Walking is not something we think about often. That is, how we walk. How a person organizes their body to walk is referred to as gait. Our gait feels and should feel normal to us although it may have changed over time due to any number of factors. What we do all day, our stress levels, emotional states, injuries, clothing, fatigue, weight change, all can have an effect on our gait. This becomes important because we walk throughout the day. Even if it is not much, we must do it to get ourselves from one place to the next. It is a repetitive and yet beautiful system of many movements that coordinate into the activity we call walking. If one movement is compromised, it can affect gait as a whole. Like putting a wrench in our gears. Of course we are not machines, so it is not as simple as that. Our amazing ability to adapt to change insures that we rarely fall down. Meaning that if the body is restricted in its usual way of functioning, it will find another way of functioning. It is important that we do this, but sometimes these other ways, or compensations, become uncomfortable in the long run. If change is needed, we need a keen sense of consciousness to undo our doing and bring strength back to a more harmonious way. Our nervous system will always work towards making what we do most naturally feel normal regardless of the level of tension or lack of support. This can be tricky, because the sensations of moving differently can feel so wrong or lost to us that it can easily overwhelm the sense of ease created by finding more efficiency. Taking the time to understand gait can be a catalyst to a “wake up” in your own body. It is OK to just go, but “how we go” determines where we end up and in what state of mind and body.
By Carrie Wood
A friend recently asked me “Why should I care about my posture?” I realized that the effects of posture on overall health are not commonly understood. Yet, posture can dramatically impact health. People who work on improving their posture will have:
• Better respiratory functions
• A superior immune system
• Less stress, tension and pain
• Improved joint mobility
• Increased strength and flexibility
• Decreased chances of bone fractures and Osteoporosis
• Better use of their Body and Mind
Posture affects breathing, when one holds the muscles or skeleton in a negative way. Bad postural habits, such as slouching, over-using the shoulder muscles, or compressing the spine are a few ways that restrict the breath. For example slouching, depresses the chest, preventing the diaphragm and lungs from moving and expanding. This restriction prevents the brain, muscles, and cells from receiving an optimal amount of oxygen, limiting the body from performing at its best. Learning how to reduce these poor postural habits will enable ones body to move and breathe freely.
Not only can poor postural alignment be a continuous restriction of breath, but it can also weaken the immune system, making one more susceptible to disease. The body has an amazing fight or flight system, where one could either fight or run from its enemies. When in this state, our non-postural muscles tighten. Those of you who have rock solid shoulder muscles will know these muscles well. It is important to recognize when you are stressed and learn how to relax this muscle system, allowing the postural muscles to stabilize the body, stimulating the immune system. If this fight/flight state is held too long, using the big bulky muscles of the body, we restrict the breath, reduce oxygen and blood flow, and inhibit the defence mechanisms of the body (the immune system). The immune system is our best defence against disease, keeping it strong and active should be a priority for everyone. State of mind and state of health go hand in hand and if the body or mind is continuously stressed, it will drain the vitality of your immune system.
We are taught to sit from a very early age, and are discouraged to stand or move about on a regular basis. This lack of movement results in a lack of flexibility and strength. I can’t emphasize enough, that if you don’t use it, you will lose it. Our musculoskeletal systems are actually meant to move and not to be held in one position for long periods of time. The longer we sit the more stress we put on the spine. It is amazing how many ergonomical chairs and remote controls there are, to encourage us to sit longer. Resist the urge and maintain your flexibility and strength by moving regularly. Including exercise systems like Pilates in your everyday routine will help to reduce tight muscles, increase your body awareness, and allow you to maintain flexibility and prevent injuries throughout your life.
Exercises that stress the body can force these tight muscles to become even tighter, restricting the mobility of your joints. Make sure you understand good skeletal alignment before beginning an exercise program and learn what exercises are good for you. Someone who spends hours over a desk, will not need to tighten the chest muscles further at the gym. Research the exercises that work best for your posture type or look for some anti-stress type exercises, which should help reduce stress, tension and increase flexibility.
Osteoporosis is referred to as ‘The silent thief’ because people are completely unaware of their bones becoming weak. Along with consuming Calcium, we need to take care of our skeletal structure, by using it well. Being aware of your posture and learning how to use the body well, will reduce your chances of Osteoporosis and bone fractures. If negative posture continues over time it will deteriorate the bone structure sooner. Alternatively, joints that are allowed to move freely, will experience less compression and strain on the bones of the body. There is a concept of functional age versus chronological age.
When the body works well, it can maintain its natural good function and last a lot longer. If it is forced into poor posture and use for months or years on end, then it will break down sooner, including the wearing down of bones. For example, if the hip joint (leg bone and pelvis) is restricted from working well, the pelvis will hinder the leg bone wearing it down at a faster rate. In addition, if someone were to fall having this joint restriction, it would be a lot easier to break. Similar to a tree being blown by the wind. By bending with the wind, it will not break as easily.
Who doesn’t want to feel better, look better and have less aches and pains? Your posture has a direct relationship to these things. If you think about your body as a car that never had its alignment corrected, your vehicle would not operate well. We continuously force our bodies into stressful, misaligned states, and then wonder why it doesn’t work well, or don’t even realize that it could operate better. You need to maintain and practice proper alignment, just like a car. It is important to include some postural mind-body exercises into your regime, to maintain good posture into your 40s, 50s, or 70s. Your spine will thank you allowing you to remain strong and mobile.