The Tribe Without Knees

My Bad Posture

My Bad Posture: I am bending the spine where there are no hinge joints and head too far forward. Knees not bent at all. Shoulders slumped.

Alexander Technique

I’ve recently read my first book on the Alexander Technique called
Change Your Posture, Change Your Life: How the Power of the Alexander Technique Can Combat Back Pain, Tension and Stress. I know I have some postural issues such as rounding my shoulders. A trainer helped me understand I was arching my back which I have since corrected. I experience neck and upper back pain if I don’t regularly get chiropractic adjustments.

It became clear within the first few pages of this book that it is not possible to learn the technique without instruction and also that it’s a process of learning that can begin at any age and continue for your whole life. Brennan’s wonderful book serves as an introduction to the Alexander Technique and is a helpful way to learn to bring awareness to how we misuse our bodies and cause pain and hold stress in our muscles.

The Tribe Without Knees

I seem to have forgotten, again (big sigh) how to correctly bend down. At times, my knees or hips hurt and I develop a fear of pain that leads to moving incorrectly. This incorrect movement pattern does not help me to heal. If anything, it simply creates new injury patterns. I am now remembering again how to bend properly.

He tells a story about native people in Africa naming white missionaries “The tribe without knees”!

All joints require natural and regular movement to keep them healthy, so by using your major joints in order to maintain balance and equilibrium, you will also be keeping your joints free from problems and your muscles perfectly toned.

Often you will see people actually bending at the waist, where in fact there is no hinge joint, so in reality they are bending their spine.

You will rarely see young children or indigenous people bending down without bending their hips, knees and ankles.

Stand Up Straight!

Growing up, a neighbor down the street gave me all sorts of postural directives. She was a bit of a bully with her constant nagging but I know she meant well. I recently saw photos of myself slouching at 11 years old. All my life, I’ve attempted to force my body into “good posture” but it never sticks.

Why is that?

Postural vs Phasic Muscle

It turns out that we use different muscles entirely when we attempt to manually create “good posture”. Postural muscles are designed to be fatigue resistant. Also, this thinking misleads us into thinking posture is static and rigid. In fact, our bodies are meant to be in motion.

On trying to fix posture manually:

The crucial point here is that trying to improve posture by deliberately sitting up straight and pulling our shoulders back will never ever work,no matter how hard we try, because we will be using our phasic muscles rather than our postural muscles to do so. They are simply not the right muscles for the job and as a result will tire very quickly, and so we will not be able to maintain even what we think is a ‘good position’ for very long.

There is, in fact, no one right posture – any position is a valid position.

Improving posture really means bringing our habits to conscious awareness and deliberately choosing to replace those that are no longer serving us with new ways of responding that are more beneficial and natural.

…stop trying to improve your posture and just let go of your tensions, your habits and your thoughts, a new way of being will automatically materialize.

Where Did We Go Wrong?

Most children start off with good posture. What tends to destroy it is school. Now, we homeschool, in our case, the blame lays firmly at our feet. It’s the chairs and poor work surfaces.

On sitting:

…when using a reclining chair or a sofa or armchair while watching TV, you only need to let the chair fully support you…

However, on sitting while doing work of any sort is a different animal and requires entirely different positioning than our chairs are designed to offer.

For example, proper chair height is 1/3 your height while desks and tables should be at 1/2 your height. I notice nothing in my house is remotely close.

Seat angles in chairs and while driving should angle forward which can be achieved with a wedge cushion. Begin with small amounts of time while the muscles adjust to this new positioning.

Writing surfaces should angle higher at the back to facilitate proper spine and arm positioning. We should not be required to bend our spines to lean in towards our work. Feet should of course be on the floor. (Mine keep finding their way up onto the chair.)

While you are sitting during any activity, try to be balanced, poised and movable rather than hold any one fixed position.

On getting up from sitting in a chair:

…allow your head to move first by allowing it to go slightly forward and up and away from your shoulders…

If … done in a balanced way, you should be able to pause at any moment with grace and ease and feel totally balanced.

On moving from standing to sitting:

The natural way to sit down is to allow the head to move forward (without allowing the neck to drop down) and at the same time to bend the hips, knees and ankle joints so that yo descend in perfect balance.

On standing:

It is important to recognize that standing is an activity rather than a position. If you watch a young child standing, you will see that they are not actually still, but swaying very gently in balance.

When standing, the weight distribution should be…on the heel…ball of the foot…and…on the outside of the foot at the beginning of the little toe.

He goes on to describe placing feet around a foot apart (more or less depending upon height) and when standing for longer periods, putting one or the other foot about 1/2 foot behind with 60% of the weight.

On walking and shoes:

Suffice it to say we have really strayed here. Shoes were originally for warmth and obviously they serve the purpose of protecting our feet but mainly, most of us see them as an accessory. They force us to adopt a different way of walking that requires more muscular effort. You might imagine that this is a good thing, but remember that we have different kinds of muscles and we really don’t need to be using them incorrectly, creating tension and pulling the spine out of alignment. Shoes cause our feet to be used incorrectly and become deformed. Feet are supposed to help us stand and walk in balance and with grace.

On using eyes:

It is a common habit for people to look down by letting the whole head and neck drop, rather than looking down just with the eyes and keeping the head lightly balanced on top.

I’ve also been working my way through a tome called Relearning to See: Improve Your Eyesight Naturally! and have become quite clear that we’re meant to move while looking and seeing and that we have many misconceptions on how vision works. Again, small children have something to teach us here. They are always in motion! It’s generally not until school age that vision begins to deteriorate.

There is much more; the Alexander Technique benefits us just as much internally and will help with the quest to learn to be more happy and content.

Taking Action

It’s one thing to get inspired but it’s another to take action steps. How often do you get all fired up and then do nothing?

I will be attending a 2 hour class this weekend. I know I will benefit greatly from someone with this training addressing my personal issues but I also realize that it takes more than one session to make lasting change. The work must be done over time as wrong movement patterns are unlearned and eventually replaced by new ones that are easier on the body and don’t create stress.

This work will dovetail very nicely with another book I recently finished on optimism. Positive habits require time and practice. I’ve also just started a promising book called Switch: How to Change Things When Change Is Hard so expect more news on successfully creating change soon! My rider has gotten my elephant to take a few steps towards better posture.

What are you reading that has motivated you to make positive changes in your life?

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