What Are Your Muscles Doing?
Look around you. Look at the people in your office, in your home, people standing in line at the movies, eating, or sitting at a table.
Why does everyone look out of line, slouched over, shifting from foot to foot? Why is everyone slipping out of high heels, rolling their shoulders, and always fidgeting? Every one of them is seeking balance, alignment in their bodies, to stand comfortably, and with grace.
Grace under pressure is a felicitous phrase we have heard often. We live and work under difficult pressures each day. Gravity is the eternal stress on us, a permanent force. Our bodies have evolved under the force of gravity. Unfortunately, civilization is an even more potent and faster force for change than gravity! Look around you.
Over millennia, we worked and we moved. We made our bodies stronger and more functional. We tilled the soil, worked in the fields, strengthened our arms, legs and shoulders, and walked barefoot using every muscle in the feet.
We swung an ax to chop firewood, drew water from streams and wells, prepared meals, squatted around campfires, sat on benches and worked our back muscles. We walked to school and prayer, got enough sleep and didn’t sit for untold hours each day! Now we get none of the movement that our forebears did.
We do three times as much sitting as our ancestors, whether at work or play. That has set back thousands of years of evolutionary strengths. We are using one third of our muscles and over-working those few muscles we do use.
In today’s living and working spaces, the body’s primary muscles are dropping out to an alarming degree. Secondary muscles are being forced to do jobs they weren’t designed to do. How do I know this? I can see it. And so can you. And you feel it, too.
We are doing it to ourselves because we don’t consciously choose to help ourselves. We are not mindful of what we are doing to our bodies; we don’t wonder why we feel stiff, sore, and out of kilter all the time. There’s an easy remedy. Pay attention. Move.
We go to a gym, work out alone or sign up with a trainer. We go through the motions. However, the movements aren’t the right ones because we can’t move and our range of motion is severely compromised. The trainer usually doesn’t know real muscle functionality. He or she doesn’t know why we can’t move, or why our muscles aren’t working.
Your trainer doesn’t know why we can’t do most of the exercises with correct form, because her form isn’t right, either. Her shoulders are rounded, her head is forward, her form is poor, and she walks like a duck. She teaches what she can do, not always what’s right. Look around you.
The structure of the body is a series of right angles, a ladder, where the joints of the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles are the rungs of that ladder. If one of those rungs is out of line, we’re in trouble. If the “ladder” of the body is out of kilter in one place, muscles start compensating.
Initially, it’s so subtle that we are not even aware of it. We find out about it the hard way. When we fall, our shoulders hurt, our back goes out, or we can’t play tennis or golf anymore. Then, we are in the jaws of real pain, perhaps the beginnings of chronic pain.
Chronic pain problems can arise from leg length discrepancy, herniated disks, rounded shoulders, poor posture and general overuse. Many arise from accidents, falls or misjudgments, and are exacerbated because of well-intentioned but wrong therapies.
Most chronic pain is avoidable. We don’t have to suffer daily pain. There’s nothing in nature that says arthritis is a foregone conclusion or that osteoporosis is a certain rite of passage for half the older population. Believe that and it will be a first step toward a healthy body.
We can maintain grace and movement all our lives — all we have to do is pay attention to our bodies, to be aware of how we move, sit, stand and work. Just as we make commitments to our partners, families, careers, and communities, we must make a commitment to our own good health and physical integrity.
Civilized people live in shoes, right? No one goes barefoot and gets the feet working. However, no exercise regime starts with exercises for the feet. Most Americans can’t put on a pair of socks standing and balancing on one foot. Yet, no exercise regime begins the client’s day with this movement! Look around you. Ask why not!
In succeeding articles, I’ll show you how to use the mirror to look at your posture, form and movement. I’ll also tell you how to use your eyes and your discomfort to alert you to exercises that will prevent today’s minor problems from being tomorrow’s major problems. You’ll learn to look around you.