Category Archives: Body Sense

23 A New Use for Your Countertop

How did your observations go? Have a chance to check out any mannequins?

Below is a picture of mannequins in a New York City shop window taken by my colleague, Lindsay Newitter (check out her fun blog)

Mannequins in a New York City shop window

Fig 1: Mannequins in a New York City shop window

So you see even the mannequins are standing with their hip joints pushed forward.

Why is standing with your hip joints pushed forward so detrimental?

If you consider the pelvis to be the foundation of the upper part of your body you want it firmly under you so it can support your torso, shoulders, neck and head. When the hip joints are pushed forward your pelvis is not positioned firmly under you.

This is the same principle that we talked about with sitting in post 9.

If you had a house and the foundation shifted it wouldn’t be safe to live in, would it? You would probably be evacuated and not be allowed back in until it was fixed.

When you push your hip joints forward it causes other things to readjust as you attempt to stay balanced.

Look at the picture of me below standing with my hip joints pushed forward. How does that affect my upper back ? Can you see that my upper back is thrown backward behind my pelvis?

Standing with feet parallel and hips pushed forward

An unfortunately typical way to see people standing today: hip joints forward and upper back thrown backward

Often if someone is then carrying something in front of them this unhealthy relationship is often further exaggerated.

 

Further exaggeration of the standing posture above

Fig 2: Further exaggeration of the standing posture above

If you draw a line vertically from her upper back to the ground there would be nothing underneath to support it.

The problem is that the way you habitually stand will tend to feel vertical even if it is not . So, instead of relying on whether you “feel” like you are standing vertically, it is useful to have an external reference point—like a countertop.

When you find that you are in front of a counter (bathroom counter, kitchen counter, store counter…) simply begin by noticing how you are orienting your hip joints in relationship to the counter.

If you push your hip joints toward the counter the first step is to realize this is actually something you are doing. You are pushing your hip joints forward. If you are doing something you can choose to stop doing it, even just a little bit. Let there be some space between the counter in front of you and your hip joints.

It is not so much that you have to do something new. Just do less of what you are already doing.

The key is that you have to start with observation. If you don’t notice you are doing something that is unhelpful, harmful or plain unnecessary you can’t choose to stop doing it.

With observation comes choice.

Picture credits: Fig 1: Lindsay Newitter (www.nyposturepolice.com); Fig 2: Back Trouble by Deborah Caplan.

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16 Touch Points, Balance and Posture

Balance is another reason to pay attention to your Touch Points.

Balance and posture are very interrelated.

Poor posture does nothing to help your balance. If you are consistently not balanced you will be holding yourself up with excessive muscular tension, which contributes to poor posture.

How we balance ourselves is very complex but you don’t have to understand it all. What I bring up here is the importance of Touch Points to balance.

Try this experiment:

Part One

  • Stand on two feet with your eyes open.
  • Stand on one foot and close your eyes. Notice how long you can balance easily on one foot before you lose your balance, start to fall over and eventually have to put your other foot down.
  • Do it a couple of times. Notice how your body feels different when it is balancing vs. when it is struggling not to fall over.

Part Two

  • Stand on two feet about 6—12 inches from a solid surface—a wall or a (securely!) closed door.
  • Touch one finger lightly on the wall (or door) in front of you. Stand on one foot and close your eyes.
  • Are you able to stay balanced longer on one foot with your finger on the wall than without?
  • Repeat with two fingers (one finger from each hand) on the wall.

Most people find they can balance longer on one foot when touching the wall lightly with their finger. This is because the finger provides an extra Touch Point. That gives your body information about where you are in space and helps you to maintain balance.

There is a difference between balancing and trying not to fall over. When you are balancing you are moving slightly as you adjust but it “feels easy”. When you are trying not to fall over you will start to tighten and hold in various part of your body. It doesn’t “feel easy”.

Why is this distinction between balancing and trying not to fall over important? Because if you are consistently trying not to fall over you will tighten and hold. Do this over and over again and it begins to feel normal. And that excess tension in not helpful for your posture.

I use Touch Points whenever I can. When I go up and down stairs I always have a finger tip on a handrail. I don’t lean into it or use it to pull myself up. Just a light touch to help me stay balanced and therefore easy in my body. No handrail? I drag my fingertip lightly on the wall (sorry mom!)

When I hike on uneven surfaces I use two lightweight walking poles for just the same reason. I rarely need to lean into them but having four “feet” on the ground instead of two helps me maintain my balance.

I touch whatever I can whenever I can! My balance (and my posture) is much better for it.

15 Touch Points

So my Body Sense is a bit faulty. What to do? What to do?

If you don’t have access to an Alexander Technique teacher there are ways to constructively work on your own.

One simple strategy to help you is to notice your contact with objects. I call these Touch Points. Paying attention to your Touch Points can give you more accurate information about where you are in space than your feeling of whether or not you are balanced and in alignment.

Realize that you don’t just touch with your hands. We can touch with any part of our body.

If I have my hand on the top of your head you are touching my hand with your head. If you are sitting on a chair you are touching the seat of the chair with your buttocks and your thighs. If you are leaning forward and have your elbows on the table (I was never taught this was bad manners—and I do it all the time!) you are touching the table with your elbows.

Touch Points: we don't just touch with our hands.

Touch Points: we don’t just touch with our hands.

If you are standing your Touch Points would be the contact of your feet with the floor. Stand up and try this. It will work better if you take off your shoes and do it in your stocking feet. You will notice more. Without looking in a mirror just stand in the way that feels normal for you, without accessing if it is right or wrong. Now bring your attention to the contact of your feet with the floor. Without looking at your feet you can gather a lot of information just by placing your attention there.

Do you have more weight in the right foot or the left foot?

Is your weight predominately in the heels (back) or in the balls (forward)?

Bringing attention to the contact of your feet against the floor periodically over the next couple of weeks, checking in at random times during activity, will help you gather some important and useful information about how you habitually throw your weight around. And whether or not you are well balanced.

Try this—Make sure your weight is distributed equally on both feet. Now take your weight on purpose way back so you are standing on your heels, but not so far back that you fall over! Notice what you do to keep from falling over. Bring particular attention to your knees and thighs, your shoulders and your neck. Does your breathing change? Now let your weight shift forward at your ankles so you still have contact with your heels but you have some weight as well toward the front of your feet.

Many of us stand with our weight thrown too far back. If you do this, you are literally falling over. And your muscles will tighten to keep you from falling over. If this is your habitual place to stand it will feel normal and you will not notice the extra tension you are carrying around.

14 Are You Doing What You Feel You Are Doing?

Stand with a full length mirror at your side. Look straight ahead. Stand in the way that feels upright and vertical to you. Turn your head to the side and look in the mirror. Are you really standing vertically? Or is your pelvis parked forward and your upper back thrown back behind your hips? Is your head forward of your spine?

Close your eyes and turn to face the mirror. Stand in the way that feels upright and vertical to you. Without judging or changing anything, open your eyes. What do you see? Is your head level? Or is it tilted to one side? Are your shoulders level? Or is one higher than the other?

Do you find it challenging to simply look and observe yourself in the mirror without judgment and without rushing to fix anything? It probably is. But that is what I am asking you to do.

Stand with your feet hip width apart. Raise both arms in front of you so they are straight, about shoulder height, parallel to each other and to the floor. Close your eyes and move one arm up toward the ceiling and one arm down toward the floor. Count to five. Then, with your eyes still closed bring the arms back to what feels like their starting position—shoulder height, parallel to each other and to the floor. When it feels right open your eyes and see if what you feel is what you see. Did you get them back in the right place? Did it feel right but when you opened your eyes your arms were not where you felt they were?

For many people the above experiments are eye opening. They highlight what I call your Faulty Body Sense.

Faulty Body Sense: what you feel you are doing may not be what you are actually doing!

Faulty Body Sense: what you feel you are doing may not be what you are actually doing!

I was taught in school that we have five senses—sight, smell, taste, hearing and touch. We actually have a lot more than five. One sense that is often not talked about is what I call your Body Sense. This sense gives you information about position, movement and muscular effort. Often this sense is referred to as Kinesthesia or Proprioception. These two senses are not the same. However, because they often work together I use one term to describe them both—Body Sense.

Touch your right finger to your nose. Close your eyes and touch your left finger to your nose. How were the two experiences different? The first time you probably relied predominately on your sense of sight to guide your finger. The second time, with your eyes closed, you had to rely on your Body Sense.

Realizing that what you feel you are doing may not be what you are doing can be a blow. What is important to realize at this point is that your Body Sense may be unreliable right now.

Continue to be curious…and try the arm raising exercise with your friends. In my next post I will share some strategies for working on improving your Body Sense.

Picture credits: cartoon used under permission from DIRECTION Journal

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.