Happy New Year!
I thought I’d start off 2014 by addressing one of the questions I was most commonly asked last year: “Alignment, is that like posture?”.
When I tell people that I teach alignment, what usually comes next is something like “Alignment, is that like posture?” or “Oh, I need that, I have terrible posture.” While they may sound like the same thing, alignment and posture are actually two different things. Posture is how something looks. Alignment is how something works. Posture is subjective and cultural. Alignment is objective and scientific.
“Good posture” means different things to different people. We decide that a particular posture is good if it creates a look that is seen as desirable. Certain postures might look good, but that doesn’t mean they are healthy. Different sports or activities require a particular posture to maximize performance or to create a certain aesthetic. (This usually occurs at the expense of tissue longevity. Look at all the best athletes and dancers. They are REALLY good at their sport, but their career is usually over by age 40.)
Whether it’s intentional or not, we often use our body position to say something about ourselves— a macho guy who puffs up chest to look tough, a tall kid who stands slouched over to appear shorter, a woman who sucks her stomach in to look thinner—you get the idea. Sometimes we adopt a particular posture for a good reason, such as coping with an injury or surgery, but continue the habit once the need is no longer there without even realizing it.
I’m writing this on an airplane, and one of my seatmates asked me what I’m writing about. We got to talking about posture and where the notion of good posture comes from. Seatmate #1 said her parents told her good posture meant standing up straight and holding your stomach in. Seatmate #2 said she spent time living in another country (I wish I could remember which one…. somewhere in Asia) and that the desired posture for women in that culture was a stooped over position because it showed humility. A woman who walked around with her head held high and “stood up straight” would not be respected. Subjective & cultural.
Optimal skeletal alignment is objective. It’s based on science—anatomy, physiology, biology and physics—rather than culture. It’s the orientation of all the parts that allows everything to work the way it is supposed to work with the least amount of damage. Think about the alignment of your car. You go to the mechanic, and they adjust the alignment. (No one ever took their car in to get the posture checked.) They make sure all the parts are in the proper position—not just to allow your car to run, but to help all the parts wear evenly, and ensure that the vehicle doesn’t sustain unnecessary wear and tear. The same is true for your body. When your musculoskeletal system is aligned, all your body systems can function properly, for as long as possible, with the least amount of unnecessary wear and tear.
This image is taken from the Restorative Exercise™ Specialist training manual. It shows the 25 points to consider when assessing skeletal alignment.
Here’s your first step to good alignment: Back up your pelvis.
First, let your pelvis shift forward. (Notice the picture on the left.) You will feel more pressure in the front of your feet than the heels. Now back your pelvis up until you feel more pressure in your heels. (Notice the picture on the right.) That’s where you want it. Your legs should be straight (no bent or locked knees) when you do this. Can you feel the difference?
Left: My pelvis is out over the front of my feet, and my upper body is actually behind my pelvis.
Right: My pelvis is stacked right over my ankles. There is a vertical line from ear, shoulder, hip, knee, ankle.
(Don’t let the “I Dream of Jeannie” arms confuse you…they aren’t part of it. I’m holding them up so they don’t block the view of my pelvis.)
NOW, check out the lines I can make with my super awesome (not at all nerdy) grid app. It’s much easier to see the differences when there are actual lines.
SO COOL, right? I’m not a very “techy” person, but I LOVE this app. Go by the objective alignment marker (a vertical line) rather than how it feels. If you go by what feels right (subjective), you will always go back to your old postural habits. To see the lines on yourself, you can hold a belt or strap at the center of your hip joint and watch where it falls. It’s helpful to do this in front of a mirror. You would want the weight bearing, structural beams of your house to be completely vertical (perpendicular to gravity), and it’s the same for your legs.
Just backing your pelvis up will reduce unnecessary damage to your feet, knees, hips, and spine. This position gives you stronger bones and better pelvic floor function. You will use more leg muscle which means a higher metabolism and better circulation– all this just by shifting your pelvis.
Whatever your health goals are for 2014– less pain, stronger muscles, better balance, fewer headaches– working on your alignment is the first step! In the next few weeks, I’ll be sharing more about the differences between posture and alignment and giving you simple, practical steps to make big improvements.