A Rolfer’s Blogosphere
Rolfing Structural Integration teaches that the human body is an extraordinary creation of nature’s ingenuity. By erecting the spine vertically in space, placing the pelvis at a horizontal, broadening the feet, and opening the abdomen and ribcage out to the world, nature created the first truly upright creature. However, while humans have the advantage of two free limbs with which they can manipulate the world with exquisite dexterity, they also have the disadvantage of gravity’s constant influence pressing down along their spines.
Looking at most species in the animal kingdom, we find spines that hang horizontally between four separate bases of support. In addition, most creatures experience a constant fluidity and movement in their spines that few humans ever experience. The snake with its undulations, the dog with its wagging tail, the cat with its flexible and balancing spine, the fish with its constant movement through water.
Given the uniqueness of our vertical position in the world, it is no great surprise that we have some very unique structural problems. Back pain is one of those problems and Rolfing Structural Integration aims to understand and resolve the roots of the issues, rather than treating the symptoms.
The Causes of Pain
The causes of pain and its derivatives — such as sciatic nerve pain, pinched nerves in the lower back, middle back pain, shoulder pain, and neck pain — are far more complex than the average therapist or doctor will admit. The human body is a functional system of moving parts. With 206 bones, over 600 muscles, and 45 miles of nerves running through our bodies, we are tremendously complicated.
Rolfers consolidate these complexities by looking at functional assemblies of muscles, bones, and joints that are coordinated along fascial meridians. For example, to a Rolfer, the heel of the foot is connected to the back of the knee. The back of the knee is connected to the hamstrings. The hamstrings are connected to the adductors/quadriceps. The adductors/quadriceps are connected to the pelvis.
The pelvis, and particularly the floor of the pelvis, connects into the lower back. The lower back, in turn gives us clues as to the fluidity of the spine, and the groundedness of the feet. These connections continue on and on and Rolfers are highly trained in structurally assessing clients for the actual causes of their pain.
The Smoke Alarm, the Lightbulb and the Guitar
When people are in acute pain they tend to want someone or something to go directly to the sensation and do something about it. The trouble with this mentality, and the reason why so many surgeries get botched, or don’t help the problem, is because pain is an imperfect messenger. Pain doesn’t tell us what’s wrong, it simply tells us that something is wrong.
It is like a smoke alarm, a lightbulb, or a guitar string.
When a smoke alarm goes off, it typically isn’t located directly at the source of the fire. It’s a way of bringing our conscious attention to the fact that something might be burning. Once we’re conscious of the fact, we can use our eyes, ears, and sense of smell to find the fire and put it out. This is often how pain acts, but there’s a better metaphor for this model. Instead, let’s look at false alarms, which anyone who cooks is probably familiar with.
In the case of false alarms, and specifically in the human body, this means that the system (the brain specifically) is too sensitive. See, pain doesn’t exist outside of the brain. Prior to reaching the brain, a pain signal indicates nothing but an abnormality. It does not indicate an injury, a crisis, or a problem – it just means “not normal.” The brain picks up the signal, compares it to every sensation it’s ever known, and makes a determination on whether or not to set off an alarm.
If it sets off an alarm, we experience “pain,” which is then supported by the physiological response of inflammation. That’s when the body sends little chemicals to an area to inhibit bloodflow, and attack whatever is “wrong.” This response saves lives, no doubt. But it’s also a pain in the butt when there’s nothing anatomically wrong with the system. That’s when we get the “false alarm” that is at the root of many chronic pain issues. The brain simply can’t stop interpreting an “odd” sensation as an “injury.” So it keeps inflaming the area, which is actually a way of the body attacking itself. It’s essentially an auto-immune response.
That’s surprising to many people. But new research in pain science tells us exactly this about pain.
But what if something really is wrong, as is often the case?
The Dimmer Switch
If we want to change the brightness of a lightbulb, we first have to know where to find the dimmer switch. Pain is often just like this. It feels like it’s on one side of the body, but the problem (and the on/off switch) is on the other side. This isn’t that odd if you think about how interconnected the body is. The trouble is that very few people know where to look for on/off switches. I think this is where Rolfers really thrive more than other bodywork practitioners. We can sense into an issue with our fingers and see where the strain pattern seems to be coming from. Sometimes the switch is right where the pain is. But surprisingly often it isn’t. It’s somewhere you really wouldn’t expect it to be. That’s why it can be helpful to have a Rolfer spend a good hour and a half working with your body.
The Sound of Music
Tension – what a beautiful thing. Stringed instruments require tension to create noise. Too tight, and the string snaps. Too loose, and the string is just that – a string. But when it’s just right, we get the sound of music. Oftentimes, pain is the result of strings in the body being wound up too tight. That’s why Rolfing helps us “let go” of what we don’t need to be carrying. But on the other hand, sometimes we’re not wound up quite enough in a particular area. Not having enough organized tension is also cause for structural imbalance. For example, if the back are not strong enough to support upright posture, we may end up slouching forward.
Pain is Not What We Think It Is
Pain is often not what we think it is. It’s usually an encrypted message. Acute pain, like a toe you just banged on a stool, or a blow to the head are different stories. But the pain that emerges longer-term out of those acute moments is what tends to be a little more cryptic. Luckily there’s Rolfing, so we can figure out what’s actually going on with your body.
Kian Fallahi | Certified Rolfer | 4412 Spicewood Springs Rd #402 | Austin, TX | IHeartRolfing.com | Schedule Now
This article will help you recognize certain aspects of postural problems as well as some of the things Rolfers™ will do to help you with the pain relief and management.
What is Good Posture?
Most people think of good posture as sitting up straight or standing with the shoulders back. Many people understand that posture is about more than their anatomical integrity. It is about how the person inside the body is feeling and expressing themselves. How are the two compatible? Let’s find out.
It’s About Freedom
Healthy posture is not about having a straight back when sitting, or as simple as rolling the shoulders back. Healthy posture is characterized by structural and anatomical integration. It appears as gracefulness in movement, and a sense of lightness in the body. It is an expression not just of who a person believes themselves to be, but of who they really are.
1. The Lower Body
Posture originates everywhere and nowhere in the body. However, since our thoughts and attention are naturally drawn to what we see, we tend to think of posture as having to do primarily with the upper body. Rolfers look at the body from head to toe and many sessions revolve around organizing and lengthening the core of the body through the support of the inner legs. Specifically, Rolfers work on developing a vertical connection between the heels, calves, hamstrings and posterior pelvis. They also develop a vertical connection up the inside of the leg into the pelvis, and through the interosseous region of the lower leg. Integration within the lower body is one of the most important elements of good posture.
When people complain of back pain problems or lower back pain, they’re typically only aware of the pain itself, not its origin. The pelvis and the sacrum are two of the most important structures that influence posture. The spine and the pelvis reflect each other. This is because the pelvis is the base of support from which the spine rises. Perhaps one of the most important goals of the Rolfing 10-series is to horizontalize the pelvis and “free the sacrum.” To do this, Rolfers need to release the muscles around the hips, the upper legs, the lower back, and the psoas muscle.
“Some individuals may perceive their losing fight with gravity as a sharp pain in their back, others as the unflattering contour of their body. Others as constant fatigue. Yet others as an unrelentingly threatening environment. Those over forty may call it old age. And yet all these signals may be pointing to a single problem so prominent in their own structure, as well as others, that it has been ignored: they are off balance, they are at war with gravity.”
Very few people know about the psoas muscle. And yet, it plays so important a role in posture and movement that Ida Rolf called it “the muscle of the soul.” She considered it the most important muscle in the human body. The average person will likely go through their entire life without ever feeling their psoas. And yet, it is the muscle that connects the spine to the legs, integrating walking with upright posture, and supports the relationship between the body and the field of gravity. When the psoas is functioning properly, walking and movement in general take on a feeling of effortlessness. In the total absence of any excess tension we know that the psoas is doing its job properly.
4. Atlanto-Occipital Joint
The Atlanto-Occipital Joint (or AO joint) mirrors the sacrum and vice versa. When the sacrum moves freely between the two halves of the pelvis, walking and movement occur fluidly and naturally. This fluid quality moves through the spine and terminates in the AO joint. When the AO joint is blocked, tension from inner musculature and fascia gets stuck in the neck, and radiates back downward into the shoulders, arms, and spine. This is why nearly every session in my Rolfing practice includes neck work and sacrum work.
We have now reviewed that posture is not just a simple, static state, but an integral and holistic expression of integration within the body. Rolfing therapy can release tension in areas that are critical to discovering excellent posture. Whether the result is improvement in how your back feels while working at a computer, or if it enables and improves your athletic performance, the core message is that Rolfing can make a positive difference in your life.
Kian Fallahi | I Heart Rolfing Austin | 4412 Spicewood Springs Rd #402 | Austin, TX | 78759 | Schedule a Session
Add in some secrets from Rolfing…
Now there’s a recipe that’ll make you feel super.
You’ve probably already got some of the recipe down, I’m going to provide you the other half of the formula: 10 actionable (and interesting) tips for improving your posture — inspired by Rolfing Structural Integration:
Tip # 1: Getting grounded is essential
Rolfing recognizes a principle of organization called palintonicity.
Essentially this means that every muscle or muscle-chain has two poles.
One is up and one is down.
And the most important secret to having good posture is to attain length in shortened muscles via both poles.
To do this you have to start by releasing both ends of a muscle or muscle-chain.
If you’re like most people you think of lengthening a muscle as stretching it until lactic acid releases.
That stretch feeling.
In reality, you shouldn’t be reaching toward the muscle’s limits.
Actually, it’s much simpler… which is why, incidentally, most people can’t do it.
It actually takes retraining your neuromusculature.
Here’s what you do:
- Stretch halfway to the muscle’s stretch limit.
- Trace the muscle group you’re stretching to any joints it intersects with
- Relax and gently let go of any tension in the muscles surrounding those joints
In the case of the above picture, the athlete is stretching their hamstrings.
They could lean back halfway and begin focusing on releasing muscles around the glutes, the knee, and the heels.
This deepens the stretch by includes the entire muscle-chain involved in the restriction.
Nothing exists in isolation, so why are we taught to “stretch our hamstrings” like they have nothing to do with our lower leg and pelvis?
This principle is the beginning of genuine relaxation within the entire body and the foundation for excellent posture.
Actionable Advice: Whenever you’re working on your posture think about the opposite extremity of what you’re working with, whether it’s a single muscle, or a long chain.
On to the next tip.
Tip #2: To resolve back pain issues go to the heels
Sometimes the principles that govern anatomical physics are just plain counter-intuitive.
But to be fair, so are most big physics discoveries, such as the Copernican model of the solar system or Newtonian mathematics.
One of the most important discoveries that have emerged from Rolfing and other myofascial work is that fascia connects muscles along chain pathways. A famous proponent of this work is Tom Myers, whose work is now at the forefront of many massage, bodywork, and myofascial release courses.
Here’s how it works:
The fascia that begins on the plantar surface of the foot forms a chain with all of the muscles going up the back of the leg. This fascia is in turn continuous with the lower back and pelvis, which is continuous with the entire upper back and neck.
Do you notice the smooth sheets of tissue around the heel and the ankle? This is called fascia and surrounds all the muscles and nerves of the body.
It’s like a sock that covers your whole body, and it starts just beneath your skin.
This stuff has a sort of gluey stretchy quality and it’s the reason muscle chain pathways act as functional units.
This fascia continues up the leg, becomes the IT band, hooks into the pelvis and pelvic floor, wraps around the sacrum, and then splits off to merge with the rectus abdominus (six-pack muscle) and the fascia of the lower back.
Often when people have back pain they’re not grounded through their back line. All of the muscles running down the back of the leg might be tight and there may be a preference to stand toward the front or the medial edge of the foot. This in turn continues to crank on the already shortened fascia, which pulls the pelvis into a posterior tilt and restricts the natural curve of the lumbar spine.
Hence, lower back pain.
Here’s some actionable advice if your lower back feels tight or you have lower back pain:
- Stand with your feet shoulder width apart with your heels on the edge of a wall.
- Bend your knees and notice which parts of your feet lose contact with the ground first.
- See if you can relax your ankles, lower leg, and feet so that you can make broader and better contact with the ground.
- Once you feel like you have better contact, straight your knees while keeping the connection to the ground.
- You should feel a slight different in your height, as your back line should have just lengthened!
If you have back pain and you’re in Austin I’d also suggest coming to see me or another Rolfer.
I’d be happy to recommend Rolfers to you if my schedule or rate don’t fit your needs.
We can also work with your body systemically to ensure that the deep root issues affecting your posture get resolved.
You can also find a list of local Rolfers through this link.
Tip #3: Don’t Pull Your Rounded Shoulders Back
It seems intuitive, but it’s totally wrong.
It’s also probably the most common myth about posture that exists in our culture.
Firstly, the shoulders are affected by everything above them, below them, in front of them, and behind them.
The neck, the ribs, the sternum, the diaphragm, the pectoral muscles, the trapezius, arms, rhomboids, serratus anterior, etc.
You don’t need to know what any of that means. You just need to know that you can’t will your shoulders into place.
If you do want to know, check the glossary for more details on anatomy and kinesiology.
It’s a simple and common mistake to naively treat the body like it abides by 2-dimensional or even 3-dimensional laws. But there are way more than 3 simple planes of motion involved in human biomechanics.
The body is incredibly complicated.
Let’s simplify it without getting into too much anatomy.
Here’s how the shoulders get balanced:
To balance the shoulders the following common structures need to be addressed:
- Pec minor, that little guy under your armpit that connects your scapula to your ribs needs to be released. If you’re hunching forward, pec minor is almost always tight. Check out this Livestrong article I found for some stretches that help release pec minor. Don’t expect to do it all yourself. This tough little muscle needs to be manually worked with to really let go.
- Your head – the talking, sobbing, smiling, gnashing thing up on top of your neck – needs to be in proper alignment. Because most of us are spending more and more time goose-necking over our cellphones and computers, chances are your head is too far in front of your midline. To support the extra forward weight, your body finds it easiest to collapse forward, making the ribs pivot forward to provide a broader base of support. Finding your appropriate head posture through Rolfing or Alexander Technique is a great step toward finding better posture.
- You need space in your back if you’re going to move things in that direction. This one’s a little harder to grasp. I’ve been studying Rolfing for a while now and it’s just clicked for me. The body isn’t merely a mechanical system. It’s actually highly responsive to a little something called interoception (the sensations within the body).So if your body hasn’t gotten the message that your back is open for habitation, it’s not going to support the notion of bringing the shoulders back in that direction. Luckily, about half the time, people just aren’t aware of the space behind them. It’s like a nice open, clean room for rent, except nobody advertised that it was available. I’m biased, but I think Rolfing is good at that. The other half of the time, the back space is a mess and is going to require some cleaning up before it’s “inhabitable.”
Let’s check out some other tips.
Tip #4: Free Your Core From Your Sleeve
A unique insight that Ida Rolf had, and which as been verified by studies in fascial anatomy, is that our core structures and surface structures tend to get bound to one another via a sticky collagenous substance called fascia.
Unfortunately there’s all sorts of bad advice on improving your posture via strengthening your core.
Even reputable sources like WebMD are offering a mixed bag of awesome and terrible advice.
So what’s the deal?
There are two types of muscles in the body: tonic and phasic.
Tonic muscles are more generally core muscles and don’t respond to our will or effort.
Phasic muscles are the ones we contract to do things and get things done.
Here’s how to actually improve your posture:
You have to get your phasic muscles to stop imposing themselves on your core.
“Core strengthening” exercises, performed improperly, are just forcing your core to contract and shorten, effectively turning your low tonus tonic muscles into high tonus phasic muscles.
A good Pilates instructor or a very good yoga teacher can help you avoid this confusion.
But, if you’re hitting the gym by yourself and “tightening your abs” and “strengthening your lower back” you’re most likely tightening structures that are not, by design, meant to be tight.
This isn’t going to help your posture.
To get your core and sleeve differentiated I’d highly recommend finding a Rolfer in your area. If you’re in the Austin area or just have questions feel free to shoot me an email at email@example.com and I’d be happy to give you some direction on how to proceed.
Tip #5: Become Friends with Subtlety
If there’s anything my greatest teachers in Rolfing SI have taught me, it’s the power of subtlety.
The way doctors, chiropractors, PTs, physical trainers, and massage therapists all treat the body is basically rooted in textbook anatomy. While this certainly isn’t 100% true, nor is it by any means a “bad” thing,” it has its shortcomings and is partially accurate.
Textbook anatomy is all well and good in diagnosing general patterns of dysfunction, and in prescribing general formulas for recovery.
But it’s also very… murky.
Do you really want to be treated by someone who categorizes your condition based on a checklist of symptoms? What if your case is different? An anomaly? Wouldn’t you want to know what’s actually going on before starting a 50 week chiropractic series, or undergoing surgery?
In the best Rolfers there’s a sort of sonar that the hands have developed that lets us find things that wouldn’t show up in a regular examination.
Just the other day I went and saw my favorite Rolfer all the way up in Boulder, CO (Her name is Suzanne Picard if you’re ever in Colorado and want to see one of the best Rolfers in the country).
About a year ago I had an accident at a parkour gym where a heavy guy landed heel first on my neck from a 10 foot jump.
Ever since then I’ve been going through bits and pieces of the recovery process when I have a minute to attend to myself.
Suzanne used cranio-sacral principles to sense into the subtle restrictions associated with my injury. She started with my ribs on the left side, released some nerves on my right side where the injury happened, and then she put on a glove and worked with a cranial compression deep inside my skull.
It was the most sensible step of my recovery so far to have someone decompress the bones of my cranium from within. My pain reduced from about a constant 7 to a very occasional 3/10 after that session. That’s a full 8 months after the injury. I can guarantee nobody else would think to go into my mouth to help work with the injury.
Here’s the point:
As Ida Rolf used to say, “where you think it is, it ain’t.”
Getting super subtle — and I can’t think of any better way of honing that sensitivity than to go see a Rolfer — is totally essential to figuring out your own posture. Because the nervous system finds new options for feeling and behavior within subtlety.
Actionable Tip: The first place I recommend people to develop sensitivity is the spine. Here are a few things you can do to develop sensitivity (subtlety) to your body.
- Sit in a chair with your feet firmly on the floor. Let your hands be relaxed and heavy on your thighs.
- Curl your spine back while letting your neck go into flexion (slack the neck forward) and keep pushing back with your spine until you’re in a comfortable but significant state of spinal flexion.
- Starting with the top of your head and letting your entire spine follow, bring yourself back up to regular seated pose – but, do this step slowly and as if you were a snake leading your body with your head.
- Pay attention to each vertebra as they unfold and return to seated posture.
Tip #6: Get Your Feelings Out in a Healthy Way
I think half the work of getting posture right is just convincing the ego that it’s attitudes are superfluous.
Most slouching, spinal rotation, “chest puffing,” and other patterns originate in emotional patterns of relating to others and to the world.
You don’t have to carry emotions around in your posture.
Emotions come from your consciousness.
It’s clearly a subjective thing.
You’ve got the neurotransmitters and stuff, of course, but the beauty of being human is that with a little awareness, that stuff doesn’t have to follow you around.
You’re not your neurotransmitters.
Part of the process of getting Rolfed is just letting things that don’t serve you drop off.
I’m always telling my clients, “that’s gotta go. You can’t keep that and evolve.”
If I run into some tension in their body, I’m like “that’s leaving. Hope you’re ready,” and off we go setting it free.
Tip #7: Your Pelvis Has Something to Say About Posture
For whatever reason we usually leave the pelvis out of our conventional definition of posture.
And yet, the pelvis is the most important structure in the body in terms of alignment.
I guess we obsess with the shoulders because they’re so obvious.
But Rolfing isn’t about the obvious.
It’s about getting to the root of issues.
So here’s a list of things to keep in mind about your pelvis.
Generally speaking there are two main patterns that afflict the pelvis – anterior pelvic tilt and posterior pelvic tilt.
But to get more specific, the pelvis affects our abdomen, our digestion, our sexual health, our legs, and our spine in many different ways.
It’s not in the scope of this article to cover all this in detail, but rest assured I’ll be getting to it in another article soon.
So for now, here’s a bit of information you can take with you.
There’s an inside and an outside.
The inside includes pelvic floor, iliacus (more on this cool muscle later) and organs.
Here’s where things get cool:
Those muscles in turn affect your hamstrings, your calves, lower back, sacrum, and the resting tone of your vagus nerve — which in turn affects your digestion, breathing, and heartrate.
The outside includes hip rotators, glutes, various ligaments, which affect your legs, feet, spine, back, and abs.
Now it’s not in the scope of the article to explain how it all works, but if you can take away something from this tip, let it be this:
There’s more going on around your pelvis than you think.
One of the primary areas of the body that I work with in detail is the pelvic girdle. My Rolfing in Austin practice can help you get some clarification on what’s going on in this very important area.
Actionable Tip (The Pelvic Roll):
- Lay on your back with your your feet planted firmly in the ground
- Pushing into your feet, allow your pelvis to come up off of the ground
- Make sure you are not using your abs or your quads to get your pelvis up. You are lifting purely by pushing down into your feet
- Continue pushing until your lumbar spine and some of your thoracic spine are off of the ground.
- Slowly let your spine roll back down onto the ground. Try to drop exactly one vertebra at a time down to the floor. You will probably not be able to do this! That’s the point. You are developing new mobility.
- When only your sacrum/tailbone are left, imagine they are going to unfold onto the ground. Very gently place them on the floor and imagine they are unfolding onto the ground, almost like petals spreading open.
- Repeat 3 – 10x a day for two weeks.
Tip #8: Put Slack in the Body (Learning about The Rolfing Line)
We mentioned earlier that tightening things up doesn’t necessarily lead to better posture.
Well, the converse is that putting slack into the system doesn’t hurt posture.
Actually, it helps. A lot.
The human body is already designed to be upright in gravity.
Well, most of the time anyway.
That’s what we’re talking about when we talk posture, right?
In fact, this principle constitutes one of Ida Rolf’s most important conceptual discoveries:
That everything organizes itself through The Line.
Trees, houses, cups, shapes, they all find their most stable orientation in gravity via a Line that runs through their center. And in the case of organic mechanisms like ourselves, The Line actually helps us by organizing our bodies around itself.
In a sense gravity is both nature and nurture in that it influences us from within and without.
So consider this:
If we lived in a world where the gravity was always changing vectors, we’d be all lopsided and strange looking. In fact, life would probably be impossible. But we spend our entire lives being organized by one primary mechanistic force: the Line of Gravity.
Gravity is so fundamental that it is considered one of the four fundamental forces of physics.
That being said, tension in the body is fundamentally resistance to the gravitational field.
Some of this tension is healthy.
Most of it is unnecessary and habitual.
If we’re doing tension, adding it to the system, it’s unhealthy.
So what we’re looking for is to find slack where there was previously resistance.
As this process unfolds, the core can find unimpeded length through the center of the body.
This in turn brings the central nervous system, the organs, and limbs (so sensing, being, and expressing) into alignment.
Sounds like a recipe for happiness to me.
Actionable advice: Meditate for 24 minutes a day, whenever you can. Meditation reduces the resting tone of muscles. You can read about these effects in many science articles.
Tip #9: Establish Support Across Horizontals
Back to the esoteric stuff.
Horizontals depend on each other from the top down.
The floor of the mouth, the diaphragm, the pelvic floor, the knees, and the ankles are all examples of horizontals. Getting each segment of the body fully supported by the structures beneath it is crucial for good posture, whether while sitting, standing or moving.
You might be wondering:
What does the floor of the mouth have to do with posture?
For starters it’s continuous with the esophageal fascia that can pull your neck, head and spine out of alignment from deep within.
But that’s some super nerdy stuff. You can contact me personally if you want to know more.
Support is both anatomical and functional-perceptual.
The anatomical component is that anywhere within, say, the feet and ankles, there can be structures that are physically too tight to function properly. Those can be worked out with some patient and intelligent touch.
The functional component has more to do with habit.
For most people, nothing is more habitual than moving.
And the average person could give a rat’s ass what I have to say about how they stand, move or sit.
Luckily, there’s a very wise teacher built into the human body that’ll turn any skeptic into a hopeful seeker in a matter of minutes or days: pain.
Tip #10: Listen (or Don’t) to Your Pain
There’s a lot of new science coming out about how the brain is fully responsible for pain.
In short, new pain science indicates that tissue injuries of any kind are almost always fully healed within 4 to 6 months.
Chronic pain around an injury occurs because the nervous system continues perceiving an injured region as injured far longer than it is actually in any danger.
This triggers a response from the immune system to cause inflammation, which limits blood flow to the area. The mind begins to map the area as permanently damaged because it interprets the inflammatory response as an indication of an injury.
The brain then remembers the injury and amplifies the signals from the injured area and sets off an alarm called “pain.”
A lot of it is pretty interesting. But it’s also reductionistic and extreme in many cases.
What it indicates is that when you’re working on improving your posture there are times when your brain is going to send you the message “that doesn’t feel good. That isn’t right.”
But sometimes your brain is wrong, especially if you’re trying to recover good posture after a serious injury.
The point is that you need to be discerning. Learn some pain science and give your body a chance to show you that it can heal and improve.
It seems that pain is a messenger from the body to the brain that something isn’t right. Or, actually, from the brain to the brain that something isn’t right.
Before your body’s going to permit you to radically transform it from the inside out, sometimes you need to take practical steps to turn down the alarm that’s going off.
The great thing about the pain science is that it really might be just be in your head.
The not great thing is that your brain won’t know that until it knows it.
So I’d recommend seeing a specialist about your pain to see if there are structural roots.
— Thanks for reading! —
My practice is in Austin, TX if you’re ever in the area and want to try Rolfing. I am also happy to make referrals for conditions like scoliosis, digestive issues, and other health conditions.
If you’ve heard of Rolfing then you know that it’s supposed to help you permanently get into better posture.
Rolfers do this through a 10 (and sometimes up to 15) session series of sessions.
The result is something like this:
But what are the factors that go into developing good posture?
This article goes into how Rolfers see posture. It includes anatomical and functional references to the art and science of Rolfing. It also details what you can do to improve your posture and your well-being both within a 10-series and beyond.
What most people think of as good posture
First let’s talk about bad posture. What does it look like?
- Forward-neck syndrome
- Excess or flattened lumbar curve
- Collapsed or raised arches
- Knocking knees
Before I got into Rolfing I made the same mistake everyone else makes to correct these patterns.
And I noticed that as time went on my posture actually kept getting worse.
I wasn’t putting on weight, but my belly was looking softer and bigger.
My shoulders kept creeping forward, and my neck seemed to be attached to my arms.
I was doing the same thing everyone else does when trying to improve their posture:
I was contracting the muscles that oppose my bad posture instead of letting go of the subtle contractile tension in the muscles supporting it.
Essentially, you’re fighting against yourself while trying to beat a system you don’t understand.
Human body mechanics are utterly counter-intuitive. So it’s not your fault that your instinct to pull your shoulders back is wrong.
Let’s explore an example:
If you catch yourself slouching at the computer, chances are you contract the muscles in your back to bring yourself back up to “good posture.”
While this works for a minute, you go back to “bad posture” as soon as you forget to hold yourself up.
Why does bad posture happen?
The brain-map everyone creates of their body is highly inaccurate.
Most people don’t spend much time learning about the actual mechanics of their bodies.
And that’s understandable…
… it’s a complex world in there.
So when we try to correct our own posture, we obviously don’t account for that much complexity. So we use our very simple and inaccurate map of the body to set ourselves straight.
We think, “my shoulders look like they’re forward, so I’ll pull them back.”
Or, “I seem to be slouching, so I’ll straighten my back.”
That’s not how it works.
So here’s what’s happening.
When we try to do good posture, we are triggering a response in our phasic muscles to do something.
The trouble with this…
is that as soon as you stop applying volition, your phasic muscles go right back to where they were before.
They’re not interested in the same long-term project of self-improvement that you are.
They’re interested in turning on to get something done…
…and then turning back off.
The Secret to Good Posture
Good posture is basically a three part formula.
The first part of the formula is to stop using phasic muscles to compensate for bad posture.
So let’s try something together:
Go ahead and let yourself slouch like you normally might at a computer screen. Now, instead of shortening the muscles in your back, try slowly lengthening the muscles in your abs, your chest, and your anterior spine.
Try this a couple times – try to peel your eyes away from the screen and pay attention to your body.
If you tried the experiment – chances are you could only do this to a point before contracting the back muscles again. That’s because there’s a neuromuscular reeducation process that your body needs to go through before it can lengthen muscles without shortening others.
So what do you do?
As soon as you notice that you’re contracting, come back to neutral and start again. If you can only get 10% of the good posture we’re seeking on your first day, that’s fine! It’s better than contracting muscles unnecessarily. And ~ it means you only have 90% left to go. Good job!
This is part of Rolfing re-education.
The second part of the formula is to release actual fascial adhesions throughout the body.
There are a variety of ways to do this. Osteopaths, myofascial release therapists, and Rolfers all address fascial adhesions.
Of the three, I think Rolfing is the most specifically able to target fascia throughout the entire body, due to our 10-series bodywork.
The third and final part of the formula is to activate and initiate motion from the core.
This means using tonic muscles to perform the basic function of keeping you upright.
Tonic muscles are usually already doing this, but in many cases they’re also performing certain phasic functions as well. That means they’re acting like volitional skeleton moving muscles instead of performing their more perfunctory gravitational resistance function.
So you’re done with those first three steps, right?
Pretty much, actually.
There’s a couple things I didn’t mention, like sitting properly.
And functional coordination.
But those are more important for us as Certified Rolfers, so we can help clients figure out their patterns over the course of a 10-series.