THE POSTURAL DIALOGUES
The other day a client, Roderick, came to me in frustration. For years he had been working very hard to keep in shape. Roderick went for long walks with his dogs every day. He also trained at the local gym three to four times a week doing cardio exercises, weight training, and stretches. On top of this Roderick maintained a healthy diet. Yet for all this work he kept having injuries, feeling general soreness, and was tired a great deal of the time. Roderick felt that in many ways his health was declining not improving.
His question was simple, “What is stopping me from improving my physical health?”
Sometimes an example is better than words so I had Roderick stand in front of a full length mirror and close his eyes. I then asked him to bend his knees slightly so they weren’t locked. Then I had him readjust his hips using his (lower abdominal muscles), bend at the waist until he felt his upper stomach muscles engage, straighten his middle back, roll his shoulders back and lift up his head. (For those who practice yoga you will recognize that I had my client move into the Standing Mountain pose.)
I then asked Roderick to tell me how he felt. His response was immediate, “This feels really strange and awkward.”
Then I asked him to open his eyes and tell me what he saw in the mirror. Roderick was amazed. He was standing tall and straight, his hips were no longer tilted forward (causing his torso to bend forward), he did not have an exaggerated curve in his lower back (the lumbar spine), his shoulders were no longer rounded, and his head and neck were positioned straight above his shoulders.
For the first time in years Roderick had good posture.
The strange, awkward sensation he was feeling was caused by muscle imbalances in his body because some muscles were too short and strong while others too long and weak.
I then asked Roderick to first walk on the spot for ten seconds, next to bend forward and walk on the spot for another ten seconds before returning to his initial position and walk for another ten seconds. Afterwards my questions to him were simple, “In what position did you feel the best?” and “In which position did you use the least amount of energy?”
His answer was just as quick as before, “There is more strain and energy used when I bent forward.”
I gave a knowing nod and a smile and said, “For a moment I want you to think of yourself not as the living, breathing human being that you are but as a machine. In fact, I want you to think of yourself as a highly tuned, fancy sports car. Now, if any part, be it a cam shaft in the engine, a spark plug, or an axle or bearing is out of alignment, what will happen to the sports car?”
Roderick, a sports enthusiast and lover of fine automobiles broke into a smile and replied, “Well at first the car might run a bit rough but it would probably keep going. Then the fuel consumption will increase and the performance will decrease. In time all the parts will wear out quicker than expected and in abnormal ways and need to be replaced.” After a moment’s thought he looked at me with a twinkle in his eyes and asked, “Are you suggesting that humans are like cars?”
My answer was just as quick as many of his had been, “Yes” I said. I then went on to explain that the human body is the most amazing and complex machine in the world. More often than not it is not pre-existing physical deformities, known as manufacturing defects in automotive circles, that will cause most of our problems but rather injuries brought about by either normal, daily activities and wear and tear, or by accidents.
At that moment it was like a light bulb had gone off in my client’s head. “So you are saying that when my posture does not fall within normal ranges or specifications my body will stop functioning correctly? I will stop operating at optimum performance levels, and injuries will start to happen? But how long does this take to happen and how can I correct things?”
“Sometimes,” I said, “we will notice the changes immediately, especially after an accident. Usually though, the changes happen gradually and we don’t notice it right away. Just like when the timing of a car’s engine needs a tune up. The change is so slow that we only notice it when the engine runs really rough.” I paused for a moment before continuing, “Unlike cars, we can’t do a complete mechanical overhaul and replace all the broken or worn out parts. Luckily though with treatments from Massage Therapists, Chiropractors, Osteopaths, and Physiotherapists many imbalances can be improved or corrected allowing the client to improve their posture and their physical activities.”
I then said something that stopped Roderick in his tracks. “Sometimes, it is our solution to the problem that causes more problems. When we exercise and strengthen our muscles we often focus our attentions on some muscles while totally ignoring others. This can lead to the skeleton being pulled into unnatural or improper postural positions. Often, without realizing it, we are the cause of our own problems.”
Roderick stood up and began to leave but suddenly turned and said, “Thanks for answering my question. I’ll be back with more questions.”
“And I will be here, ready and willing to answer them.” I replied.
Please note that the story you have just read is not based on one specific person but is a compilation of various clients and situations. The appointment and conversation is fictional and has been created to explain the importance of proper posture. Please read the future segments of this series to learn more about posture and the various conditions that occur as a result of improper or poor posture and what you can do to improve yourself. I encourage you to try the tests mentioned to see how your posture stacks up.