How Cultural Prejudice Can Create Muscle Pain

"David" has come regularly to class and made impressive changes in his posture and movement. He'd started learning Somatic Exercises because he had constant back pain due to constant travel and long hours at a computer. After the workshop, "Solving the Mystery of Back Pain," I noticed that David's arched back had relaxed. His shoulders used to be pinned back as if someone had just shoved him from behind, but now they were swinging gently as he walked. He was happy; he no longer had back pain, which he said began to disappear once he learned to sit properly. He called that his "AHA!" moment.

He then told me that the trainers at his gym - a well known fitness center nearby - had remarked about his easy, relaxed gait and loose shoulders. They said to him, "I'd rather have back pain than walk the way you're walking now. You look gay." What a glaringly cultural statement: "real" men have solid bodies that don't move. Their hips never move and their backs are straight, with shoulders pinned back. Anything looser than that, according to these certified trainers, borders on "gay." Who cares if they have pain? David just laughed and told his trainers that his back pain was gone, so he didn't care.

Women are constantly amazed when I remind them that "it's OK to move your hips when you walk. In fact, it's what you're supposed to do!" Many confess that it's been a long time since they've moved their hips. It's seen as suggestive. Many even refuse to let their abdominals relax so they can breathe properly; they're too concerned with having the appearance of a flat stomach.

And then there's an older woman I worked with - bent over with a shuffling gait. When I reminded her to allow her hips to move when she walked,  she asked me, "you mean, move my hips like this?"- at which point she promptly straightened up, and sashayed down the hallway. "Exactly!" I said. She reverted to her stooped posture and said, "I can't do that. I'm a preacher's daughter and my daddy told me that only loose women walk that way."

Bodies are meant to move - freely, effortlessly, easily. No matter what others tell you, let your senses and your body be the judge - not other people and their prejudices. Then ask  yourself, "what cultural, familial or societal rules might be embedded in your movement?"