Sunday, February 10, 2008

Body habitus

My son, David, had a band concert last night. There is a performance at least once a week which I don’t mention, so please indulge me here. This one was notable for several reasons. First, it was held at Roy J. Wasson High School, my alma mater. The last time I was in the auditorium, more than 25 years ago, it was for a pep rally.

Second, this was an all-city event, both the jazz and concert bands, and David played first chair (trumpet) in both.

Third, the concert had enough significance that both sets of grandparents attended.

After the show, my parents and Dave’s parents chatted amiably, sharing grandchildren in common, though no longer marital ties. This is when I noticed that I, at 5-foot-7 with shoes on, seemed taller than all four of them. While neither family is blessed with the genes of giants, I don’t recall ever being the family’s Amazon. Thus, I can only assume that they are shrinking. All of them.

Certainly gravity compresses the spine and wreaks general havoc on the body over time. But questionable posture is not only for the aging. We’ve all seen children, and especially teenagers, with stooped shoulders, drooping heads, swayed backs, jutting stomachs that have nothing to do with body fat.

My unsolicited practical advice–begin to work on posture. Remember that bones are just bones. The muscles and our efforts largely determine how the body looks and functions.

Women, because we are the childbearers, are configured differently than men in the lower spine. We’re more easily able to sway our backs and jut out our butts so that we don’t fall over carrying the pregnancy load. But unless pregnant, a swayed back is not good posture. The ideal position of the lower spine is found when the hips are slightly tucked under.

Try this: with your usual stance, stand at the bottom of a flight of stairs. Take one foot and place it on the first step with your weight equally distributed between both feet. Pull your abdominal muscles inward. This is the ideal position for the lower spine. Try to mindfully maintain this slightly tucked position throughout the day.

Now the upper back. Usually when told to sit up straight we pull our shoulders back and push our chests out using our upper back muscles. This isn’t very effective, is impossible to maintain, and doesn’t address the underlying physiology. A better way to correct posture is to straighten and lengthen the spine.

Try this: stand with your hips tucked under as above and slowly push the top of your head up toward the ceiling as far as you comfortably can. To do it correctly I pull the hair at the back of the part, where cowlicks are often found, straight up. You should be able to feel your head aligning and your spine elongating. If you are doing it properly you’ll feel your core, the band of muscles around the body’s center, engage. Now gently push your shoulders down. You’ll feel the rhomboids in the middle of the back engage. Notice that your shoulders are no longer hunched forward.

This is proper posture and should be consciously maintained. Difficult at first, but easier as the muscles lengthen and strengthen, and you become more accustomed to paying attention to your body position.

You can often tell a dancer by the way she looks. It’s not the size of the body, nor the manner of dress that tells us her avocation. It’s her posture. It’s the way she mindfully inhabits her body. She radiates a certain presence, and is able to show her dancer’s heart in her physical being.

We need to remember that we, too, are the masters of our physical domains. We have much control over our appearance and our health. Consciously inhabit your body. Make it a reflection of the inner person, the essential you. Confident, strong, aware, well-tended, loved.




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3 comments:

b said...

This is an absolutely great blog...not something I have said very often. I will link to you and read often. Thank you.

b

Marie said...

Oh b, I love you! Thank you for your kind words. I visited your blogs and will spend more time getting to know you and your neighbors.

With a happy glow, I head off to the laundry room....

barnmouse said...

This will come in really handy! I just finished up physical therapy for a lower back injury (tilted pelvis = not much fun) and really have to learn to stand up straight again, now that I can! :)