Friday, May 1, 2015

Can you stand up straight?

I've got a surprise for you: if you have to put effort into standing up straight-- holding in your belly, tucking your bum, retracting your chin, shoving your shoulders back--you're actually doing it wrong. Standing should feel effortless, but seldom does, right? It's not that you are doing it wrong, but your brain and nervous system are messing with your muscles so you can't simply stand up. If you have rounded shoulders or arch your back, or slump to one side you have to put effort into getting out of those positions to stand up. Your body is habitually stuck in some nasty little faulty patterns. But don't despair! I'm here to help you find the culprits!

When people come to me, one of the first things I do is photograph them from the front, back and both sides. These images help me document, and show the student, what I see when assessing their posture and if they are stuck in one (or more) of the reflex patterns Thomas Hanna referred to as green light, red light or trauma reflexes (you can read more about them here). All perfectly natural human reflexes, but can cause us pain when we get stuck in one (or more) of them.

When I share and explain what their bodies are telling me in the photos they are amazed and say, "I had no idea I stand that way!"  But it helps them become more aware of how they stand in the grocery line or sit at their desk.

If you can sense it you can change it!

You can do a simple assessment on your own, or get a friend and do this together. You'll need a full lengthen mirror. Stand about a 1-2 feet away from a full length mirror and close your eyes. Stand calmly for a few seconds, sense how you're standing, shift your weight a bit from foot to foot, then open your eyes and observe the following:
A few things to notice in this photo: the staggered feet,
differences in the arms, and uneven shoulders.
  • Check out what your chest is doing. Is the front of your chest fairly parallel to the mirror, or are you twisted a bit? Yes, most breasts are not symmetrical, but look at your clavicle bones in the mirror to check. Are the level?
  • What are your shoulders doing? Are the tops of your shoulders level with each other, or is one higher or lower than the other? Is one closer to the mirror, or pulled back a bit? 
  • See what are your feet doing. Are they both pointing forward, or is one turned out or slightly staggered forward a bit? You may have to step back a bit to see your feet in the mirror and look down at them.
  • Put your hands on your hips (feel for the crest of your pelvis at your waist) and see if they are level or is one side of your pelvis higher or lower? If so, you have a hiked hip. Is one hip further forward or backward? Your pelvis is rotated.
  • Wearing shorts or rolling up your pants will give you a view of your knees. Are both knee caps facing forward? is one turning outward a bit, or pointing inward? Do you see a leg bowing out while the other is straighter? 
  • Sense what your feet are doing in relation to your knees and hips. If your knee bows out, do you sense that you are putting more weight on the outside edge of the foot?
  • Look at your hands. Do they hang the same way at your sides or is one more in front of a thigh? Do they hang evenly or is one closer to the floor.
  • If you turn to the side, ideally have your friend take a photo of you. See if your low back arches. Does your bum stick out and belly stick out?
  • Take a walk and sense how you move. Do your feet hit the ground softly or loudly? Do you sense your waist moving a bit, as well as your hips? Do you feel like with each step your legs are pulling your forward or do you sense that your legs push you forward? What do your arms do? Do they swing with each step? Evenly or is one swinging more than the other? Have your friend watch you too. 
  • Lastly, just lie down on the floor on your back and scan your body and sense how it touches the floor. From what you saw while standing, what does your body now feel like on the floor? Is one side of your body heavier and presses down into the floor more? How do your legs feel? Is one doing something completely different from the other? Turns out? Feels hiked up to your waist? Scan your hips and shoulders the same way.
There are more observations I make in a session, but this will give you a sense of what your body is doing day in and day out. It may not seem very significant to some, but I always equate this to the foundation of a house. If your foundation is off, your doors won't open and shut properly, your windows will get stuck, the the house will sag. From a bodily perspective, your joints get stiff, your posture sags and you can get "stuck" with frozen shoulder, low back pain, plantar faciitis, tension headaches, even scoliosis.

Based on the assessment you've done, if your shoulders round forward that's a sign that you are stuck in the red light reflex. Do you bend or slump to one side a bit? Are your hips are out of alignment? Then you are showing signs of the trauma reflex (side bent and twisted). If you arch your low back you are stuck in the green light reflex

What do you do with this information? Drum roll, please... explore Hanna Somatics! With Hanna Somatics you learn how to release chronic tension in areas of your body that have gotten stuck in the reflexes mentioned. This is not stretching, or yoga, or pilates. This is different and much more effective because it goes to the root of all movement and muscle control: your brain and nervous system.

There aren't yet many somatic educators in far-flung places, but search for Hanna Somatics or Clinical Somatics to find someone to help you learn how to break the habitual patterns that create your pain and dysfunction. Those of us who do this work, work with people in person, in small groups and some even Skype. (I do all three.) There are also videos on Youtube. Search for Martha Peterson, Susan Koenig, or James Knight among others. There are books on Hanna Somatics too. You don't have to resign yourself to "getting older" or just suck it up and suffer with your pain. Honest! 


Moi said...

This blog entry is one of the best yet! Very informative! Thank you.

Trainer, Crafter, Kristin said...

Glad you enjoyed it, Moi. Thanks for stopping by!

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