Correct Your Common Posture Problems in 3 Steps

Today, I read a New York Times article about how posture affects one's emotional state, physical health, and self-esteem. The solution that is offered is simply to do strengthening exercises for the back, core, and buttocks. In reality, the answer is not that simple (if it were, back pain and bad posture would be non-existent). What this article fails to address is the root cause of most poor posture. Hanna Somatics provides this missing link information. I recently wrote this blog post about posture and how Hanna Somatics teaches you to improve your posture - or better said, "efficient balance in the center,"  and relieve your back pain for the long-term.

Step 1: Be aware of your habits

The first thing you need to do is to become aware of your current postural, movement, and emotional habits. Do you use a computer, hold a bag or purse on one shoulder or sit for hours at a time? Are you frequently stressed or fearful? Just take note.

Step 2: Learn how your habits create Sensory Motor Amnesia

Your brain controls your muscles, movement, emotional responses, and the way you habituate to the stresses of your life. Sensory Motor Amnesia presents as full-body patterns of muscular tightness. Whatever you do consistently becomes a habit -  your brain's new "normal" - and you lose conscious awareness. This is when slumped posture and back pain arise. This also affects your emotional and psychological state, and self-esteem.

Step 3: Find your optimum posture

This doesn't mean simply standing straight or sitting with your feet planted on the floor. You need to restore your ability to sense and fully control your muscles to contract and relax by first retraining your brain - the control center of your body - through pandiculation and Hanna Somatic Exercises. This is a process of education, the same as learning to ride a bicycle or play the piano. You will learn body and emotional awareness, and learn to release tense muscles, which will help you to create physical comfort from the inside out.

4 Common "Bad" Postures (and their causes):

  • 32Hunched shoulders and tucked pelvis - slumping in seat, frequent computer use, emotional response to worry and fear
  • "Text neck"/Forward neck - tilting head downward to use handheld device or nurse/feed an infant, straining to see computer screen
  • Uneven weight on feet - compensation due to an accident, injury or surgery, holding baby on one hip, one-sided repetitive tasks
  • IMG_1402Forward hip tilt/Arched lower back - common in Type A personalities and active individuals, emotional response to high-stress situations

Try a few Somatic Exercises to help release tight back muscles and improve posture.

How To Improve Posture & Reverse Your Back Pain

There are "posture experts" everywhere that teach you to how to stand: bones in alignment, body parts stacked just so. Many yoga teachers stress alignment more than they do somatic awareness and proprioception. Because most people have Sensory Motor Amnesia and don't know it, it's even more important to understand how our brains control our muscular system as a whole and how stress reflexes create a distorted internal sense of how our body is connected, how our joints move and what it feels like to stand squarely on our feet. One of the worst pieces of advice people are given is to "stand up straight!" One of the least helpful opinions about "why" people have poor posture and back pain is "the back muscles are weak." I am a former professional dancer and many of my teachers had intractable back pain (and retired early) while having extremely strong back muscles.

When I ask people to stand up - and sit up - to what they think is "straight," they typically arch their lower back in an effort to pull the shoulders back and open the chest. I see this in yoga class as well. This posture - a strongly arched lower back and tight shoulders - is called the Green Light Reflex (or Landau Response) and it is a major cause of chronic low back pain.

Life is dynamic - so are you without back pain

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A healthy body is one that can adapt and adjust to whatever feedback comes in through the environment, yet can find its way back to balance and relaxation. Yes, life is dynamic, as is efficient, functional posture. Just like the ladies in the photo at right, balancing life and balancing books requires the ability to find center naturally as you move.

Many people work really hard to "get the right posture" not realizing that they're actually tightening and bracing certain muscles in an effort to attain it. Again, this contributes to back pain as well as neck pain, shoulder pain and hip pain. What would it feel like if you learned to let go of muscles that are unconsciously tight and tense in order to find your "perfect posture?"

Achieving good posture is about learning to relax muscles that aren't crucial to holding you up, while allowing the muscles that need to work to coordinate together in perfect balance and ease.

Somatic Exercises Make Freedom of Movement Possible

Hanna Somatic Exercises are powerful in their ability to change what your brain can sense in your body and how it can move your muscles. What your brain cannot feel it cannot, physiologically, move nor control. Over time, due to stress adaptation, we can become tighter and more rigid - in our movement, our bodies and our minds.

Somatic Exercises can change how we live our lives, how we believe that our minds and bodies interrelate, how powerful we think we are in controlling our lives, and how responsible we should be in taking care of our total being.

- Thomas Hanna, PhD, author of the book, Somatics

I recently taught three online video classes over three weeks to a client who suffered from chronic neck, shoulder, hip joint, low back pain and sense of being twisted in the center. She had read my book and was sure that her muscle pain was a case of Sensory Motor Amnesia rather than a chronic, unchangeable condition. I taught her seven basic Somatic Exercises and two "Standing Somatics" movements.

During our initial assessment I took several photos of her. When we assess we look for patterns of imbalance - the back overly arched, one side of the waist more hitched up than the other, shoulders slumped forward and chest collapsed. The photo below was taken before we started the first lesson. Note the line of her back and spine; it was being held tightly (by the brain) in an  exaggerated curve, like an archer's bow. This Green Light Reflex posture made it look as if she had a protruding belly. Her neck was thrust forward and the weight of her body was on the front of her feet. No wonder she had neck and shoulder pain! To her this was her "normal, neutral" posture.

Profile before lesson 1

Below is the photo taken before her third lesson. She had been doing Somatic Exercises on her own at home, for only three weeks! Notice how much less arched her back; her "protruding belly" had disappeared. Her weight was more evenly distributed over her feet and she had slowly, but surely found a new, more efficient and comfortable neutral. Her uncomfortable twist had gone away as well. She even looked happier! Her biggest "aha! moment" had been when she noticed how she arched her back and thrust her face forward as she sat at her computer. That moment of noticing caused her to stop, self-correct and adjust and take back voluntary control of her movement and posture. The process of learning to be self-aware, self-monitoring and self-correcting is a life long process.

After 2 lesson & 3 wks of practice

So which exercises did she learn? We started where everyone should start: the beginning:

  • Arch and Flatten
  • Flower
  • Arch and Curl
  • Back Lift
  • Cross Lateral Arch and Curl
  • Side Bend (for that sense of being twisted and out of balance)
  • Washrag (gentle spinal twisting that lengthens the waist as you twist the whole spine)
  • Walking Exercises, Part 1 and 2 (which integrates the movement of the back, waist and front into the pattern of walking)
  • Reach To The Top Shelf
  • Standing Arch and Curl

She learned to sense the movements by doing them slowly, with awareness, rather than doing them like rote exercises from the gym. The more she focused on the sensation of the movement and the slow controlled release of pandiculation, the more change and improvement she was able to make.

When we consciously and patiently turn our awareness within, to our internal sensations, we can learn to release often mysterious and long term muscle pain. The best time to start learning to move freely is right now.  Freedom of movement can enrich and improve not just your body, but you as a person.

Learn to skillfully teach Hanna Somatic Exercises in the Hanna Somatic Exercise Coach Training Level One. Join the many movement professionals who have discovered the benefits of incorporating Hanna Somatic Exercises into their primary teaching.

How To Improve Posture and Gain Body Confidence

There is a widely held belief perpetuated by Yoga teachers and many medical practitioners that when people are stooped or slumped it is because their backs are weak. I hear this from my clients repeatedly:

I need to strengthen my back; I can't hold myself up because my back muscles are weak.

Not always true.

The root cause of the problem is that the front of your body has learned to so stay so tight you can no longer IMG_3852voluntary relax it and stand up straight. This is a learned response to the stress. It is called the Red Light Reflex. Yes, long hours of sitting contributes to the problem and can habituate this reflex. The antidote to this learned posture is not to draw the shoulders back like a soldier at attention. That action is an exaggeration of what we think of as "standing up straight." It, too, is a reflex called the Landau Response, or Green Light Reflex.

When people are stuck in this kind of posture there is a basic absence of somatic awareness and sensory motor control over the muscles. You may know that you're slumped and be upset about it, but you don't know how to change it. Pulling on and strengthening the antagonist muscles (in this case, the back muscles) only creates an equal and opposing contraction through the back of the body.

The solution is process of education: your brain, the command center of your muscles, must teach the muscles of the front of the body to release, relax, and lengthen. Then, and only then, you will be able to begin to coordinate the back of the body with the front of the body in order to stand up to a neutral straight and maintain that posture voluntarily.

This yoga video is typical of the misinformation given to those who want to learn how to stand tall and why one would have trouble standing tall, shoulders at neutral. The teacher is asking the viewer to do something that the brain actually doesn't want you to do: tighten the shoulders, lift the head, but relax the buttocks. The buttock naturally coordinate with the back and shoulders. The brain, which organizes you as a system, contracts all the muscles on the back of the body when the head is lifted and shoulders contract.

Neutral and balanced posture is confident posture.

Here are a few excellent Somatic Exercises that will teach you relax and release the front and back of your body so you can stand taller and more confident. Do them slowly, gently and with awareness to the movement.

The Flower will begin to teach you how to release the muscles of the front of the body that, when chronically contracted in response to stress, round you forward. The more you do this movement, the more your brain will be able to self-correct your posture should you begin to slump again.

The Back Lift, from my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD, is the most profoundly effective Somatic Exercise IMG_3540for getting your brain back in control of the muscles of the back of the body - relaxing and releasing them so the front and the back can coordinate together. For a video about the Back Lift click here.

The Washrag brings the back, front and sides of the body together as a connected whole. It helps to open the front in a safe, natural way.

Somatic Exercises teach you to regain awareness of the way in which you move, how you adapt to stress and what it feels like to regain control of your body and movement. They are the best way to improve posture and find the easiest, most efficient way to move. Rather than doing mindless repetitions of strengthening, you will learn to sense and move voluntarily. Strength is important, but never strengthen something you can't feel.

How To Counteract The Dangers of Too Much Sitting

Thankfully, more is being written about the dangers of sitting. And this YouTube video says it all. I questioned the usefulness of chairs a while ago after learning more about functional evolutionary movement. Doctors and scientists are beginning to observe - and accept - what Somatic Educators have known for years: humans are meant to move, in many different ways and planes of gravity - they are not meant to sit for long periods of time without moving. Movement helps to embed learning, enhances creativity and, most importantly, keeps the respiratory, circulation, lymphatic and  muscular systems moving efficiently. It also reinforces basic movement patterns that we all need to maintain in order to keep ourselves moving freely for the rest of our lives.

Dr. James Levine, is quoted in the Business Week article as saying,

"What fascinates me is that humans evolved over 1.5 million years entirely on the ability to walk and move. And literally 150 years ago, 90% of human endeavor was still agricultural. In a tiny speck of time we've become chair-sentenced."

Most people sit one of two different ways - slumped in their chair or pitched forward. 32Sit as I am in the photo at right - slumped - and notice in your own body how:

  • the muscles of the front of the body contract as you hunch. Your breathing is shallow (because your chest is collapsed)
  • the back muscles are tight in co-contraction
  • the neck muscles, both front and back, tighten as your head moves forward (and/or down) to look at your computer screen

Sit pitched slightly forward and notice now:

  • IMG_6834the muscles of your hip joints tighten at the creases in your groin
  • your lower back contracts (feel them with your own fingers)
  • your neck muscles tighten
  • now, keeping that position, look at your computer!

This is what millions of people do every day... all day!

People who sit for long periods generally complain of low back pain, neck and shoulder pain, TMJ and hip joint pain. This, unfortunately, makes sense, because sitting is a repetitive task that teaches the muscles (that only learn through repetition) to stay contracted. Sitting contributes to Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA), the condition of chronically contracted muscles that, due to habituation and compensation to stress, have learned to stay involuntarily and constantly contracted. If your muscles are full of tension, ready for the next day of sitting, nothing will relax those muscles unless you get the brain back in control of the muscles.

Try these Somatic Exercises at your desk to reduce and release muscle tension

Below are a few simple and safe movements that will remind your muscles that they don't have to stay "frozen" all day long. These movements are from my easy to follow Pain-Free At Work DVD. Instead of stretching as you do these movements, you are pandiculating - gently tightening into the tight , tense muscles (this takes the muscles off cruise control) and then actively and slowly lengthen the muscles into their full range. This awakens the brain to sense the muscles again so it can lengthen them into their full range. It is what cats and dogs do upon waking and before they move into action. Don't forget to breathe easily.

ARCH AND CURL

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.19.01 PMScreen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.19.23 PMArch and curl your back as you sit. Go slowly and gently, inhaling as you arch, and exhaling as you round.

Both of these movements can be done standing. Try them, play with them and see how they feel.

 

WASHRAG

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.58 PMRoll your shoulders forward and back, allowing the shoulder blades to slide along the back. Do this as if you were yawning.

Same with this one: try it while standing.

 

STANDING REACH

Screen shot 2013-09-23 at 4.14.33 PMStand next to your desk and reach up, as if reaching to the top shelf for something. Repeat this slowly on the other side.

 

 

 

 

Walk to work if you can. Stand at the counter and work at your laptop (as I'm doing this very moment). Change your position and notice the difference between your hips and back when you stand versus when you sit. Use every opportunity you can to not sit, but to bring movement into your life. And when you do feel the need to sit, go back to my blog post about chairs and read it. Consider sitting on the ground and making your chair the exception instead of the rule.

Click here to purchase my Pain-Free DVD series. Click here for my book, Move Without Pain.

3 Myths About Perfect Posture

There are varying opinions about what "perfect" posture is, and many people who come to me explain their muscle pain, saying that they've always had terrible posture. Posture isn't something you're born with - it's something that develops in response to your movement habits and responses to stress. Here are a few myths about "good" posture:

Myth #1 - As long as your neck is straight, and your spine is aligned, you won't have back pain.

Many dancers with beautiful, long necks and straight spines have terrible back pain! A long neck and straight spine can be caused by strongly contracted back muscles and postural conditioning that says "pull your chin in, pull your shoulders back, and all will be well." What happens with this posture is that the straight neck is met with an opposite arch in the lower back - an arch that is often exaggerated and causes back pain.

Myth #2 - As long as your posture is "correct," your movement will be effortless and efficient.

No doubt about it - aligned posture results in more efficient movement. However, if the aligned posture is one that you've put ON your body, as opposed to one that you've DEVELOPED from within your own sensory awareness and movement, you just might be using muscles less efficiently. Some standing postures, like "tadasana" (mountain pose) in yoga, are great for doing yoga poses, but very fussy and inefficient for all around daily movement.

Here's a good example and one I use all the time when teaching my clients how to walk:

Nearly half of the construction workers in India are women; they balance rocks and other heavy things on their heads. They don't take posture lessons to learn how to do this. They learn by doing - meaning they have to figure out what to do in the center of their bodies that will allow them to carry weight on their head (the periphery). They let their pelvis move when they walk, they take smaller steps, and they keep their torsos long and lifted out of their hips. Their posture develops from their daily functional movement.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Myth #3 - There is one, "perfect" posture that fits everyone.

The one thing I found while researching the "perfect" posture is how many different opinions there are about what it means to "stand up straight" or stand in "alignment." One posture expert says that we should allow our pelvis to be anteverted:

"Proper posture is standing with your tailbone back and ribcage forward, shoulders slightly behind the body. Your pelvis is tipped forward and sacrum angled back. The lower border of your rib cage is flush with the abdominal contour."

Another fitness expert teaches people with back pain to drop the tailbone, tuck in the lower abdominal muscles and relax the shoulders to neutral.

The most common advice for back pain sufferers in regards to posture is to tuck the pelvis forward (retroverting) in order to lengthen the back muscles and take the load off the muscles. What this actually does, while momentarily relieving muscle pain, is to cause the front of the body to contract and round forward. This is not a good strategy for efficient, pain-free movement.

How do I find "perfect" posture?

Here's a simple exercise to help you figure it out:

  • Stand in your normal posture, whatever that is for you. Notice where your discomfort is - in the lower back, hamstrings, neck, shoulders or hips. Walk around the room for a minute, paying attention to the way in which your feet meet the floor (do you heel strike? Roll out? Roll in?).
  • Stop and put something light on your head, like a pillow, as in the photo.
  • Hold it gently on both sides with your elbows out and up. Notice how your ribs have to lift in order to allow your hands to reach up to the pillow. Breath into your ribs and let them expand gently. Notice how the abdominal muscles lengthen, yet contract to support the spine and the center of your body.
  • Walk slowly, letting your hips sway gently. Imagine that your pillow is a load that must not fall off your head. Breathe deeply as you walk.
  • Now take the pillow off of your head, bring your arms to neutral, and just stand. Relax your buttocks and breathe easily.

How centered does your posture feel now? Do you feel "straighter?" Taller? Is it easier to stand up and feel supported in the center of your body? This movement exploration is like the old fashioned exercise of putting a book on your head in order to achieve good posture!

Visit EssentialSomatics.com for more tips and information about Hanna Somatic Education. Learn to relieve muscle pain easily, rapidly and effectively with my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.

Tips For Getting The Most Out of Your Somatic Exercise Routine

Somatic Exercises, when done between 10 - 15 minutes daily, are profoundly effective at keeping you pain-free no matter what your stress. However, the single biggest benefit of Somatic Exercises is one of IMPROVED SENSORY MOTOR AWARENESS. This means that the exercises help remind your brain to FEEL (sensory) and MOVE (motor) your muscles so that your self-awareness is more accurate and your muscles move more efficiently. Recently a reader told me that he does his Somatic Exercises faithfully, but finds that the same problem - a tight back, sore neck, achy shoulders, "that low back pain on the right side" - keeps cropping up. Why is this?

The answer is that you need to apply the awareness you gain from the Somatic Exercises to everything you do during your day. Here are a few coaching tips to help you apply the improved awareness and muscle control you gain from Somatic Exercises to your daily life:

  • Become aware of movement patterns inherent in your job. If your is a repetitive physical job (gardening, landscaping, typing on the computer, driving, lifting packages, holding children), begin to notice the pattern of movement and the muscles involved that contribute to your pain.  Gardening is usually one-sided, as is holding children. Driving requires sitting and using one leg to accelerate or brake more than the other.
  • Become aware of how you sit. Is your pelvis at an angle? Is your back over-arched? Do you shift/slouch into one hip? Do you slump forward? Arch & Flatten, the Back Lift, Cross Lateral Arch & Curl, and the Seated Awareness Exercise target the back and abdominal muscles and help to improve awareness of how you sit. Find them on my Pain Relief Through Movement DVD.
  • Do a few minutes of seated Somatic Exercises every hour if you work at a desk. Even 5 minutes every hour can remind your muscles that they don't have to stay "frozen." This will keep your brain in voluntary control of your muscles so they can be as relaxed as possible.
  • Become aware of how you drive. See "how do you sit" above. Many of us clutch the steering wheel when stressed. This locks down the shoulders and creates upper back and neck pain. The "seated twist" is great for reversing tension that comes from driving.
  • Use a mirror to help you see your own posture. Becoming aware of what you really look like - as opposed to what you think you look like - helps you to self-correct so that what you sense internally agrees with what you see in the mirror.
  • Become aware of how you reflexively respond emotionally to upsetting events or the need to get something done. This is hugely important!  Our brains adapt to stress by tightening our muscles - even when we're not moving. The Somatic Exercises teach you to regain voluntary muscular control, but you are the only one who knows how emotional upset affects you. Do you tighten your back? Hunch your shoulders? Stop breathing when worried? The Steeple Twist and Human X are wonderful catch-all movements that relax the front, sides and back of the body for a full body stress-buster.
  • Add more movement to your day. There are lots of great functional movements you can do that take only a few minutes. This helps to differentiate your movement habits.  Here's a link to some great ideas for "movement snacks" from Frank Forencich of Exuberant Animal. My Reach To the Top Shelf movement takes 2 minutes to do and can be done anywhere:

Stand with feet apart and both arms up. Slowly reach up with the right arm and let the entire right side of your body lengthen. Allow the left hip to slide upwards (look closely at the middle photo) as you roll up onto the ball of the left foot.

Come back through neutral and reach up with the left arm as if reaching for something high on a shelf. Allow the right hip to slide up as you roll up onto the ball of the right foot. Be sure to keep both knees straight. Repeat this sequence 3-5 times, reaching with one arm, then the other. You're lengthening one side of your body as you shorten the other side! It's like a full body yawn!

Are Athletes Smarter Than the Rest of Us?

In my Somatic Education training we had to write a paper on why the study of neurophysiology was important to the practice of Hanna Somatic (Clinical Somatic) Education.The unique methods used in private clinical sessions of Somatics are based in neurophysiology: the brain controls the  muscles, and movement gives feedback to the brain, making the brain more efficient at coordinating muscles and movement and improving posture. Muscle dysfunction can only be changed through movement.

In an Exuberant Animal workshop I took a while ago, Frank Forencich gave a talk about the positive brain changes that occur through daily vigorous movement. He brought up the stereotype of the "dumb jock," and how false that stereotype is. Studies are showing that they just might have smarter brains than most of us!

Practice is the main reason that athletes' brains - and by extension their movement - function better. Athletes are constantly predicting the next move and honing their brain's ability to respond to whatever is happening.  In the article linked above, they cite a brain study of people learning to juggle. After a week of practice, the jugglers were already developing extra gray matter in some brain areas. These brain changes continued for months, the scientists found. As soon as someone starts to practice a new sport - and I would add a new movement, in general -  the brain begins to change, and the changes continue for years.

Not everyone has the time, nor the desire to become an athlete. However, the brain benefits of adding new and challenging new ways of moving are available to all, athlete, scientist, carpenter or web designer. Somatic Movement is an excellent way to challenge our brains, change our bodies, reduce our pain and keep ourselves smarter as we age.

The first step is awareness. Somatic Movement is meant to increase the brain's awareness of how it feels to be in your own body in space. The word for that is proprioception. Needing heightened and honed proprioceptive skills isn't just the domain of an elite athlete. Proprioceptive skills, sorely lacking today in many sedentary young people, is crucial to one's survival.  A lack of proprioception can cause chronic back, neck, shoulder, hip, knee and foot pain. It can cause people to lose their balance and limit their movement, causing accidents.

In young people a lack of proprioception, I dare say, can lead to decreased self-esteem, more attention deficit, and a lack of problem solving skills. If learning a new skill increases brain matter, does this have anything to do with the learning issues of today's children? This is why vigorous movement (no matter what it is) is so important for young people.

Proprioception can be improved through Somatic Movement - so you can use your brain to become better at whatever it is you love to do. I'm convinced that you can become as smart as an athlete, as long as you challenge yourself with movement.

Chronic pain and injuries can get in the way of a movement filled life. Diligent, patience and persistent practice of basic movement patterns that flex, extend, side bend, twist and rotate your body as a whole will engage your brain to stay in control of your movement, ready for whatever comes your way. Somatic Movement can be done while lying down or while seated. Once you feel you've released your tight muscles, and regained aware and control of your movement, move on to an activity that is challenging for your brain and body.

It doesn't need to be a triathalon, gymnastics, or a spinning class. Ballroom dancing, yoga, hiking, swimming and exuberant play-based fitness will challenge your brain to change your body and movement, and keep you healthy for longer than you thought possible.

Standing Up is Better For Your Health

Sitting and the damage done to most of us through hours of sitting at desks, computers and in cars, is a healthcare problem.

It's tough on the hip joints, lousy on posture and breathing, and contributes to back, hip, knee, neck and shoulder pain. Many people don't even realize that they're probably not breathing correctly, or as fully as you could in order to be healthy.

I saw a video clip of an interview between Donald Rumsfeld and Piers Morgan in which Morgan expresses his chagrin at how "odd" it is that Rumsfeld doesn't sit at his desk - but stands instead. Rumsfeld responds,

"Why do you act like that's odd? Sitting is weird!"

Bravo. Now I'm not sure whether Morgan was putting on an act or not, but he added to his "this proves that Donald Rumsfeld is definitely "weird" list, Rumsfeld's daily ritual of exercise:

"At 78 years old?! Why do you still work out?"

Rumsfeld's attitude is excellent: sit infrequently and move as much as you can. Now, putting politics aside, I have to say that with his attitude about health, Rumsfeld should probably have gone into the health profession. Age has nothing to do with whether or not one should stop moving.

In developing countries like India and Africa, not moving isn't an option. Adults move because there is work to be done, not because they want a work out, as does Rumsfeld. Chances are many of these people are stronger and more physically resilient than your average American.

Sitting in  a chair at right angles for long periods of time can create tight hip joints, rigid back muscles and neck, shoulder and back spasms. When we sit at work, rarely are we relaxed. I know I'm not. I tend to stand at my kitchen counter when I do online sessions with clients.

If you are someone who is always rushing around, which causes the back muscles to contract strongly (the Green Light Reflex or Landau Response), you'll pitch yourself forward and over-arch the lower back when seated. This will cause the hip flexors to contract to keep you upright. They stay tight until given the signal to relax. When you get up you'll stand up from your chair slowly because the front of your hips will still be contracting.

If you tend to slouched while seated (Red Light Reflex), you will collapse in the middle of your body as the abdominals contract tightly. This will cause your breathing to be shallow rather than relaxed. This rounded posture, which rounds the pelvis under, and causes what is now called "head forward posture," is a sure-fire recipe for back and neck pain.

Why sitting is no good for you

  • decreased circulation
  • decreased creativity due to lack of movement
  • tighter hips, due to habituation to sitting with an over-arched lower back or slumping
  • shallower breathing

Why standing is better

  • increased ability to move the entire body as much as you want
  • increased ability to imbed learning and memory (movement causes the brain to release BDNF)
  • improved posture and proprioception (body awareness)
  • improved breathing due
  • increased circulation
  • improved muscle tone due

Try it out if your workplace is amenable to such an experiment. Notice your own patterns of posture and movement. Relax your belly when you breath and notice how much better that feels. Make sure your weight is evenly distributed and that you can easily shift your weight from side to side.

Some of the basic Somatic Exercises can even be done standing (Arch & Curl, Reach to the Top Shelf, the arm movements of the Washrag). Or you can create your own - if you do, please share them with me so I can share them with my readers.

Movement Can Be Smoother With Bare Feet

Last week I had the extraordinary experience of participating in a traditional Sri Lankan Buddhist ritual: the climbing of Adam’s Peak...

It began at 2:00am in order to reach the summit to witness the brilliant sunrise.

This experience, grueling though it was, thrilled me on two levels: firstly, I'm a hiker, so I love the challenge of a hard climb. Secondly, I had the opportunity to observe the movement of the local Sri Lankan pilgrims as they climbed - the most amazing part of which was that a majority of people climbed the 5500 steps to the peaks in bare feet. Old women, young children, mothers carrying babies in their arms. Bare feet or flip flops. Nothing more.

I know it sounds crazy - here I am in beautiful Sri Lanka and I'm looking at people's feet, but I was amazed at something else: the older men and women had good looking, sturdy feet; no bunions, no hammertoes, the toes weren't mashed together as are many of the toes of my clients. Walking barefoot or in flip flops allowed them to use all the muscles of their feet! They had to feel the ground and negotiate their movement in a more efficient manner.

One old woman nimbly ran by me down the mountain, holding her saree up so as not to dirty it. I suddenly became very aware of my sneaker-clad feet that were thunking down the mountain, so I decided to go barefoot myself. What a difference! I observed a lot of barefoot walking in Sri Lanka, and I was impressed not only with the relative beauty of their feet, but by their movement: smooth, and even.

I'm convinced that the more we practice barefoot walking, the more adept our movement will become and the less our feet will hurt. 

When you walk barefoot you're more likely to pay attention to your gait; rather than heel-striking first, you will tend to walk with more of the foot, quieter, and more smoothly. This will, in turn, affect the way you hold the rest of your body. Believe it or not, just walking barefoot can begin to help alleviate back and hip pain. Your feet might even look better and you might be able to avoid a trip to the podiatrist! Have a look at the video clips.

Please excuse the fact that this video is sideways! I'm an iPhone beginner, so bear with me.

[wpvideo LJhU9Z8n]

Quick Relief For Painful Knees

An old friend stopped in for a brief visit over the summer. He was planning an extended trip overseas and was very concerned. His left knee caused him severe pain, especially when walking or kneeling, and he wanted desperately to be able to enjoy walking while on his trip. He asked me, “Could you please look at his knee? The doctors have all said that I need a knee replacement.” Father Peter is a 82-year-old retired Episcopal priest, still active as an assistant rector in his church in Maryland. He had spent the past several years caring for his ill wife who had just recently passed. He had lifted her, wheeled her around, and sat for days by her bedside. Now, after the death of his wife, he had trouble walking. What he found most troubling, however, was the fact that he couldn’t kneel properly in church. Peter's posture was good - erect and balanced. So where was the problem?

I explained to him that certain muscles involved in sitting, walking and moving his legs were probably tighter than they should be. When muscles are involuntarily tight due to having been overused they don't function well. We needed to restore his muscles to a healthy functioning.

Tight thigh muscles and an immobile kneecap will cause pain.

tendons-of-the-knee-478x500Due to the brevity of our impromptu “session,” I had Peter sit as I palpated his quadriceps muscles.  His right leg was softer, the muscles more pliant. His left leg was hard as a rock. I gently moved his right patella up and down, side to side. There was only slight resistance. His left patella, however, wouldn't move. It refused to budge no matter the direction I moved it.

I explained to Peter how the patellar tendon, which is an extension of the quadriceps tendon, passes over the kneecap and attaches into the tibia. If the quadriceps are too tight (or suffer from Sensory Motor Amnesia), the tendons put pressure on the kneecap, and make it impossible to move. This can cause pain when sitting, kneeling, or walking upstairs – all the activities that bothered him.

Tight muscles require pandiculation to relax and release.

In Hanna Somatic Education our clients learn to pandiculate tight muscles. This resets the muscles length at the level of the central nervous system. Keeping this in mind, I taught Peter to pandiculate the right quadriceps muscles: he extended his leg fully to voluntarily tighten his quadriceps muscles. I told him to watch how the thigh muscle "drew the kneecap up," as if it were sliding on a track. He then slowly relaxed his thigh muscles and watched the kneecap slide back into place. Then he completely relaxed his thigh.

When we did this same movement for the left leg/knee, it was more difficult. At first he simply couldn't move the thigh muscles. He contracted every muscle he could think of except his quadriceps! His brain had simply lost sensation and voluntary control of those muscles, which caused them to "freeze up" and stay tight. After several slow, patient attempts in which he really had to concentrate and focus his attention on the feelings in his muscles, he was finally able to firmly and voluntarily contract the thigh muscles. He watched in amazement as his kneecap slid upward, and then downward, as he slowly and voluntarily relaxed the muscles. We repeated this movement several times (with his foot turned inward, then outward) until the kneecap wiggled easily.

Father Peter stood up, walked around the room, and to his utter amazement pronounced himself pain free. I gave him some gentle, easy Somatic Movements and concepts to do at home that would help him reinforce his progress.  Just yesterday - a month later - I  received this email from him:

Prior to our Somatics session I was hobbling and limping to ease the pain.  Now I go for my evening walks marching like a soldier !!!
To learn the methods and movements of Hanna Somatics for rapid relief of muscle pain purchase my instructional DVD here.

Eliminate Back Pain and Reclaim Your Life

This is the first of a series of several stories about people who have come to me in pain, and, through learning to relax their chronically tight muscles, have told me that they literally feel as if "they have their life back."

"Sarah"

This photo shows a slim, athletic body that looks to have almost perfect posture. Look closer, though, and see how her back is arched in a C-shape. Tight muscles have arched her back and over time created stiff, painful back muscles all along the back of her body.

"I just feel old," Sarah told me when she came to my office for a consultation. "I don’t know what it is. Maybe it’s my age, but I don't think so. I used to be able to run, take yoga class, and work out, but now everything just hurts. I even used to ski and now I can’t even do that! I mean, I’m only 46, but I feel like I’m 80."

Her doctor told her that she might have arthritis due to her age, but that there’s nothing wrong with her. He suggested she slow down and rest, and that "might feel better with time." Sarah was thin, healthy and very athletic, but with chronic back pain. She was not only tired, but scareGreen light reflexd. She couldn't imagine her life without movement and exercise.

Green Light

After the very first session in which she learned how to relax the large muscles of her back, she said "she knew there was hope." She learned that nothing was wrong with her; she had simply gotten stuck and created bad habits of sitting and standing which were causing her back pain. She had habituated to what Thomas Hanna called the Green Light Reflex.

This full body reflex instantly contracts the muscles of the back of the body any time there is a demand put on us and there is a need to get something done. It is a positive response to stress and allows us to run, walk, stand, or carry things. However, you don't want to  get stuck in this reflex pattern.

Movement that helps

At the end of her first session, I taught her the sitting exercise; she learned that the way in which she sat caused her back muscles to constantly contract. She was shocked to realize that for  years she had been sitting with an overly arched lower back while all the time thinking that she was sitting up "straight."

"I've been teaching my children to sit the same way. I'm very particular about their posture, and I always tell them to stand up straight. I can now see that I'm teaching them the wrong way to sit," she confessed.

Sarah learned several easy, gentle Somatic Exercises, which, when done every day, helped her to remember what it feels like to both release and control her muscles. She told me, "I didn't even know that I wasn't relaxed until I started doing these exercises." We did three more sessions, but I haven't seen her in a while. However, I do hear from her personal trainer that she's back to working out and feeling excellent!

To purchase my Pain-Free Somatic Exercise DVDs, visit the Essential Somatics® store.

Chairs - Are They Really So Useful?

I'd like to create a retreat at a place where there are no cars, no computers, and no chairs. When you sit on the ground you learn a lot about your body. Just like when you take your shoes off and walk you learn a lot about your own movement; walking without shoes can feel scary and threatening to some people. So can doing away with your chair and sitting on the floor.

Expensive does not mean effective

You may be familiar with the iconic Aeron chair by Herman Miller.

herman-miller-aeron-chair1This chair costs a whopping $963! Its description explains that thePostureFit® technology used in its construction "supports the way your pelvis tilts naturally forward, so that your spine stays aligned and you avoid back pain."

But here's the issue: A chair cannot teach you to sit naturally in such a way that you can prevent back pain!

Relying on an external force (the chair) to mold your body to a "correct" position in order to avoid pain is a misguided approach to sitting painlessly and effortlessly. It ignores a person's existing Sensory Motor Amnesia (SMA) which causes muscle pain, and forces the body into an unnatural position.

How should I sit to avoid back pain?

Read my Effortless Sitting article to learn in detail how to sit naturally and avoid back pain. Several clients have told me that after they learned to sit properly (through the techniques outlined in the article linked above) their back pain disappeared. Sitting with the pelvis tilted forward, as with the Aeron chair, teaches the back muscles to stay arched and overly contracted. This causes the back muscles to work harder than necessary and ultimately contributes to chronic back pain.

Use it or lose it

Here's the thing about sitting on the floor: if you never stopped getting up and down off the floor, you would never forget how to do it. Use it or lose it. I have many clients here in the United States who tell me that it is uncomfortable when they sit on the floor, and that, once seated, they struggle to stand up. We are a chair culture and it is hurting us in the long-run.

In Indian, African, and Japanese cultures (to name a few) it is still very common to sit on the floor or squat when eating, waiting, or using the toilet. When I was in India, I saw many elderly people squatting, then standing up with ease. It is clear that they never stopped squatting, and they never spent decades sitting with hips rigidly at 90 degrees and backs arched in a chair.

Sit on the floor more

So try something for a couple of hours every day: get some cushions and put them on the floor.

Sit down to eat, work on your computer, or read a book. Use your coffee table as a desk. Notice how you'll need to shift your position every so often (this is good - the muscles need to be able to move). Notice things about your body you didn't notice before. And let me know how it goes.

Stressful Life, Stressful Posture

In my last post I wrote about "David," who came into his first Somatics class with back pain, tight shoulders and rigid posture. Here's what he looked like. It's what Thomas Hanna called the Green Light Reflex also known referred to as the Landau Response. Green Light Reflex FRONTThis reflex is a major contributor to chronic back pain and is prevalent in urban industrial societies. This reflex is a "call to action" response to the need to get things done: standing all day as a teacher, sitting at a desk writing emails, driving, traveling, handling myriad tasks that must be done right away!  The back muscles tighten to get us ready to move. There’s nothing wrong with that reflex - you just don't want to get stuck in it. If you live in a society where this reflex is constantly evoked, you will begin to habituate to it. This is where, in my clinical experience, most cases of chronic back pain originate.

The muscles involved in this reflex are the deep muscles of the back that extend from the base of the skull down to the sacrum, the neck and shoulder muscles, buttocks, hamstrings and calf muscles.

What David realized was that he'd gotten stuck and "frozen" in a posture of contracted back muscles, pinned back shoulders and rigid neck. He had forgotten how to sit without tightening his back. Through Somatic Movement classes he learned gentle, easy movement patterns that taught him to regain both sensation, and control of this back muscles. The payoff was that he also learned how to voluntarily relax his back muscles so he would never have to get stuck like that again!

But he also understands that anything you do consistently becomes a habit. This is why he not only takes the time to do 15 minutes of Somatic Movement every day, but also comes to class in order to reinforce and strengthen awareness, control and coordination of his entire body. This is why his back pain is gone and he can travel, sit at his computer, and deal with a stressful job without allowing his stress to take control over him. He's taken control over his stress!

How To Stand Up Straight

In my last post I talked about the "Myth of Aging," as Thomas Hanna called the belief that humans inevitably become decrepit as they age. Here's one of the most common postures that people associate with old age: IMG_3852

This is typically considered "bad posture." Some people say that they've always stood this way.

Thomas Hanna called this the Red Light Reflex. Psychologists know this as the Startle Response. It is a reflexive response to fear, worry, anxiety... and now more than ever, habituating to hours slumped over a computer. If I were to suddenly frighten or surprise you, you would quickly and instantaneously tighten your abdominals, hunch your shoulders, round forward, and pull inward. This occurs in order to protect you from a real or perceived threat. Breathing stops as you wait for the danger to pass. If the belly is tight (in response to fear), it makes it impossible to fully, freely breathe. This affects all aspects of your physiology, from digestion, mood, energy level, the oxygenation of your heart and full coordination of walking.

If you are "collapsed" inward this way, your inner thighs tighten, causing you to pronate and fall inward. You might even experience knee pain. Orthotics might help you in the short term, but the problem lies more in the center of your body and the lack of balance in the inner and outer thigh muscles. But remember, that which is learned can be reversed or avoided altogether.

The trouble is this: this kind of reflexive posture has little to do with old age. Last week I observed a group of teenager girls gathering to chat. I was stunned by the number of them with rounded shoulders, depressed chests and necks jutted forward, just like in the photo above. They couldn't have been older than fifteen or so, but every one of them displayed the "posture of senility."

Aging has its stresses, yet this kind of posture can be avoided if, as mentioned in Wednesday's post, we pay attention to our movement, and bodies and spend time every day lengthening our muscles to remind them to stay long and relaxed.

 

Full Body Movements Can Relax Painful Muscles

The body moves as one intelligent, whole system. When muscle pain occurs, the system itself simply needs improvement.

Most people find Hanna Somatics (also known as Clinical Somatics) because they have an issue that their doctors, physical therapists, chiropractors, massage therapists, and energy healers can't seem to fully address. A muscle, or a part of the body hurts (that is not related to a pathology), and most practitioners focus on that one area in order to try and "fix" it.

Eliminating muscle pain is an educational process.

Hanna Somatic Educators teach people to remember how to move the way they once did. That, simply put, is an educational process. Rather than focusing on one specific area of pain or one muscle group that needs to learn to relax and release, we address full body movement patterns. This, I've found, is a missing link for everyone who walks through my office door. The body should move as an integrated whole, beautifully coordinated – not as a series of separate parts.

Sometimes our clients teach us as much as we teach them. Last week I worked with "Sharon," an older client with scoliosis, stenosis, and sciatica. She realized that her muscles are stuck in a pattern of non-movement and that retraining her brain (the command center of the muscles) to remember how to move her muscles is reversing her pain. Now she not only walks longer distances without pain, but her tilted posture has improved so that standing "straight" is less of a strain.

Break bad movement habits out of gravity and new movement is easier to integrate while in gravity.

However, she's uncomfortable working on my table. Hanna Somatic Educators normally work with a client on the table first, because the brain will re-engage old patterns of muscular holding while in gravity. But with Sharon we threw out the rule book and did something new. I got her on her feet and said, "let's move."

She stood slightly away from the wall and "reached up to the top shelf" to begin to re-pattern the movement of the hips - one hip up, the other down, as the waist lengthened on one side and shortened on the other side. We played a few slowly paced Exuberant Animal resistance games of reaching across to your partner's hands (like "Patty Cake"), to lengthen the trunk rotator muscles on one side.

Sharon's AHA! moment came when I reminded her to allow her hips, legs and knees to move along with the movement. She'd forgotten that the whole body moves as one. She was like a child learning a new dance step. What fun! Between each movement game she walked up and down the hallway to integrate the new awareness she had created. No pain at all. She was overjoyed.

Here's a short video of some similar movements to what I did with Sharon. It's from a recent Exuberant Animal weekend. Enjoy!

[wpvideo diBOv96H]

Three Steps to Improved Posture

In my last post I discussed the Top 3 Myths About Posture. If you looked in the mirror and thought, "Oh dear! I need to do something about my posture," here are three simple things to address.

1. AWARENESS

Stand in front of the mirror. Take a look at yourself. Are you balanced? Notice your shoulders. Are they level, or is one higher than the other? Look at the center of the body. Do you tilt to one side or the other? Are your arms of equal length?

Stand in profile. Take a look: where's your neck and head? Is it thrust slightly forward? What about your lower back? Is it overly arched? Are your knees locked back? Are your shoulders rounded forward - or maybe "pinned back" military style? If you don't know what you're doing habitually, it's difficult to change things.

2. PROPER SITTING

Most of us sit for a prolonged period of time every day - at computers, in cars, and watching TV. Long ago our days were filled with physical labor and activity and periods of sitting were the exception. Because we sit so much it's important to be aware of how your sitting affects your overall posture. Do you slouch? Do you sit up overly "straight", arching your lower back and pulling your shoulders back? Do you crane your neck forward in order to read the computer screen? Do you sit with more weight in one hip than the other? Read the full article on my website here: Effortless Sitting. See what you discover about yourself.

3. PROPER SHOES (or better yet, go barefoot)

Proper shoes are critical, especially for you women out there! The higher the heel, the more likely you are to over-contract your back muscles. It will also result in chronically tight calves, hips and thigh muscles. Walking with too much weight into the ball of your foot is simply not normal, and it completely changes your posture.

The muscles in your foot will compensate to accommodate tight shoes. Thick soled shoes do not allow your foot to feel the ground properly and will affect your proprioception. Soft-soled shoes allow your feet to sense the ground more effectively, putting less strain on your lower leg muscles and improving your awareness.

Walking barefoot is a terrific way to improve your posture. Feel the difference in how you walk when you're barefoot.

Now get out there and experiment!

Top 3 Myths About Poor Posture

I've heard several very common misconceptions people have about their posture.

Thankfully due to advances in Hanna Somatic Education and neuroscience, more people are accepting the fact that they have the ability to change their posture through diligent awareness and practice. At one time I accepted the idea that I simply had "bad knees," (after all, I'd had 4 knee surgeries!), and one day I would need a knee replacement. On top of that I believed I probably had arthritis, which accounted for my inability to kneel for any period of time. After studying Hanna Somatic Education and regaining a new awareness of my movement, I realized I was wrong on all counts: I'm arthritis-free  and more happy kneeling now than sitting in a chair!

Myth #1: Poor posture is hereditary.

Sometimes it seems that way. Mother and daughter have identical posture. The son walks exactly like his dad. But the latest scientific research on "mirror neurons" in the brain, suggests otherwise. Mirror neurons are key neurons in our brains that fire when we watch others perform actions. In working with children I often see an imitation of their parents' posture. We are their first teachers, after all. One young woman I worked with had straight, tall posture until she hit about fourteen years old. Then, under school stress, she began to imitate her mother, slumping forward in a slouched posture. She is now aware of her tendency to slump when stressed (a symptom of the Red Light Reflex), and is able to voluntarily self correct.

Myth #2: Poor posture is the result of weak muscles.

Posture is a learned, habituated way of holding yourself in response to life's stresses. Even in cases of scoliosis, there is an adaptation to a one sided trauma that creates a side bending/twisting. We learn to hold ourselves according to has happened to us and/or what we do every day. That being the case, when our posture is one of imbalance (i.e. muscles too tight, shoulders slumped forward, side-leaning), proper coordination of muscles is thrown off. The end result is unequal control of agonist and antagonist muscles. What is required here is full body, functional re-education of those muscles so that coordination is regained and balanced posture is more easily maintained.

Myth #3: Your posture has "always been that way."

Again, with rare exceptions, posture doesn't happen to you. Our posture is a look into how we adapt to our surroundings. Our posture is a snapshot of our accumulated tension and, in many cases, our attitudes toward life. We are creatures of adaptation, physically and emotionally. If we sit at a desk all day, we will adapt in order to be able to do that all day. Maybe we'll over-arch our lower backs into the Green Light Reflex of forward action. If we are worriers, we will probably tend to hunch our shoulders and slump and get stuck in a Red Light Reflex. This can cause painful neck and shoulder problems. If we have suffered a traumatic accident, we might tend to lean more to one side than the other. This posture can cause sciatica, hip pain, plantar fasciitis and knee pain. It's called the Trauma Reflex. Posture is an on-going, fluid process of being.

5 Steps to a Painfree Workspace

Do you ever find yourself with work-related neck, shoulder, or back pain? Try this awareness exercise that, in 5 steps, can change how you sit:  

Step 1

Sit in your chair and, if you have a mirror, take a look at how you're sitting.

green-light-seated

red-light-seated

The Green Light posture is one with an arched back with the weight pitched forward. The back muscles are contracted from the tailbone up to the base of the neck.

The Red Light posture is one with a rounded back, and slumped neck and shoulders, with the weight in back of the pelvis.

 

 

Both postures are very common in those who work on computers all day long. Arched or rounded, either extreme can create chronic muscular pain. We adapt to our environment in order to make our job easier, so how you sit is merely a habit - a form of adaptation.

Step 2

Now close your eyes and sit up to your normal sense of straight. Look in the mirror. Are you arched? Rounded? Notice how you feel, but don't try to change it. Now close your eyes.

Step 3

Inhale and arch, letting your head tip back. Relax your belly and let your pelvis move. Then exhale and round gently, letting your head drop down. Repeat 2-3 times.

Slowly come back up to neutral ("straight"). Sense your weight. Is it on top of your sitbones? In front? In back. Do some self adjustment. Rock side to side on your sit-bones. Feel your hip flexors at the groin line. Are they relaxed?

When you feel relaxed and balanced, open your eyes. See if your internal sensations agree with what you see in the mirror. If you're still arched or rounded, close your eyes and do it again until your internal sense of your back muscles agrees with what you see in the mirror.  This exercise can permanently change the way in which you sit. You'll be able to sit effortlessly without fatigue.

Step 4

Repeat this exercise several times a day until your feel that you've successfully "reprogrammed" yourself to sit correctly.

Step 5

Place your hands up to your keypad. Notice where your arms are; your shoulders should be relaxed, not raised and tense. Sense your shoulders. Are you holding them up in order to reach the keypad? Are you tightening your shoulders down?

The key is: AWARENESS - REPETITION -  SELF-CORRECTION

For those of you who discover after doing this exercise, that your workspace is  ergonomically out of sync with your new-found seated posture, you'll probably want to change the placement of your workstation.

Standing Tall, The Easy Way

Last summer I spent a month in India. As someone who observes the world through the lens of movement, I couldn't help but observe the way in which people moved. I saw old women squatting to wait for the bus or while cooking their food. I saw children playing and running with abandon. I noticed how people walked miles just to get to work. However, one thing stood out: I saw no rounded shoulders and hunched backs. In Hanna Somatic Education, we call that the Red Light Reflex. In much of Western medical thought it's the "posture of senility" or "old age." This hunching posture contributes directly to shallow breathing, back pain, neck and shoulder pain and compressed, painful joints. The photo at right gave me some insight into a possible reason why rounded shoulders and stooped posture was difficult to find: these female construction workers were carrying loads on their heads. In carrying and balancing their load, the belly and waist muscles were long and extended.The ribs were open and up. In addition, the  their hips swayed gently as they took small steps or climbed stairs.

Fluid and easy makes walking easier

It's impossible to carry a load on one's head if one is stooped, or if the hips are tight and don't sway, or if one takes large, fast steps (think running for the train!). Like an earthquake-proof building gently sways during a tremor, our bodies are supposed to move freely, twisting slightly as we walk or run. This allows for coordinated, efficient movement. Moving with a rigid torso, while thought to prevent back pain, can actually contribute to back pain!

Now try this movement exploration!

Lie down on the floor and relax. Breathe deeply and sense the center or your body. Do this for about one minute. Then stand

up and take a walk around the room. Walk your normal walk, but pay attention to what it feels like to walk:

  • How are your feet hitting the floor?
  • Are your arms swinging gently?
  • Where are your eyes looking? Up? Down?
  • Do your hips sway?
  • Are your shoulders hunched or straight?

Stop and put something light on your head, like a pillow. Hold it gently on both sides with your elbows out and up. Notice your ribs. Breath into them and let them expand with the breath. Notice how the abdominal muscles lengthen, yet contract to support the spine and the center of your body. Walk slowly, letting your hips sway and rotate gently. Breathe deeply as you walk. If possible, try this exercise barefoot; this allows for more awareness of the feet as you reach for the floor with each step. Thick sneakers or shoes actually get in the way of smooth walking and awareness.

Now take the pillow off of your head, slowly bring your arms to neutral, and walk. See if it's easier to walk with your torso upright, your hips swaying, and your spine stacked on top of your hips. How's your posture? Are you more on top of your hips as you walk? Are your legs swinging? Is it easier to move your hips?

This movement exploration is like the old fashioned exercise of putting a book on your head in order to achieve good posture! My clients tell me that this exercise has helped them eliminate their back pain and remind them not to slouch. Do this for several minutes, then lie down and sense the center of your body. Breathe deeply. Notice any differences. Take this awareness into your day and see how it affects your movement. Let me know how it goes!