In my last blog, “Inner Body Fitness,” I wrote about images or pictures that spontaneously come into my head and that explain something to me. They’re like messages sent from some unknown and unasked source, and though I don’t understand at the time what they mean, I realize afterward they had a purpose in coming to me.
I had another of these images recently and it registered in my mind almost instantly as relating to my body. It showed me how to get rid of lower back pain, but only after I jumped through some mental hoops in following the message.
What happened was that I was walking along the street when I suddenly “saw” the backside of a horse, and in the next instant the image changed into the back of my pelvis. I stopped for a moment as I wondered what this strange image was telling me. What did the rump of a horse have to do with my pelvis?
What I remembered noticing when the image flashed across my mind was the flatness at the top of the horse’s rump. Was it telling me that the back of my pelvis should be flat? I knew that couldn’t be right because the pelvis is meant to have a slight curve.
But the idea of flatness refused to leave my mind. As I stayed focused inwardly on the back of my pelvis, it suddenly cross-dissolved into a plank of wood standing on edge. Almost instantly, the thought came into my head that in a vertical position, the plank would support weight that was placed directly on its top edge, and so would my pelvis if it were vertically aligned! In that moment, the image of the plank of wood dissolved back to my pelvis, and as I continued walking, I “felt” the upper ridge of it supporting the weight of my back.
While that may all seem a bit far fetched, it was familiar territory to me. What I’ve been writing about for many years is that the pelvis should be “straight,” and what this series of images was telling me, and was in fact confirming to me, was that my hypothesis was correct. Again, not in the actual structure of the spine, which should have a slight curve to it, but in its positioning to support weight.
It’s been clear to me for a long time that to prevent strain on muscles, tendons and ligaments, the weight of the body needs to be supported by the bone structure. But I had generally considered the “bone structure” to be “all of the bones of the skeleton vertically aligned.“
What was new to me now was that, with the pelvis vertical, it would support body weight that was placed directly on its upper ridge, as with the plank of wood, and in that position, the weight of the body would no longer strain the lower back muscles and there would be no pain.
So the pelvis, in particular the back of the pelvis, now took in my mind the central place for support of the body. For sure, muscles in the pelvis would have to be used, but they would be stabilizing the vertical position of the pelvis and providing upward support for the length of the body above it. For this, they would need strengthening, but that would be done after an excessive arch in the lower back had been minimized.
Now the image of the horse’s backside made sense. While it didn’t relate to the vertical alignment of the pelvis as directly as the plank of wood, it did bring my attention to the back of my pelvis, which perhaps the plank of wood by itself would not necessarily have done. So the mental process that began with the image of the horse’s butt came ‘round to how the vertical positioning of the pelvis supports the weight of the upper body and eliminates, or, allowing for other circumstances, reduces pain.
Googling ‘photos of horses’ proved the point. You can see in the picture of the rearing horses how the flat area of their rumps provides a base of support that connects to, and helps lift, their backs and bodies. Our human pelvises need to do the same. When we’re standing or sitting, our pelvis needs to take the weight of our upper body fully onto its upright bone structure in order to eliminate the debilitating aches and pains that come when the pelvis is tilted forward and upper body weight falls onto the swaybacked lower back muscles.
To get this support is not as simple as imagining it, though. It requires a process of three phases, the first of which is eliminating, or reducing, an excessive lower back arch. The second phase is establishing a connection between the pelvis and rib cage so the torso as a whole is vertically aligned. And the third phase is strengthening the muscles that hold the separate sections of the body in the aligned position and establishing a sense of “grounding.” Grounding means standing against the ground instead of on the ground, and it gives an upward impetus to the body that removes downward pressure on soft tissue and joints.
What’s required for the three phases to work in a smooth and progressive way is to:
- “Free” the locked-in tightness of a forward pelvic tilt by stretching the hip flexors and the thigh and lower back muscles so the pelvis can straighten
- Make the upper back flexible so it can straighten, and then strengthen the muscles so the back can stay straight
- Strengthen the lower abdominal muscles to hold the pelvis straight
- Connect the pelvis and rib cage with internal “support” muscles so they’re joined in vertical alignment
- Establish the sense of grounding
The changes that happen through the phases from one to the next are shown graphically in my Dec. 9, ‘16 blog, The Secret To No Low Back Pain: It’s All In Your Posture. With the body prepared in this way and supported through the proper bone structure, it will hold its weight comfortably and without strain, and all movement will be easier and stress-free.
Speaking of images, here are two that show support for the body and the relaxation and ease that result from it. One is support from above, the other is support from below.
From above: a coat hanger with clothes hanging loosely off of it. The coat hanger is the support that comes from relaxed shoulders and a supported rib cage, and the loose clothes hanging down is the feeling of relaxation that comes from tension that’s released.
From below: the central column of water that shoots upward in a fountain, with water droplets falling down all around it. The water shooting upward is support from the effect of grounding pushing the energy of the body up, and the falling drops of water are again the outer body relaxed.
All of the body changes put the focus of standing straight into the back of the body, which is the opposite of the military “standing at attention” that lifts the chest and brings energy to the front. You can see this back support again in the photo of the horses, especially in the lift of the back of their necks. If you can get this feeling into your neck–look at the neck of the brown horse!–you’ll see how it helps draw up and straighten the whole back of your body. If it doesn’t, it means you’re holding far too much tension and tightness in your muscles. The “hold” should feel like you’re holding the top link of a chain and the rest of the chain is hanging down from it. Another image to think about!
What I’ve described throughout this blog in one way or another is the mechanics of how to have a supported, yet relaxed body while walking. It’s not something you can do while walking, despite the often heard opinion that walking improves posture. Walking is a good time to practise using your body in a different way, but it can’t in itself make the necessary bodily changes that make walking with re-aligned posture feel comfortable and natural. That needs slow, sustained work mindfully done over a good period of time, bolstered by motivation and patience. And the reward you get for that is having control over your own body and a healthier, more comfortable one as well.
If this resonates with you and you want a body that works at its best and that you’re happy to live in, my mission in life is to help you have just that. You can help me do that by booking an appointment or asking for further information about a remedial Somatic Stretch postural consultation. You can connect with me at 416.535.8661 or through email at https://www.somaticstretch.com/contact-me/.
Comments on or questions about this blog are welcome and you can use the same contacts as above. I welcome the opportunity to discuss any concerns you may have.