“Big buns”

My blog this time was prompted by a flood of posts coming into my inbox around January of this year about how to get full, rounded buttocks. The subject is a popular one and flogged on a regular basis, so it isn’t too late for me to have my say.

In fact, articles about big buns have never disappeared in the almost forty years since they first came under my radar. While I’m all for strengthening the buttocks, my complaint for these many years has been the sway-backed, “butt-in-your-face” photos accompanying the articles that have no relevance to the actual purpose of having strong butt muscles. Worse still, they give a misguided message to women besides doing damage to their bodies.

So this article is written partly as a rant against sexist advertising but also simply as information for those individuals who are interested in the buttocks from a practical, everyday usage point of view and how to strengthen them for that purpose.

“For men and women”

The photo that caught my attention in January, shown here, accompanied an article entitled, ”For Men and Women Who Are Looking To Build and Grow Their Butt.” I don’t know how the combination of the photo and title strikes you, but my immediate thought was, “If big butts are important to men as well as to women, why isn’t the man standing with his knees bent, like the woman, to more clearly show off his “rounded buns?” The discrepancy between the article being for both men and women yet with only the female prominently displaying her butt was too obvious to let pass without comment.

Photos of women with over-arched backs and eye-catching bottoms have been used to attract attention to every which kind of product, regardless if its actual use, since the dawn of advertising. But have you ever seen a photo of a man standing like that? Makes you laugh, doesn’t it? The only photos of men that have any semblance to this kind of posture are for the purpose of explaining a forward tilted pelvis and the wrong way to stand. What makes it right, then, for a woman to tilt her pelvis, and in an exaggerated way at that, so she’s standing even more wrong?

Double standard

Talk about a double standard! It’s not only okay; women are encouraged to stand so your eyes are drawn to their buttocks. But do that as a man and you’d better be talking about how a tilted pelvis is the cause of lower back pain and a host of other non-healthy problems.

The article goes on to state that a flat bottom is a sign of weakness, yet it shows the man’s backside as flat. Is it because, as suggested above, a picture of a man showing off his butt would be met with derision, or maybe even cause an angered revolt against the audacity of displaying such an undignified photo of male posture?

In this day and age when the degrading of women in its many forms is unacceptable, exploiting the female body for commercial gain by promoting distorted, unhealthy posture is morally wrong on two counts: it’s demeaning to women and a disservice to both sexes by increasing the already epidemic cases of lower back pain and other negative consequences that an overly arched back inflicts on health and wellbeing.

Proper use of buttock muscles

Political overtones aside, what’s missing in the butt-focused articles is the unmentioned, if not unrecognized, role that the buttocks play in ordinary, everyday activities like walking and running. The buttocks are, in fact, along with the feet—the use of which deserves its own blog—the source of the impetus that moves the body forward. Or they should be.

You just have to look at the way four-legged animals use their haunches—the combined buttocks and thighs—when walking. They push themselves forward by using the muscles of their hindquarters. They have no choice; they have no other way to transfer their weight onto their front legs. But fortunately for them, the very act of walking is what also strengthens their rump.

To our disadvantage, our upright posture provides no such automatic strengthening; Because of this we have to a great extent lost the use of our buttock muscles. We move our bodies forward by extending one leg in front and letting our weight fall onto the foot, one step at a time. I call walking this way “catching up to your feet.” It’s what we do when we amble and it requires next to no energy or muscle strength.

Engaging the correct muscles

In our modern society, too much sitting has caused weak and flabby buttock muscles that contribute nothing to the purpose for which they’re intended, that is, walking. To paraphrase my writing from many years ago, when we don’t walk by actively engaging our buttock muscles, they’re just excess weight that we carry around like so much baggage. At best, they’re padding to cushion our bony framework when sitting or, at worst, pounds of inert flesh and adipose tissue to weigh us down and strain our hearts.

When we put the focus of strengthening the buttocks on their true purpose, it makes the action of walking a whole different ball game. Strong buttocks propel you forward with vibrant energy and help maintain your pace for longer. However, it’s not the main part of the buttocks—the rounded buns—that need strengthening for walking; rather, it’s the lower part of the buttocks where they connect with the hamstrings. Instead of being shaped as part of the buttocks, the muscles here are often slack from non-use and appear to hang separately below the buttocks.

These are the muscles that, when used, energize your walk and make your body feel like it’s being “carried” by your legs in a smooth, gliding feeling. Strengthening these muscles makes your buttocks firm, toned and an active part of your body, rather than being of little more use than the padded buttock shapers sold to the less fortunately endowed in this particular area.

How to strengthen the “walking” buttock muscles

The simplest and, for some, the most difficult way to strengthen the lower buttock muscles is through isolated contraction, the same way you make a strong fist with your hand. That said, when the lower muscles have not been used in a conscious way, they could be obscure to connect with, let alone to strengthen.

However, once you can “make a fist” with your lower buttock muscles and consciously contract them at will, you can use any moments of standing, such as when you’re waiting in line, to practise strengthening them. Strengthening these lower buttock muscles also helps bring the bottom of the pelvis forward and lengthen the lower back, relieving pain.

To make your buttocks the powerhouse they’re meant to be for everyday use, here is a 3-part buttock strengthening exercise that will put zap in your stride. Though simple, it’s highly strengthening and a challenge for building muscular stamina. In fact, you’ll be amazed at how quickly your butt muscles tire. That’s common when you haven’t worked these muscles this way before, but just as repetition in working any muscle gradually strengthens it, the same will happen with this exercise, too, when you make a practice of doing it on a regular basis.

This exercise is from my 1980s and current Somatic Stretch program. For this and other exercises that help make you “body aware”, go to: http://www.somaticstretch.com/store.

In 1980, when I started teaching my program, Somatic Stretch (called BioSomatics at the time), yoga classes barely existed. The few you might find were in church basements, local shopping malls or small back rooms in some out-of-the-way buildings. Imported from the east as an authentic, five thousand-year discipline, yoga postures were taught with set guidelines in much the same way that ballet “positions” were taught in my experience of ballet. In both cases, the form, or outward appearance was the goal to be achieved in those days.

Because I had worked through structural challenges I’d had with both ballet and modern dance, I had come to an understanding that achieving the outward goal depended on whether or not one’s body was capable of conforming to the guidelines. The focus of my teaching was therefore working on the body in a way that was therapeutic and remedial, with the potential for structural transformation.

Some of the movements I had explored in years past had similarities to yoga, and when I was asked how my work was different from yoga, which happened frequently, I had a hard time explaining it. To an untrained eye, an exercise I was teaching could look like a yoga posture, but in my perception of it, it wasn’t the same.

The yoga posture above (https://yogaanatomyacademy.com/why-bridge-pose-is-not-good-preparation-for-backbends/) in combination with the two photos below is an example of the difference between the Bridge and my buttock strengthening exercise.

My observation of the Bridge is that it arches the back to one degree or another, putting some pressure into the throat area. In my buttock-strengthening version, the throat, upper chest and abdomen are all relaxed, with all of the energy going into the lower buttock muscles and not into the back. Those are the visual differences.

The intentions of the two, I believe, are also different. Not being trained in yoga, I can’t explain the purpose of the Bridge other than that it’s used for making the back flexible, with higher Bridges requiring greater flexibility. The intention of the Somatic Stretch buttock exercise is the same as for all of the strengthening exercises: to remove tension from non-working parts of the body so that maximum energy can be focused into the working, or target muscles, in this case, the buttocks. In short, the overall, authentic intention of the Bridge is to make a “shape,” while the buttock exercise has a determined, specific focal point. A by-product of this is that kinaesthetic awareness can be developed through feeling the body working in this localized way.

That said, it’s interesting to note that over the years yoga has been shifting away from its traditional parameters and widening into areas that are more somatic, so the differences are becoming more blurred. An article on the Yoga Anatomy Academy website, from which the top photo was copied, states that the Bridge “can be used in a physical asana practice for a number of distinct purposes. For example, a physical therapist or personal trainer might use it to strengthen gluteal muscles, quads, hamstrings or lower back muscles, just to name a few possible targets (with small tweaks to the exercise to more meaningfully engage each).”

The mention of “small tweaks” in the above paragraph is what brings the Bridge closer to a somatic exercise, although tweaking an exercise is different from creating an exercise for a specific purpose. The buttock exercise shown is one of a series in Somatic Stretch for strengthening the buttocks, in particular, the bottom portion of the buttocks. (See the second photo where my hand is squeezing the lower end of the buttock.)

The greater purpose of strengthening this lower part of the buttocks is because contracting these muscles, in combination with pushing with the back foot, is what moves the body forward from the hips (that is, pelvis) when walking–rather than stepping forward with one foot and “catching your body up to it.” Walking the latter way is fine when you’re ambling but it doesn’t provide any momentum when you want to walk quickly or take long strides.That requires the separate parts of the body to be internally aligned and the energy centre in the abdominals activated, that is, the abdominals should be engaged so they, in fact, carry the body forward with help from the buttock and foot.

“The devil is in the details” is how I saw the difference between my exercises and yoga back in the 80s but I didn’t know how to explain it in the activity-oriented times. Today it’s still the same difference though to a lesser extent because of the somatic influence, but now I explain it as the difference between working externally, where you’re copying a picture or a drawing, or what someone is demonstrating, to working internally, where you’re connected with the actual muscles you’re working with on a conscious level. This is what gives you control over how you use your body, like knowing which strings to pull on a puppet to move its body parts and limbs.

The even more overall purpose of Somatic Stretch exercise is to connect with our bodies and to “know” them so well that we can make them physically able and useful in all that we do, and beyond that, as comfortable and pain-free as possible so that living our earthly existence can be as pleasurable as we would want it to be.

With that in mind, here’s the way to do the Somatic Stretch exercise for strengthening the buttocks as taught through close to four decades:

  1. Lie on your back with your lower back flat, knees bent and feet and knees hip-width apart; arms are on the floor at your sides, palms down.
  2. Breathing out through your mouth, stand on your feet to lift the back of your pelvis off the floor in a slight pelvic tilt, feeling your belly flatten.
  3. Push your heels against the floor, tightening the muscles at the bottom of your buttocks–where they connect to your hamstrings–to push your pelvis up into your hip joints. (See where my hand is squeezing the buttocks.) Thinking of pushing your pubic bone up can tighten the buttocks even more. The abdomen should still feel flat and “sunk” into the pelvic bowl so the lower back doesn’t arch.
  4. Keep the buttock muscles contracted and pushing the pelvis upward until they tire. The abdomen should still feel flat and sunk into the pelvic cavity so the lower back doesn’t arch.
  5. Very slowly lower the pelvis to the floor so you feel the individual muscles releasing. Once on the floor, slowly relax the muscles completely.

This exercise can be done as many times as you want, staying each time until the muscles tire. In the beginning this may not take very long, but with repeated use the muscles will strengthen so you can stay longer, which will strengthen them even more. In time, it will become natural to use them when you’re walking.

When you do the exercise for the first time, or only occasionally, your buttocks can feel “sore” the next day, but that’s a good sign. It means you’ve got them working. And as you keep working this way, you should notice that you’ve developed a much firmer “butt” in the process.

You can find this exercise along with many others that focus on improving a particular aspect of the body in the videos here.

 

Horse + push-up

Many of my posts have dealt with posture and swayback, and as I’ve recently become aware that swayback is sometimes described as a posture that’s different from the way I refer to it, I want to clarify my meaning of it.

The definition of swayback that I go by is a condition seen in horses with sagging backs. In horse-speak, it’s called swayback, also lordosis, low back and soft back.

Read more

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.  Read more

Inner Workings

Our bodies speak to us in many different ways, most often through a sensation of “feeling,” like hunger, or fatigue, or pain.

My body often talks to me through images that I interpret as its way of explaining something to me. Sometimes it’s an answer to a question I didn’t even know I was asking, or it’s something that I’ve become ready to understand, or the image shows me in a very graphic way what’s happening in my body, or even in the world. 

Like the image I had back in the days of aerobics, when I “saw” how what I was discovering about the body would eventually be found by many other people as well.

The image that came into my head was of the earth as a globe, and all around the globe cracks were appearing. Then a substance began oozing slowly out of the cracks and I suddenly “knew” that what I’d been coming to understand about a totally different concept of fitness would someday be understood by others all over the world.

And that’s exactly what has happened. The many fitness coaches now talking about forward pelvic tilt, posture and alignment, which no one cared about in the 80s and 90s, is proof that the focus is turning from “getting” fit through activities to “being” fit for your activities. It’s the same as what a mechanic does to your car, so you can drive it safely and enjoy a smooth, pleasurable ride.

I call it “inner body fitness,” getting the mechanics of your body working properly, which involves making your muscles flexible and your joints mobile so you can move easily, and the structure of your body aligned properly so there’s no strain on your muscles or joints when you’re working out or doing movement of any kind.

It’s a whole different way of working with your body than when you want to build strong muscles or develop stamina, although you can use it in combination with those as well. Like the machinery in the photo above, which is responsible for keeping the entire unit it controls in top condition, keeping the inner workings of your body working well is how your body as whole works well.

The best way to develop this inner body fitness is to work with the separate parts of your body in an isolated way – just as a mechanic does with your car – stretching muscles that are tight and strengthening ones that are weak.

Working this way gets you “in touch”with your body so you’re able to use specific muscles to realign your posture. It also develops true body awareness and gives you a sense of control, or of being the driver of your body “vehicle.” And it’s what helps prevent strain and injury.

This work shouldn’t be confined to isolated exercises, though. For example, when you’re using exercise machines at the gym, you can work the machines in a way that develops even more awareness and makes you more sensitive to the possibility of injury.

With gym equipment, you usually begin moving some part of it with a push from your arms or legs and then, you keep both the machine and your muscles functioning rather automatically by continuing to pump the machine. Doing this, your muscles get worked and they become stronger, which is good.

If you have a weakness in one of the muscles, though, and you just keep pumping, that muscle can get overstrained before you notice it and then you can have an actual injury. This is like being a passenger in a car, where you don’t have actual control of where the car is taking you.

When working with awareness, you make the parts of the machine move while being conscious of the muscles you’re using, and then you consciously put your energy into those muscles as you continue to work the machine. This way, you’re relating to the inside of your body and making a conscious connection between your body and your mind.

This helps you develop quick instincts and quick reactions to prevent a strain of some kind. You also become attuned to places in your body that are beginning to feel some indistinguishable discomfort, like a pain that isn’t really a pain yet but is something that draws your attention to a particular spot, and you “know” it’s a tight muscle that’s asking for a stretch or a massage. That way you can look after it before it becomes a real ache or some other more serious problem.

You can do this with any exercise if you just put yourself into what you’re feeling inside your body instead of what you’re doing with it. Reading a book while you’re peddling on a stationary bicycle is as far removed from it as you can possibly be.

So the next time you’re on the bike or working any of the other equipment, instead of losing the opportunity to connect with your body, try feeling the muscles you’re using and even “see” them in your mind’s eye from the sensations you feel. It’s a great way to learn anatomy, most especially your own!

If you want to know more about how to get your body fit on the inside, please contact inquiry@somaticstretch.com about a new class that will be starting soon. Or check out the videos here.

 

 

 

 

6-figure-posture-group

See larger graphic below

If you’re one of the millions of individuals who suffer from low back pain – and if that doesn’t apply to you now there’s a high probability that one day it will – this article is for you.

The simple truth is, whether in men or in women, swayback, in my opinion, is the number one reason for low back pain.

When I wrote about the connection between swayback and back pain thirty-five years ago, it pretty much fell on deaf ears. Now, even guys who run gyms and who normally pitch bench presses and weight lifting are making videos about the dangers of “forward pelvic tilt,” another way of saying lower back arching, or swayback, and recommending the pelvic tilt as a remedy.

Another common suggestion over the years has been to flatten your back against a wall, with your knees slightly bent, and to keep your back flat as you walk away. Of course, you can only do that if you keep your knees bent and, to my mind, that’s not a satisfactory option.

Corrective exercise
More recently, I’m glad to see “corrective exercise” as the way to solve the problem of back pain. It’s a term I steered clear of back in the days when because it sounded so institutional and unappealing in comparison to the energy of aerobics, but it’s a good thing that it’s come into use because it’s exactly what the doctor should have ordered.
.
Often overlooked, though, is that while an exercise can be correct in itself, it has to be done in the context of the body as a whole. The fact is, changing one part of the body doesn’t really work. The connecting parts need to be changed as well in a sequential process until all of the parts are together in a unified body that is properly aligned and supported.

Somatic Stretch ® exercises are just this kind of sequential process. The exercises work with the separate parts of the body in a harmonious way so that the changes are gradually assimilated and the body comes to sense, and is comfortable with, a new way of being.

Today’s article is a follow-up to my March 16 blog, “My Rant About Swaybacked Posture,” where I mentioned that photos and diagrams that are generally shown as good posture have, according to my viewpoint, too much lower back arch.

A “straight” pelvis
Seemingly little considered, or at least written about, there is a position between the pelvic tilt and an over-arched lower back that I call “straight,” but which retains a natural curve in the lower back. The upper body, when aligned in its separate parts, is then carried along above the pelvis, much the way a paddle boat glides over the water.

That brings to mind a short piece called “When walking becomes gliding,” written by a recently graduated Instructor of Somatic Stretch®, which beautifully expresses the integration and the quality of movement that this work is meant to provide.

Today’s article shows the progression of adjustments the body goes through, each change resulting from the change before, to transform the most common form of bad posture into aligned, supported posture that has the potential for carrying the body forward in that gliding manner.

6-figure-posture-group

The ultimate goal of good posture
I can’t emphasize enough that, while the subject of improving posture is still not a cliffhanger for most people, it should be, because it’s the means of having a body that not only looks better, but works and feels at its optimum best, remains youthfully active, sustains few injuries and enjoys a state of good health and wellbeing throughout life. That’s the ultimate goal here and of Somatic Stretch® exercises, which help to bring that desirable condition about.

That said, I have to emphasize even more importantly that in the adult body a change of this proportion can take many years to accomplish, if ever, and it can have apparent adverse consequences. The body does not give up its familiar way of being easily and can quickly put up resistance.

Like the fable where the sun wins out over the wind in taking off the cloak of the traveler, the body has to be coaxed, rather than hurried or forced, into changing. The good news is that once it gets to “the other side,” it says, “Wow, thank you, I feel so much better this way!” So, despite the difficulties it may present, getting your posture right is worth aiming for.

For most people, bodily changes don’t happen by copying illustrations or even from following written descriptions. It’s in using the exercises that prepare the way for the changes to take place that the process of postural adjustments becomes clear.

Should you wish to pursue this path for yourself, you can find Somatic Stretch® coordinated corrective exercises in the DVDs that are available here.

If you would like a detailed explanation of what is taking place in the drawings, please send your email address to inquiry@somaticstretch.com and I’ll send a pdf to you.

And if you would like a personal assessment about your posture and how the information in this article may relate to you, please get in touch with me here to make an appointment.

Again, you can find DVDs that cover this “inner fitness” coordinated work here. A new website will soon be up as well.

Any book on back care that has been written in the past dozen or so years almost certainly includes the pelvic tilt in its list of ways to alleviate back pain. Though it’s scarcely a panacea, for the thousands of back pain sufferers it’s been a blessing indeed. So what more is there to say about it? Actually, quite a lot.

3-figure-pelvic-tilt

The “tilt,” if you’re as yet unfamiliar with the term, positions the pelvis with the bottom pressed forward in order to elongate the lower back and minimize excessive arching. One reason this arching, or swayback as it’s commonly called, causes pain is because the muscles in the lower back become fatigued from the weight of the upper body “sitting” on them, and fatigue in any muscle causes discomfort.

Tired or weak muscles aren’t the only cause of pain. With no relief from the downward pressure, the vertebrae become compressed, pinching nerves in the spinal column and compounding the discomfort. This can now lead to serious trouble, for prolonged compression of the vertebrae can result in disc degeneration and even surgery. So the pelvic tilt, by alleviating pressure to the lower back, can only be a good thing.

There are many ways throughout an ordinary day that you can make use of the pelvic tilt. In fact, anything that encourages the lower back to be less arched is useful. Putting your feet up on a low stool while sitting in a chair will do it. The same goes for resting one foot higher than the other on a low railing when standing at a bar, for example. And exercises that bring your knees over your chest when lying supine on the floor have the same effect. A common suggestion is to stand against a wall and, with your knees slightly bent, flatten your back against it. All of these “remedies” allow your lower back to stretch out and lengthen.

This is all well and good. However, we spend a good deal of our time either standing where we can’t put one foot up – in queues, waiting for a bus, etc. – or walking. How do we then maintain the pelvic tilt? In a word, we don’t. It goes back to the position it’s accustomed to being in and which is natural for it; if you have a swayback it will go back to being swayed, and with too much weight on it.

So while the remedies stated above are helpful, they’re at best only temporary and alleviating ones. They don’t eliminate the problem of a swayback and its subsequent stress on any permanent basis. For this to happen, we have to learn how to “straighten” our pelvis and lessen the arching of the lower back. This is a more compre­hensive task than “tilting” the pelvis, which, commendable as it is as a means of relief and as an exercise, falls short of being a permanent solution to back pain. Let’s see why.

In all of the suggestions given above, the knees – whether it’s one, or both – are bent to one degree or another. You can’t, for example, flatten your back against a wall unless your knees are bent. Now, some authorities recommend that you should always keep your knees slightly bent, or slack, when you’re standing or walking, and that’s because bent knees keep the lower back lengthened to some extent.

This brings up three points. First, we are the most developed of upright creatures and bent knees don’t make us fully upright. Perhaps we’re not fully evolved yet but why not aim in that direction? Second, keeping the knees slack at all times only serves to shorten the hamstrings, which in most people are too tight as it is. Third, do you really want to walk with bent knees? There’s something psychologically demeaning, not to mention physically unsupportive when we don’t stand and walk at our full height, whatever that height might be.

So, despite the acclaimed benefits of the pelvic tilt, we need to know how to tilt the pelvis and elongate the lower back without bending the knees. For that it will help to understand what causes swayback in the first place.

The reason the pelvis tips forward is because the abdominal muscles, which are meant to contain the intestines in the abdominal cavity, are not doing their job; they’re either too weak or they’re simply not being used. Consequently, the innards “fall out” and the weight of the all-too-common stomach bulge pulls the pelvis off its centre of balance.

When the pelvis stays in this position over a long period of time, the muscles attached to it become set in their lengths. In the forward tilted position the muscles from the mid-back down through the back of the pelvis become shortened, as do the thigh muscles and those that attach the thighs to the bottom of the pelvis.

To change the position of the pelvis to one that is “straight,” meaning that the waist is brought back over the tailbone, these muscles need to be gradually stretched so the adjusted position becomes the normal, or accustomed position, and this transition can take a long time, especially when it’s begun in the adult years. This is why it’s important to begin flexibility exercises early on in life.

With the pelvis able to straighten, the job of keeping it straight falls to those lower abdominal muscles mentioned above. These muscles need to be strengthened so they can hold the bottom of the pelvis forward and contain the viscera. But they need to be strengthened in a particular way so they don’t simply tighten and press against the viscera but instead, lift them into the pelvic cavity and contain them with an easy hold, while allowing the rib cage to handle the breathing. Beyond this, relieving lower back strain involves supporting body weight, but as this article is mainly about straightening the pelvis, the topic of weight support will be left for another time.

Take a moment here to look at the drawings in Figures 1, 2 and 3 above. In Figure 1 you see the pelvis tipped forward producing the swayback and stomach bulge and, as normally happens with this posture, a corresponding backward pressure through the knees. Figure 2 shows the “pelvic tilt” with bent knees, and Figure 3 is the “straightened” pelvis with straight legs. As you can see, the lower back is elongated in both Figure 2 and 3, so the tilted and the straightened pelvis are, in fact, equally effective in relieving strain.

There are a number of exercises you can do that will help the pelvis to straighten, but here are three that will start you in the right direction.

TO STRETCH YOUR THIGHS AND GROIN MUSCLES

pelvic-tilt-1

  1. Sit on the floor and extend your right leg forward. Bring your left foot in beside the buttock, as shown, and place your hands on the floor behind your hips. Lift your hips a little and tip back on your pelvis, then relax your upper body between your shoulders and rest your weight on your hands.
  1. Stay relaxed in this position allowing the thigh to stretch. You can increase the stretch by tightening the left buttock. To increase it even further, press the buttock forward into the hip joint as you breathe out.
  1. Lift the leg with your hand to bring the foot forward. Straighten the leg slowly and roll it gently in and out. (Photo #1)

 

TO STRETCH YOUR LOWER BACK MUSCLES

pelvic-tilt-2

  1. Sit on the floor with your legs in front. Hold your ankles – or as close as you can reach – with a firm grip and take a breath in.
  1. Simultaneously breathe out through your mouth, pulling your abdominals in, then drop your head forward as you pull your body gently backward away from your feet. Hold the backward pressure for a few moments, then relax forward as you breathe in to repeat the stretch.
  1. After you do this movement 2 or 3 times, sit up and move your waist forward and back gently while rolling over the sit bones to help loosen the back muscles.

Note 1: Your arms need to be straight, so if you have long arms, you may need to hold the soles of your feet rather than your ankles in order to feel the stretch in your lower back. If you bend your elbows and pull on your legs instead of just holding them, you’ll transfer some of the stretch to your hamstrings.

Note 2: Although this stretch is primarily for the lower back, you may also feel a stretch in your upper back or shoulders, so just consider that an added benefit.

Note 3: Keep the pressure into your lower back gradual and gentle until you can assess how much stretch it can take. If you feel a twinge of sharp pain, use minimal pressure and don’t repeat for a day or two. If the sharp pain happens each time you go back to the exercise, you should have your back checked by a professional and /or have some deep massage work into that area to help loosen the muscles. Sharp pains are a warning signal of vulnerability, so exercise restraint! (Photo #2)

 

TO STRENGTHEN YOUR ABDOMINALS

pelvic-tilt-3

  1. Lie with your back on the floor and knees drawn over your chest, hip-width apart. Take a breath in, then, breathing out through your mouth, pull your abdominals in so the back of your waist is pressed against the floor; at the same time, lower your feet toward the floor but only to the point where your lower back is beginning to lift. Hold this position for a few moments, then bring your knees over your chest as you breathe in to repeat.
  1. When you’ve finished, lower your feet to the floor one at a time.

Note: You may find that your back begins to lift almost right away. This is not unusual as the abdominal muscles in most people, as mentioned before, are weak. The important point is to keep the back of your waist pressed to the floor. This way, your abdominals will be strengthened without putting strain on your lower back. In other words, how close you get your feet to the floor is unimportant. (Photo #3)

The top two exercises will help to loosen the tight muscles that cause a swayback, while the third exercise strengthens the lower abdominal muscles to hold the pelvis straight. With the tightness freed and your legs moving easily in the hip joints, you will walk with a much longer and freer stride. It will feel great and you’ll look inches taller.

 

Posture is a topic I’ve been deeply involved with since 1980 when I started teaching my program, Somatic Stretch®, with its ultimate goal of “proper posture.” Everything I taught then, under its original name of BioSomatics, I still teach to this day, and all of it came from working on, and changing, my own posture from sway-backed to what I now consider to be correct posture.

 

Whether correct posture, good posture, or proper posture are the right ways to describe standing “straight” is still a confused issue, and it won’t become clear until all of those phrases are understood to mean “how the body works at its best.” This is how I define correct posture, and it includes good body mechanics as demonstrated by the squatting man in Frey’s article.

 

How to arrive at this best working condition is still up for debate, the methods of achieving good posture varying from the old-time walking with a book on the head to imagining a string attached to the head pulling the body up, to established methodologies like the Feldenkrais and Alexander techniques.

 

Ballet instructors everywhere tell students not to “tuck under,” to “close the ribs,” to not “sit in the hips” and to pull the shoulders down. When the body “works at its best,” these corrections become simply reminders instead of the impossible challenge they so often are. My aim in Somatic Stretch® is to make those challenges “as possible as possible” according to each person’s innate body makeup and the extent to which it can be brought closer to its best working condition in both structure and body mechanics. This, in a word, is what I call “ideal” posture.

 

Regarding the “neutral” posture discussed in Frey’s article, I’ve never understood what exactly is meant by it. However, because of Frey’s invitation to join him in his questioning, I looked it up recently in Wikipedia. Two passages there read:

(1) “In this context, proper posture or “neutral spine,” is the proper alignment of the body between postural extremes. Deviations from neutral alignment are identified as excessive curvature or reduction in curvature.”

(2) “Neutral posture has given rise to the idea of achieving “ideal posture.” Ideal posture indicates proper alignment of the body’s segments such that the least amount of energy is required to maintain a desired position. The benefit of achieving this ideal position would be that the least amount of stress is placed on the body’s tissues.”

 

Although I’m in agreement with (2), neither definition is very enlightening:

(1) begs the question, ”How much, or how little, curve is neutral? Aside from that, alignment has nothing to do with curves. In my own simple way of describing it, alignment refers to the direction of energy through connecting centres. In standing posture, the head, neck, ribcage, pelvis, legs and ankles should all have energy connecting them in a direct, or “straight,” vertical plane, the way each floor of a building is stacked squarely above the one below. A tilted pelvis, for example, is not vertical, therefore, what’s above and below it can’t be vertical; they have to compensate by leaning in the opposite direction.

 

In (2), the ideal posture referred to again throws no light on what that ideal posture is nor how it reduces stress on soft tissue. My explanation is that stress on soft tissue is reduced when the soft tissue is supported by the vertical, centred positioning of the bone structure, and the bone structure is supported in its alignment by adequate strength in particular muscles, mainly the abdominal, upper torso and neck muscles. Excessive body curves are irrelevant to the extent that the body mass causing the curves, e.g, a bulging abdomen or imbalanced body weight on each side doesn’t pull the body off its central axis.

 

In neither of the two definitions, then, does “neutral” make sense, so to my mind the word doesn’t belong in relation to posture. Neutral in a car means that it’s stationary, going neither forward nor backward. Another word for that is “static,” but posture isn’t meant to be static. Correct posture is not a held position; every fibre of the body should be actively engaged in supporting the body at its full height, with the hips and aligned body weight placed forward of the heels. With that condition and placement when walking, only a little pressure from the ball of the foot and a squeeze of the buttock muscles initiates forward movement of the pelvis, with everything above it carried along in balanced alignment.

 

An image I often have of this is the way an upside down broom, with the end of the stick placed on someone’s hand, stays balanced and upright when it’s carried around by the hand. Or the way an ocean liner glides over the water by the movement of mechanisms in the bottom of it. Think of those dance performances where a whole group of women, wearing long dresses and their feet pitter-pattering in unison, moves across the floor like a smooth wave. Or ballroom dancers who move as though they’re on a circling platform. The body movement of these dancers initiates from the pressure of the feet against the floor going into the hips, which carry the upper bodies along for the ride.

 

Going now to the postures of the boys in the photo above, you can see the difference between the second and third boys from the left, who are well aligned and static, and the fourth and fifth boys, who are not quite as “together” in their torsos but show the potential for moving forward from their hips.

 

Using the very top graphic, my ideal posture is a combination of the figure in the top right and the male figure third from the left. The former has the hips forward with weight toward the front of the feet to initiate movement, but it’s leading with the chest and upper body, making the whole figure look sloped. In contrast to this, the male figure is vertically well aligned but has his weight back on the heels, making him look completely static. If the photo of the male had the hips forward and legs sloping back like the graphic on the right, it would have the internal body alignment and weight placing that I consider correct. This is what my fourth drawing in the graphic of four figures looks like and is what, for me, constitutes correct posture.

 

My drawings are not done with anatomical accuracy. I drew them to the best of my ability many years ago and they’re meant to show the uprightness of the body when the main body parts are vertically supported. So perhaps you could say the last two drawings are more of an internal energy posture than realistic. That is, the straightness of the backs is more what the back should “feel like” and not that it should actually be that straight. If you look at those two drawings carefully, I think you’ll see that although the bodies are shaped identically, the positioning of the pelvis in the fourth drawing — “straightened” and ahead of the heels – is what gives that figure the forward movement look along with an upright, relaxed appearance in the upper body. Compare this to the static, “held” look of the drawing to the left of it.

The explanation for this placing of the body and the method of achieving it is too extensive to go into here, so I’ll conclude my discussion by saying that the drawings above are from my as-yet unpublished book and show my process of changing one type of bad posture into one that is aligned, supported, outwardly relaxed and with forward movement potential. Not everyone will agree with my viewpoint, but as Frey says, evolution is not finished, and I would be happy to participate in any discussions or events on this topic.

For past articles I’ve written on the subject of posture, you can read my March 16 ‘16 blog, My Rant About Sway-backed Posture (https://www.somaticstretch.com/rant-about-swaybacked-posture/) and “A New Look At The Pelvic Tilt” from my Family Practice articles in 1994,  https://www.somaticstretch.com/pelvic-tilt/

Sorry about the over-sized graphic. I’ll get it fixed as soon as I know how. : /

toysA lot has been written lately about stretching, whether you should or shouldn’t do it and what kind of stretching is best. My own viewpoint is that stretching is essential if you want to improve your posture – and thereby your health. It loosens the connections of your body parts so you’re able to move each part independently, and that’s what you need for postural change.

Stretching is also necessary if you spend any length of time in one position — sitting at a desk, for example, whether with good posture or hunched over — or if you constantly use one side, or one part, of your body more than others. You will need to stretch the overworked parts to prevent an imbalance of muscular tension and to equalize your two sides. Stretching is also great for releasing tension, or stress, in your mind.

For all of these reasons, stretching is the foundation of my own self-care routine as well as the foundation of my program, Somatic Stretch®. I could bring in the reasons for building strength and stamina through weight lifting and such because these are necessary for physical wellbeing too.  But my focus in this blog is about working on your body so you can use it with little discomfort or pain when you’re working with it – in jogging, sports, or any other activity, or in just plain daily living.

My experience to back this up was discovering the value of massage from my Finnish father who was one of Toronto’s first ‘masseurs’ in the 1920s. I learned from him how to use my hands to work on muscles that were sore and tight to the touch but that otherwise were totally unnoticed, buried somewhere under the surface of my skin. These places are most often the cause of injuries, the weak links that give out when required to take on more weight or pressure than they’re used to handling.

So to my mind, while stretching is the foundation of body care, massage is its counterpart. They’re like two sides of a coin, both needed for the body to work well.

And this is where my “toys,” as I often call them, come in. They help me to get at my body in a way that’s similar to massage or shiatsu but require less of my muscle power than when working just with my hands. Massaging yourself isn’t as relaxing as having someone do it for you, of course, but that said, it’s the best way for several reasons: It costs nothing but your time, you can do it whenever you want without an appointment, and most of all, you know exactly where and how much pressure to use.

So for me, despite the many tools that I use as well, my hands are still the best of the lot. They’re the most capable for working on parts of my legs or arms in a pressure point way, using slight pressure on too sensitive “owie” areas and really digging in with my thumbs on the hard knots that seem not only impervious to pressure but that actually ask for more.

One of the big advantages of working with your hands is that, when you “follow” the muscle you’re working on, you’re finding it in a very real and personal way. You see it in your mind’s eye, so you’re learning about your own anatomy, and this you can never do through a book however many drawings or illustrations it may have.

The following toys, seen in the photo above, are what I have in my toolbox at the present time and which I add to whenever I come across something new. Variety ads spice!

NECK MASSAGER

The turquoise two-handled massager with the knobby balls works great for tight neck muscles. By placing it on the back of my neck and squeezing the handles, I can work into the muscles on both sides of my neck, up into the base of my skull and down into the thick muscles at the top of my back: the upper trapezius and rhomboids. I expect these muscles are tight in you too, and if you’ll use this device for a short time every day, you’ll see how much easier it will be to turn your head from side to side.

HANDHELD KNOBBERS

Also useful for getting into those neck muscles and other tight areas are the handheld tools: the small white knobber, seen at the front the group, and the long wooden one on the far side of the blue board. Beside it, the ridged FOOT ROLLER works into the soles of the feet, stimulating all the reflex points and sending beneficial vibes to your internal organs. You can use it while sitting down or, to get more pressure on it, standing up. Only a few minutes of rolling it under each foot when your shoes are off will get your feet tingling!

BACKKNOBBER

The S-shaped Backknobber is amazing for working into your back. It’s literally like reaching around with your hand to press into different spots on your back with pinpoint pressure. You can put one end of the knobber on your back just over the top of your shoulder and, with one hand on the upper curve and your other hand on the bottom curve, move your hands back and forth so the knob on your back massages into those upper back muscles that in most people almost always are tight. Experimenting with it by placing it in different areas will soon show you other ways to use it.

BALLS

The various sized balls – soft or hard tennis, plastic street hockey, soft baseball, hard lacrosse balls – are mainly for working into your back and derrière muscles by sitting or lying on them. You’ll likely find your butt muscles very sensitive to the pressure so you might want to just ease the ball onto your gluteus maximus area and sit on it for a while, rather than rolling it back and forth under you.

Starting with the softer type ball is also a good idea, and ditto for always moving on the balls very slowly, like, slower than slow!

Lots of deep breaths at the same time will help ease pain, but you’ll find it’s the kind that “hurts but feels so good!” as endorphins flood through your body.

I like the large, soft baseballs for lifting my upper back and opening the front of my body, which is great for those tight pectoral and chest muscles that get contracted from too much sitting at the computer.

MAH-JONG ROLLER

Just in front of the long roller (which is actually a paint roller), the Mah-Jong roller is grooved to avoid pressure on your vertebrae and instead, presses on the muscles on both sides of the spine. It’s made of wood so it’s even harder than the lacrosse balls, and you may need to condition your body with tennis balls, or even plastic street hockey balls, before you can tolerate the hardness of wood.

FENIX REHAB SYSTEM

The most challenging toy is the blue board with the pegs, called the FENIX Rehab System. The booklet that comes with it shows its use on different parts of the body, and though I’ve tried it only on my back and neck when I’ve needed that extra pressure point precision, it’s been fantastic. However, what I’ve had to do to make it comfortable, is use flat cushions under my pelvis and buttocks; otherwise, lying on the board feels too hard on my bones. I think you may want to do the same, even if you’re well padded.

STIMULATION STICK

The long red stick with the small balls is good for stimulating blood flow and I use it mostly when I’m watching TV – at least, when I’m not doing reflexology on my feet. The balls (actually a ball and a cup) are attached by bands to the stick, so you need only a little hand movement to get them banging together when you hit them on your skin.

SQUEEZE BALLS

Missing from the picture are two small squeeze balls that I use for strengthening my hands. They’ve made my fingers much less stiff and my lower arm muscles stronger. Though quite exhausting to squeeze repeatedly, I’ve read that working your lower arm muscles improves circulation by helping blood return to the heart, so I use those balls in my routine every day. After all, older hearts deserve all the help they can get and this may just be the answer for those who aren’t into marathons and the like!

MASSAGE ROLLERS

The paint roller and the short hard rubber roller (from an old ringer washing machine, cut in half by my father) are good for massaging parts of your body where a ball slips off too easily, like your calves or shoulders. Like butt muscles, calf muscles can be very sensitive to pressure, so never move your leg quickly on the roller or you could jump like jackrabbit.

STRETCHCLOTH and RUBBER TUBING

The rolled up cloth and rubber tubing are toys of my own making, the first mostly for stretching but also for strengthening, while the tubing is for muscular stamina and toning. Both are used in my classes to add variety to the regular work, tubing unfortunately not so often due to lack of time in a ninety-minute class, but I always feel the added benefit when we do a half-hour with it.

So to sum up, stretching is good AND you need a lot else besides to stay ‘fit’ in my terms. All of the above will help keep your body pliable and able to move with ease, whatever your age. How can you not want that? So I highly recommend that you get some of the toys I’ve mentioned and, as often as you can, enter the world of your inner body and get wrapped up with helping all kinds of neat places change from feeling ‘tied up and hurting’ to being ‘freed up and happy.’ Your future self will thank you!

Blog 5 Do you ...Back Pain?

As with my previous blog about two men who had injured their backs, I was prompted to write this article by coming across another instance of back pain on the ‘net. This time, it was a woman who had been sitting at a meeting and asked if she could lie on the floor because her back was hurting.

It’s a known fact that if we want to have healthy, comfortable and usable bodies, sitting is the worst thing we can do.–And lying down on the job may not be the best thing you can do if you want to keep your job!–For desk and computer workers, sitting involves long periods of time with the body in a stationary position–generally, one that is slumped to one degree or another, with the shoulders dropped forward and head and neck ahead of the back.  Over time, this position plays havoc with both the physical and physiological aspects of our bodies, and the only way they can tell us of their discomforts is through the pain they give us.

Much has been said and written about how to sit properly to avoid strain. In fact, an entire ergonomic industry has been built around chairs, desks, footstools and other equipment for the same purpose of alleviating strain. But are these what’s really needed?

Before the days of computers, women secretaries and telephone switch operators sat for many hours at a time, and I have to wonder how they coped in those days. Wouldn’t they have experienced as much discomfort as computer workers do now? Perhaps posture was more important then and, because of that, back pain wasn’t as common as it is now.

I wonder, too, whether the emergence of aerobics and the emphasis on motor muscle strength in the last century overshadowed the importance of posture. If so, the pendulum swung too far to the aerobic side and, fortunately, is now returning to the side of posture. The simple fact is, as long as we’re on this gravity-dominated planet, “use it or lose it” applies just as much to the muscles that are meant to support our weight as to the muscles that move our limbs and bodies through space.

While sitting looks passive, it is in fact an activity by virtue of the fact that sitting requires the same muscle use as when we’re standing or walking, and these muscles – essentially our abdominal and back muscles – need strengthening. More than that, to relieve strain and fatigue, sitting also requires proper spine alignment and enough hip joint flexibility to stay comfortably at a more or less ninety-degree angle.

Even with these requirements in place, our muscles easily tire when we stay in one position for a long time. We then either stay semi-collapsed or, if we’re at all attuned to our body, we find ourselves intermittently picking ourselves up only to fall back into the round-shouldered, back out, sunken chest posture so easily succumbed to; our breathing is shallow, circulation of lymph and blood stagnates and the health of our body is seriously compromised. Not the best state to be in for productive mental work.

Compounding the problem is the reliance on ergonomics to save us from using our muscles. While some ergonomic aids can be used to advantage, like having the computer screen at a height that allows the chin to be level, chairs with a rounded back to lean into and a seat that accommodates the contours of our rounded bottoms are not the solution to back strain. In contrast to the stuffed chairs that provide comfort when we’re relaxing, any chair that supports us when we’re sitting and working merely perpetuates the weaknesses that prevent us from keeping ourselves held up with our own muscle power.

If that draws a groan of futility, it isn’t as difficult as it seems. The hard part is finding the time to work on our “support” muscles so they’re at our beck and call when we need them. But if in the past we found the time to work at aerobics, why shouldn’t we have the time for the kind of work that helps us defy gravity to the end of our days?

For proper, supported sitting, body weight should be directly on the “sit bones,” with the back of the pelvis “straight,” or vertical. Keeping the pelvis in this position requires the abdominal muscles to be engaged so the back of the waist doesn’t drop forward, but remains flat. The pelvis can then connect with the upper back to form a solid unit that is properly aligned on the bone structure with no strain on muscles and other soft tissue.

This positioning is best accomplished with the body sitting forward in a chair that is cushioned enough to soften the pressure on the pelvic bones. And the thighs can then slope a little downward so the hip joints are not too angled.

Sitting #2 Blog 5

With an armless chair that can be brought close to the worktable, you can sit up in this position with your lower arms resting on the table and your hands over the keys of the computer. You may need to make some adjustments to this to fit with the length of your own body, arms and legs, but the main thing is to keep the lower part of your body close to the desk, otherwise the tendency will be to relax the back and bring the head and shoulders forward.

To relieve the hunched-over strain of prolonged sitting, it’s recommended to periodically stand, walk around a little, or work with a raised desk. All of this is good advice, however, many people stand with a swayed back, so for them, use of the abdominal muscles along with a vertical pelvis are even more important in order to prevent, or minimize, lower back strain and fatigue. See my blog on that topic here.

With sitting, the supporting muscles can, and should, periodically be relieved with stretching and loosening movements, and these can easily be done in the chair whenever the back begins to tire. Many exercise sources, including my own “Office Workbook For Home and Office,” are available for this. Even just shifting your weight from side to side, rocking your pelvis forward and back, extending your legs and pushing your heels away, or circling your feet, will go a long way toward getting the blood flowing to your legs and preventing stagnation. So if you were told as a child to “sit still,” wipe that from your memory, because that’s exactly what you shouldn’t be doing when you’re at your computer.

The most important part of strain free sitting is for the abdominal muscles to hold the pelvis in a vertical position as the norm. This means first of all locating these muscles and then strengthening them. With a firm foundation as a base, your whole body will then have the support needed to stay comfortably in an upright position for extended periods of time, and your back attacks will be far fewer.

If you would like to know more about posture and the kind of exercises that make your body comfortable and “fit to sit” for long hours, the Somatic Stretch® online Postural Realignment Program can get you started.

 

Hamstring Stretch -1

Hamstring stretch -2An email came into my inbox not long ago from a person I didn’t know. As I was about to delete it, my eyes caught the words, “Mike Tyson” and “I broke my back.” That got me. I didn’t know Mike Tyson, not being a boxing fan (you see, I’ve now looked him up), but anything to do with backs is sure to attract my attention.

Turns out it was not Mike Tyson who was writing about his back, but Mike Balmaceda, who used Tyson’s knockout win in the ring despite an injured back as a preamble to his own injury and the reason he had’t been able to keep up with sending out his usual marketing emails to writers. Balmaceda’s injury happened simply because he had leaned forward to give his golden retriever a hug, and that’s what prompted this blog, which brings in my thoughts about stretching, a subject I’ve been intending to write about.

Both Tyson and Balmaceda were put out of commission by serious back strain, and let’s face it, who wouldn’t be? I’ve experienced it myself, where the paralyzing pain in my lower back made it next to impossible to even breathe, let alone move. But whether it’s acute or of the chronic variety, most of us experience back pain to one degree or another at some point in our lives. It’s a serious issue for everyone regardless of what one does for a living, but it’s one that in many instances preventative tactics can help avoid.

And here’s where the subject of stretching comes in.

The image that comes to mind for most people when they think of stretching is something like the photos above, taken from the pages of the StretchCoach: http://stretchcoach.com/articles/stretching/ and http://stretchcoach.com/blog/key-stretch-of-importance-04-sitting-hamstring-stretch. They have good descriptive information about stretching in them, but I’d like to put my own spin on the stretches shown, which have long been used by sports players to stretch out their hamstrings.

While both positions do indeed stretch those muscles, would you say that the bodies in these photos are relaxed? Clearly, they’re not, yet to increase flexibility in any meaningful way and to avoid injury, it’s my opinion that muscles need to be fully relaxed. And that means not only the muscles that are being stretched, but all muscles throughout the body must be relaxed.

One reason for this is that the human body is a very unified organism; if it senses tension in some part of it, all other parts will reflect that tension and be unable to let go of it completely. The other reason is that the stretch reflex, whose job is to prevent us from going past our normal range of movement and so protect us from injury, kicks in the minute we begin to stretch. The effect is like a bungee cord holding us back while we’re pulling on the other end, again, not an image of relaxation. Unfortunately our muscles aren’t as resilient as bungee cords and a little too much pull on our end can cause a muscle to tear or make it seize up in a spasm.

A slight variation of the positions in the photos will make all the difference to how the stretch registers on your body. There is no need to reach for your toes or to pull on your foot. Simply by leaning forward and relaxing your whole body over the stretched out leg, as in the photo below, you will relax your hamstrings far more fully. (Big point: Notice that the head is dropped over in this photo so that even the neck muscles are relaxed. This is something many people miss by looking down toward the floor instead of back into their torso.)

Hamstring Stretch_mine

As you stay in this relaxed position, close your eyes and scan your body internally. Notice what muscles you feel pulling, or where you register a feeling of discomfort. Those places are where your muscles are tight, and if you simply stay there totally relaxed, the tightness that’s lodged in them will begin to release and you will gradually become looser and more flexible. This will develop your own personal sensitivity as to how far you can take a stretch without injury.

Some will say that this position is bad for the bent knee, and if your knee does feel at-risk, then this variation should be avoided. However, where there is no critical knee condition, having the hip of the straight leg pulled back so the pelvis is facing directly to the straight leg, and the bent leg not too far away from the body, often makes the position comfortable enough for the duration of the stretch. If this position is still uncomfortable, you can do it the traditional way by placing the foot of the bent leg against the inside of straight leg, however, this position doesn’t allow you to drop forward as much, so it’s less of a stretch. And that may be enough for you.

Another way to do this stretch with no risk to the knee is to sit on the edge of a cushioned chair and lean forward in the same way, with the body dropped forward over the straight leg and the other knee bent with the foot on the floor. The main thing is that whatever position you use, you must leave your body completely relaxed (remember to drop your head over!). That’s what quiets the stretch reflex and allows you to go into the stretch more fully, yet without getting injured. This is a great way to stretch your hamstrings when you’re at the office.

Stretching in this relaxed way may still feel somewhat painful, especially if you don’t stretch often, or you have a low pain threshold, but if you always go only as far as you can stay relaxed while the muscles are under pressure (that’s the key!), the pain will become not only tolerable but, in time, even pleasurable!

One last point to making this work in the best possible way is to add a breathing component to it. This, too, may be different from the way breathing is often taught with stretches, as in the following, taken from an exercise on the ’net:

Breathe in = Stretch and increase the tension in your hamstrings.

Breathe out = Consciously relax the muscle.

Breathing in and holding the breath during the stretch, in my books, increases the tension in the muscles. (The only time I say to breathe in with a stretch is when you’re pulling your body, or some part of your body – your arms or head – upward. Then the above breathing fits with the exercise.)

So here is how to breathe to release tension and to fit in with the relaxation in the above exercise: Take a breath in before you move into the stretch. Then, as you go into the stretch, let your breath out. Breathe normally while you stay relaxing in the stretch (“relaxing” because it continues, rather than “relaxed,” which is stopped), then, as you come out of it, take a full, deep breath. Now you can breathe out again if you go into the stretch a second time.

What you want always to remember with this kind of stretch is to go into it slowly and come out of it slowly so your muscles have time to adjust both ways.

What stretching this way does for you is develop what I call a “buffer zone of resilience” so that, when a movement is done too suddenly or with too much force, you have a “cushion” to soften the impact and absorb the attack on your muscles.

Which brings us around to the “broken back” at the start. Although the exercise described above is essentially to stretch out the hamstrings, done the relaxed way it also gently stretches the lower back. The two areas are connected and both need loosening to develop the “give” of a buffer zone.

To develop this buffer zone of resilience you need time, patience and the ability to relax as in the photo above. It’s something you need to do over a long period of time (so start yesterday!) because, while it is possible to change tight or stiff muscles into more resilient ones, it isn’t an overnight process. But the rewards are great, like not “breaking your back” when you bend over.

Mike Balmaceda, are you there?

Car tune up

Not having read the above article in full before writing my response to Diane Bruni’s post a few days ago, I’m now adding part two to it. And if you’re wondering about the photo, it isn’t a mistake.

My original impression about Diane’s post was that it was looking for ways to connect with the abdominal muscles, much like “a punch in the stomach,” hence my reference to the Graham contraction, which could be described in a similar way. Now that I’ve read the whole of Cassie Dionne’s article, there’s more to say.  Read more