Massage and Bodywork Magazine for the Visually Impaired - Find Your Best Stance

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September/October 2014 Issue

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Find Your Best Stance

How to Quickly Check for Posture Problems

By Barb Frye
[Body Awareness]

When working in a standing posture, it’s not easy to realize when your body is out of alignment. Certain symptoms of misalignment, however, might catch your attention. For example, you might start to feel soreness in your feet, an ache in your lower back, a headache, or other sensations of stress, strain, discomfort, or pain.
This self-observation exercise will guide you through several different standing options, giving you the opportunity to feel how your body responds to each. This lesson will teach you how to start noticing symptoms of misalignment and how to bring yourself back to a more balanced and stress-free posture.
The first questions to ask when checking for misalignment are how a position affects your balance and sense of support. As you move through each of the following postures, ask yourself: Do I have a feeling of balance in this position? Do I feel supported by my skeleton?

Forward Bend
Stand in a parallel stance with your feet at equal distances from your center line. Spread your weight over your whole foot and balance your head over your spine. Now bend your upper body forward, forming a convex shape with your spine. This will feel as if you’re slouching forward (Image 1).
Notice how your weight distribution on your feet changes as you bend into this forward position.
Are you able to maintain contact with your whole foot, or is your weight more on the balls or the heels of your feet? Does this position cause any stress in your feet? Are you still able to balance your head over your spine?
Notice how the muscles in your upper body respond to this position. Do you sense muscular effort in your neck, shoulders, or upper or lower back? This is a sign of misalignment.
Notice how the muscles in your lower body respond to this position. Do you sense muscular effort in your thighs and lower legs?
Notice your breathing. A change in your breathing pattern can be a telling sign of misalignment. Can you breathe comfortably in this position?
Remaining in the forward-bent position, slowly lift your arms out in front of yourself as if you were going to begin working with a client.
Notice how your body responds to lifting your arms in this position. Do you feel symptoms of misalignment in your neck, shoulders, or upper or lower back? What do you feel?

Backward Bend
Rest for a moment, then stand as you did at the beginning of the exercise. This time, bend your upper body backward, forming a concave shape with your spine (Image 2).
Notice how this position affects your balance and support. Ask yourself the same questions as before.
Remaining in the backward-bent position, slowly lift your arms, as before. Notice how your body responds. Do you feel symptoms of misalignment in your neck, shoulders, or upper or lower back? What do you feel?

Side Bend
Again, stand as before. Begin to slowly side-bend your upper body a bit to the left (Image 3).
Notice how this position affects your balance and support. Ask yourself the same questions as before.
Remain in this position and slowly lift your arms, as before, and pay attention to how your body responds. What symptoms of misalignment do you feel?
Repeat the exercise, bending to the right.

Correcting Misalignment
You probably detected postural misalignment in one, two, or all of these positions. Here is a simple, but effective way of troubleshooting it.
First, check to make sure you are placing weight over both the right and left foot equally.
Next, make sure your feet are placed at equal distances from your center line and that you are standing with your trunk, legs, and feet facing forward.
Now, begin to imagine that you have a string attached to the top center of your head, pulling and gently lengthening you as though you are becoming taller (Image 4).
Begin to slowly move your upper body a bit forward, backward, and side to side. Take your time and find a position where you sense your upper body to be balanced and aligned over your pelvis, legs, and feet.
Once you find your alignment, stand and sense your body for a moment. If you still feel areas of muscular tightness or effort, breathe slowly and allow these areas to softly relax.
When you find a balanced and comfortable alignment, you will feel your body’s weight distributed throughout your entire body and supported by your whole foot. Notice how this position affects your balance and skeletal support.
Practice this lesson each time you begin to feel symptoms of misalignment. You will soon be able to easily troubleshoot feelings of misalignment in the moment of need, before it’s too late!

Client Tip
If you have clients with back pain, notice if they have the propensity to lean their upper body forward or backward from their legs. These patterns can put enormous strain on the lower back, causing discomfort and even pain. Bring their attention to this pattern and help them find a more comfortable vertical alignment.

Barb Frye has been a massage educator and therapist since 1990. She coordinated IBM’s body mechanics program and authored Body Mechanics for Manual Therapists: A Functional Approach to Self-Care (Lippincott Williams & Wilkins, 2010), now in its third edition. She has a massage and Feldenkrais practice at the Pluspunkt Center for Therapy and Advanced Studies near Zurich, Switzerland. Contact her at barbfrye@hotmail.com.

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