're out of the womb

This tent includes the neck muscles, but also those of the upper back and the upper chest, and when we are recruiting a wide range of motions of the head, neck and shoulders, this support is accomplished with ease.

But, as we get older in this technologically-advanced society, we've come to limit our range to forward, and even more forward.

And now with the standard feature of cars equipped with backing up screens, we soon won't even need neck rotation at all.

Yay...?

So, the next time you say, "I hold all my tension in my neck and shoulders..." now you know you also may be carrying a 42 pound butterrnut sqaush up there that your upper body (and eventually your mid- and lower body) is doing its darndest to support.

More on how to deal with this will be revealed in coming issues. In the meantime, keep doing your head ramping and dropping, while adding in some slow turning from side to side.

Next time, we'll talk a bit about adaptation, and why this isn't always a good thing.

The P4H Formula in action

In last week's post, we introduced you to Bill's P4H Postural Postulate:

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.... with an example of how that plays out when carrying a load, such as a box of books.

Let's use another example: this simple act of standing.*

Everyone knows that standing properly is important. Teenagers have been admonished to "Quit slouching and stand up STRAIGHT!" since the beginning of time. (Who knows? Maybe primates first became homo erectus as a result of mommy apes barking that very command! But I digress...)

Q: When we are standing, what is the 'stress load'?

A: Gravity.

Gravity wants to pull us to the ground. So, in order to stand upright, we are 'managing a stress load'.... literally.

And, how do we best manage that stress load?

~ We make sure our feet are positioned shoulder width apart, and parallel to each other. This is the beginning of good posture because it grounds us. Standing with our legs crossed, or, with one foot jutting way off to the side is not an efficient posture, because our grounding is compromised. Furthermore, if we are standing on a roof top, or the deck of a boat, we will want to adjust our stance to match the terrain.

Which is easier to stand on: a flat surface, or a snow-covered slope?

Grounding can take many forms, but it always accomplishes the same purpose: to firmly connect us to a base.

~ Proper posture when standing will also involve being centered.

Centering simply means, 'equal distribution of a stress load'. (In other words, you want as much weight on one side as you do the other.) When we stand off-center, whether from side to side, or front to back (as in the case of 'head-forward' posture), we are giving gravity more surface to act on, and therefore, we have to work harder to stay upright. When that happens, we are actually making more work for ourselves, or rather... increasing the stress load!

~ The last part of the equation involves alignment. When we are standing, what are we aligning ourselves with?

The answer is: We are aligning all the structures that make up our physical being in relation to the perpendicular force of gravity. The way the bones are stacked, the way our joints articulate, the balanced tone of our muscles - even the pathway(s) of our breath and circulation.... ALL of that needs to come into alignment with the force of gravity while standing.

To the degree that everything is properly aligned, we can say that we have 'good posture'.

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Why is posture so important to us?

Because, as bodyworkers, we see the effects of poor posture daily.

Simply put, poor posture causes injuries.

Sometimes, it's an immediate effect, like 'throwing out your back' when lifting something the wrong way. Or, sometimes, it takes a while to show up, as in the case of arthritis, scoliosis, hyperkyphosis, and a host of other -osis'.

We know you know this, and we want to help you understand what 'posture' really consists of, and how it increases your stress load.

Injuries are almost always a result of poor grounding, off-centering, and /or misalignment.

So, internalize the P4H Formula, and think about some ways you can apply it to any situation you're in. When you start to adjust yourself in healthy relation to a stress load, you will truly be Posturing for Health!

(*We're using 'standing still' as an example of how the formula plays out, but, even as we shift our weight, change position, move, etc, those components shift with us. And....we should be changing our positions! "Good" posture is really being in healthy relationship with a multitude of circumstances! ~ G)

Good posture is not really what we're after

In the last post, I mentioned that the word "posture" can be misleading.

One, it’s because we tend to understand it more as an appearance, rather than a physical state based on biomechanical principles.

("Biomechanical": relating to the mechanical laws concerning the movement or structure of living organisms.)

Two, it suggests that there’s one best way to stand or sit or walk, when really, this relationship between our parts, and between our parts as a whole and our stress loads, is dynamic and ever-changing.

Even the word, alignment* (while sometimes used interchangeably with posture, is actually quite different) can mistakenly suggest a static position, and so what most of us end up trying to do is hold our bodies in a position or posture or in an alignment that we believe is ‘good’.

And, if this is you, how's that workin' for ya? Not so well, I'm guessing...

(* "Alignment": arrangement in a straight line, or in correct or appropriate relative positions.)

"Correct" and "appropriate" positions imply an objective reality we would be measuring ourselves against to be considered in alignment. And, there is something to that, in terms of how the effects of gravity transfer through our own physical mass, particularly through the bones and joints, over the course of a lifetime.

The challenge is understanding that alignment can't be forced. It's the natural result of cultivating a state brought about by the balanced relationship between muscular strength, muscular yield, joint mobility ... and, how we're using our bodies on a day-to-day basis.

So, what we're really after is mobility. Functionality. Range of motion. It's my belief that true 'alignment' can't be forced by chronic tension holding patterns.

In other words, 'alignment happens'. And, therefore, 'good posture'.

(Did you get my free ebook, "Six Things You Can STOP Doing if You Want Better Posture"? If not, grab it here.)

In the next post, Bill will give you another way to think about posture and what it has to do with stress.

What's all this about posture, anyway?

As our name, Posturing for Health, includes the root 'posture', it only seems fitting to begin exploring here... as it's a word we are all too familiar with.

But what does it mean, really?

In our experience, it’s become clear that while most people believe they know what ‘good posture’ looks like, they know a lot less about what it actually is, as far as the mechanical properties of the body. (Because why would you, unless you were really curious about biomechanics...)

But, this is what it’s really about... right?.... That there’s a connection between how we feel and how our body parts are arranged.

So, let's begin with the most basic definition of ‘posture’: an arrangement of parts.

Not good, not bad, just an arrangement.

Bill and I (Gina) have also defined posture as the relationship between us (our bodies, mindset, etc) and our stress load. More on that later.

What we've come to define as posture being either ‘good' or 'bad’ is really about the quality of that arrangement - between the parts of the body, as well as between the relationship of that body as a whole and what it’s trying to accomplish, and if those relationships are facilitating mobility, growth and strength, or setting us up for degeneration and breakdown.

In the next post, we’ll get into why using the word posture at all is misleading.