Category Archives: Body Mapping

25 Let Your Spine Be Like an Apple Core

If you find you tend to stand with your hip joints pushed forward and your upper back thrown backward you are in good company. As you observe others you will see how ubiquitous this detrimental habit is. Realize that seeing others tends to subconsciously reinforce this is the way to stand. But now that you know otherwise you can be more mindful and attentive to yourself and make some other choices.

Another reason this habit of standing is so detrimental is that with your upper back thrown backward your weight is situated over the back or nerve part of the spine, not the front or support part of the spine.

The skeleton is standing with the weight transferred down through the front part of the spine

Fig 1: Balanced standing-weight transferred down through the front part of the spine

Look at the side view of the skeleton at the right. Your spine starts at your tailbone located a little higher than your sitting bones and between them. It curves its way all the way up to the level of your ears. Pay special attention to how thick the spine is at the lower end (right above the pelvis) at the level of the lower back and abdomen.

If you run your hand up and down your friend’s back you are feeling the back part of her spine. It is important to realize that this is only part of the spine.

Your spine has two main functions—support (discs) and communication (spinal cord and nerves). The discs are located toward the front. The spinal cord and nerves run along the back.

In the illustration the skeleton is standing balanced with the weight transferred down through the front part of the spine (this is the vertical line)

If you are standing with hip joints pushed forward and upper back thrown backward your weight is situated over the back or nerve part of the spine. Ouch!

Standing with feet parallel and hips pushed forward

Here I am standing with my weight thrown backward over the nerve part of my spine. Ouch!

You want your weight centered over the support or front part of the spine. For this reason when I imagine my spine I imagine the support part (the front part). Because the front part of my spine is actually more or less in the middle of my body (look at the vertical line in the illustration again) I like to imagine it like the core of an apple (albeit a slightly curvy one!). I let my weight transfer down through my apple core instead of thinking of the spine like a rod along my back.

apple core

If you remember in post 8 I introduced the term body map—we all have in our mind maps of our bodies and how they work. These body maps include size, shape and function.

What is important to realize is that you will typically move (and sit and stand) in accordance with how you think you are structured, even if your thinking is inaccurate. If your body map is faulty, movement and consequently posture, suffers.

So to help correct your body map of your spine think of it more like the core of an apple, not like a rod along your back.

How you think does affect how you move, sit and stand.

Picture credits: Fig 1: How to Learn the Alexander Technique by Barbara and William Conable

13 Hidden Obstacles to Improving Your Posture

Changing your posture is not an easy task. If you are reading this blog you’ve probably come to that conclusion.

From the get go how you think about, define and conceptualize posture is going to impact how you try to improve it (and from my experience) your success in doing so (refer to posts 2A and 2B)

But there are some obstacles you face when you try to improve your posture that you may not even realize. Becoming aware of these hidden obstacles can be a great help.

1) Consider that posture is a habit. Habits are difficult to change.

Habits by their very nature operate below the level of conscious thought. That is why habits can be very useful. It is also why habits can be difficult to change—because it means that in order to change a habit you need to be aware of it, to think about it! And let’s face it, sometimes we’d rather not think! I certainly feel that way sometimes.

Secondly, habits tend to feel right and something different will feel, well, wrong. Try this—without thinking just cross your arms in front of you and notice how it feels. Now observe which arm is on top and reverse your arms so the other arm is now on top. How does that feel? Weird, wrong, uncomfortable may all be words that come to mind.

Your habitual posture or way of doing something will feel normal, right and comfortable even if it is causing strain on your body. Doing something in a new way will often feel foreign, wrong and uncomfortable.

On a side note, it’s interesting that we often describe our habitual posture as comfortable. What we mean is that we are used to it (sort of like an old worn out armchair) not that it is actually easy on the body.

2) Incorrect Body Maps

You also may have problems with your body map.

If you remember in post 8 I introduced the term body map—we all have in our mind maps of our bodies and how they work. These body maps include size, shape and function. Many things have gone into the creation of your body map over the years.

What is important to realize is that you will typically move in accordance with how you think you are structured, even if your thinking is inaccurate. If your body map is faulty, movement and consequently posture, suffers.

You can correct your body map by assimilating accurate information provided by kinesthetic experiences, mirrors, models, books, pictures, and teachers. One thing that Alexander teachers do is help their students to correct their body maps.

Often just learning about the size, shape and function of key areas of your body will start to create changes in your posture and movement.

3) Faulty Body Sense

The fact that you are not always doing what you feel you are doing may be one of the biggest obstacles. This deserves a post all of its own.

9 Your Bottom Belongs Behind You

Let’s stay down at the bottom end of the spine and get more acquainted with the pelvis.

When you are standing you stand on your two feet. I think we can agree on that. When you are sitting upright on a chair you sit with the majority of the weight on your two sitting bones. Sitting bones is a term often used for the two rocker shaped protrusions at the bottom of the pelvis. Ischial tuberosities is the correct anatomical term but that is a mouthful. Besides that it sounds like some sort of disease. Sitting bones is easier to remember and sounds more benign.

illustration of pelvis with rocker shaped sitting bones

Fig 1: Your sitting bones are your internal rocking chair.

If you sit down on a relatively firm chair and put your hands under you, between you and the chair you should be able to feel these two rocker shaped bones. Rock and roll around on them. Rock forward and back. Make a circle going to the right. Make a circle going to the left. Get fancy and make a figure eight! I like to think of my sitting bones as my internal rocking chair.

Your pelvis serves as the foundation for your upper half. Therefore you want to make sure it is squarely under you when you are sitting. In order to have your pelvis and sitting bones squarely under you, you must get your bottom behind you. That’s important so I am going to repeat it.

In order for your pelvis and your sitting bones to be squarely under you, you must get your bottom behind you.

Don’t sit on your bottom. Sit on your sitting bones.

Young girl using laptop on beach

Fig 2: This girl is sitting on her bottom

young boy seated on a pumpkin

Fig 3: This little boy is sitting with his bottom behind him

If you sit on your sitting bones you will have much easier access to your hip joints which is where you need to bend from if you are going to move forward toward something like the computer keyboard or some project you are doing on the table in front of you, or to reach for something.

If you imagine that you had a tail, sitting with your bottom tucked under you would be like sitting on your tail. Sitting with your bottom behind you would be like placing your tail out behind you.

So go forth, explore, experiment and get to know your sitting bones. You will, by the way, find it much easier to get your sitting bones squarely under you if you are sitting on a flat seat as opposed to one that slopes backward. Why would that be? Stay tuned…

Picture Credits: Fig 1: Aron Czerveny. Available as a free download  (Thank you Tim Soar!); Fig 2: Image courtesy of photostock at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig 3: Image courtesy of Clare Bloomfield at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

8 Your Waist is Like a Unicorn

I have spent quite a bit of time explaining what your head is (skull and lower jaw), where your skull balances on top of your spine (way up high between your ears) and the function of your Nodding Joint (to look up and down). This all in order to help you evaluate, and if need be, correct your body map of the head-spine.

Body map? Huh?

We all have in our mind maps of our bodies and how they work. These body maps include size, shape and function. Many things have gone into the creation of your body map over the years. What is important to realize is that you will typically move in accordance with how you think you are structured, even if your thinking is inaccurate. If your body map is faulty, movement suffers.

Body mapping is the conscious correcting and refining of one’s body map by assimilating accurate information provided by kinesthetic experiences, mirrors, models, books, pictures, and teachers. Alexander teachers frequently use body mapping to help their students.

Don’t worry. In my experience you don’t need to understand every minute detail of your anatomy to manage your posture and move with ease and efficiency. But there are some key relationships and joints that I find are fundamental to map correctly. The Nodding Joint is one of them. The Hip Joints are another.

We’ve been up at the head for a while. Let’s move down to the other end of your spine. What is at the other end of your spine? Your pelvis. The head and pelvis are like two bookends on either end of your beautifully curved and somewhat flexible spine. In between is your rib cage.

The Hip Joints are where your legs join your torso. And this my dear friend I find is the second most mismapped joint in the body along with that Nodding Joint. So, let’s find it!

To locate your Hip Joints stand up, march in place and slide your fingers into the crease the legs make with the torso in front. Your fingers should be pointing in toward the hip joints. This is a ball and socket joint and allows for a great deal of free movement. If you have low back pain it is extremely important to locate and learn to use your hip joints freely for bending, as opposed to your waist.

Skeleton as viewed from teh front showing the locatin of the waist vs the hip joints

Fig 1: Notice the location of the waist vs the hip joints and the considerable distance between the two.

The waist, like the unicorn is a myth. The waist is not an anatomical structure. It is where we put our belts. However, we often think of the waist as a real entity with hinge like qualities. The spine is flexible in this area but is not designed to be used as a hinge. Faulty thinking often leads to faulty use—repeated use of the waist as a hinge joint, as opposed to the hip joints lower down, is responsible for a lot of lower back problems.

Illustration of bending at the (fictitious)  waist joint.

Frg 2: Bending using my (fictitious) waist joint. Ouch!

Illustration of bending using teh hip joints

Fig 3: Bending using my hip joints.

Experiment with bending lower down from your hip joints as opposed to your waist.

Picture credits: Fig 1: Back Trouble by Deborah Caplan

6 Balance Your Top Hat

In the past it was suggested to me to think of my head like a helium balloon on a string.

I don’t recommend this image for two reasons. First of all it is not a great analogy. The head does not exert a pull on the spine like a helium balloon exerts a pull on a string. You would need a muscle between your head and the ceiling that would contract to create such a scenario. Last I checked that was not part of the human anatomy.

The second reason I don’t recommend this image is that when you imagine it, it is very easy to start creating excess tension in your body so that you feel like the head is lifting off the spine. I invite you to go ahead and imagine the image of the balloon pulling on the string and try to make it happen for you. And exaggerate it. Where are you working? I can feel tension in my neck, shoulders and torso for starters. This will just create a sore neck, shoulders and torso…for starters.

A better analogy is to think of balancing your skull on top of your spine like balancing a top hat on the tip of a cane which in turn is balanced in the palm of your hand*.

Your skull rests gently on top of your spine and is moveable. It doesn’t press down on the spine. It doesn’t exert a pull up on the spine. As your body and spine move underneath it is free to respond and subtly adjust. Just like that top hat on the top of the cane in the palm of your hand.

Remember the talk about What is Posture? back in posts 2A and 2B? Posture is not a right position. Well, there is no right position for your head. There is a healthy relationship between your head and your spine that allows your head to adjust as necessary.

Experiment with thinking of the weight of your skull balancing on the top of the spine way up high above your ears like balancing a top hat on the tip of a cane in the palm of your hand. Try it when you are walking your dog, waiting in line at the supermarket, driving the car, working at the computer, wherever.

*I’d like to credit Los Angeles based Alexander teacher Brett Hershey with the top hat analogy.

3 Meet Your Nodding Joint

As far as your posture is concerned, the most crucial and primary relationship is the relationship between your head and spine.

The adult head weighs between 8-15 lbs.

Find something that is 10-12 lbs. A medicine or bowling ball will work. A gallon milk jug filled with enough water to weigh 10-12 lbs will work as well.

Hold your object in front of you so it touches your chest. Experience its weight. Now, extend your arms so that your object is away from your body. Experience its weight. If I asked you to hold your object for 10 minutes, where would you want to hold it? My guess is close in near your body would be your preference.

illustration of two parts of the head--skull and lower jaw

Fig 1: Your head is consists of (1) your skull and (2) your lower jaw

Your head consists of two parts (1) your skull and (2) your lower jaw. The skull balances delicately on the top vertebra of your spine right between your ears. Yes, that high up! The lower jaw is suspended in front from the skull.

The joint between the skull and spine allows you to nod your head up and down—to look down at your computer keyboard or up at that spider on the top of the wall. I like to call it my Nodding Joint or alternatively my Looking Up Looking Down Joint.

Take your pointer fingers and stick them in your ears so they are pointing towards each other. Imagine a rod connecting your two fingers. Allow your head to gently pivot around that rod so you look up and down a bit. That is where your head is designed to nod from. Yes, that high up!

Illustration of location of joint between the skull and the spine

Fig 2: The joint between your skull and spine is this high up!

Now take your hand and place it at the base of your neck in back. The seventh cervical vertebra is a little larger and sticks out a bit more so you can usually find it easily. This is where a lot of us mistakenly nod our heads from.

Imagine you are holding your smartphone in front of you and look down from that seventh cervical vertebra so that you are dropping the head and neck to look down. Now try looking down from higher up where you now know the joint actually is—between the ears. It should be a much lighter feeling (you might have to move your smartphone to do this easily…)

The difference between looking down from higher up at the actual joint, high up between the ears, and from the base of the neck is similar to the difference between holding your object close to your chest and then extended out in front of you. When you can leave the weight balanced more on top of its supportive spine instead of letting it drop in front of its support, it will be lighter and cause less strain on your body.

Take some time to explore where you are habitually looking down from.

Picture credits: Fig 1: How To Learn the Alexander Technique by Barbara and William Conable; Fig 2: Mind and Muscle by Elizabeth Langford