Common Misconceptions

"Test your friends, test your massage therapist, test your personal trainer, test your doctor. Do they understand these points? If not, you know their limitations.” -SH


Misconceptions about Posture and Movement 

I’ve been heavily injured with a lot of pain in my life. When I got involved in The Feldenkrais® Work, in addition to finding relief, I was amazed about how much I knew that wasn’t so. (Of course, there’s a lot I did not know, that I didn’t know I did not know!)

The benefit of learning about these common myths is that you can use them to test your health providers. At least one person in your life should be working to educate you on such things. These wrong ideas are like little poison pills that keep us sickly and in pain. When you can find a person who is clear on all these points, you have found a person who understands human movement and posture, and can help you move out of pain without drugs and surgery.

As well, many of my Feldenkrais classmates – those with more experience and education, particularly some of the Physical Therapists -  enjoyed poking holes in all my mistaken beliefs, so perhaps, here, I am doing the same with you:

 

  • Bad posture requires continual effort to correct it. Wrong. Posture is involuntary,. Movement education is the key. That means slowing down, being more conscious.


  • Walking is a matter of putting one foot in front of the other. Wrong. A foot placed in front of you acts like a brake to forward movement. If this seems impossible, your confusion will clear up after reading this book.


  • The area that hurts, that’s where the problem is. Pain is a great deceiver, and the true cause is often somewhere else.


  • Taking a deep breath takes effort. Excess effort means muscles are contracting – which will reduce, not increase, breathing space. Would you grip a balloon tightly as you blow it up? No? Then why do you tense your torso as you inhale? The inhale should be soft, easy unhurried, like a flower opening – most of the time. A forced inhale is body language for stress and even panic. Better to relax as you inhale. Better to first enjoy a relaxed exhalation, then let the inhale come naturally. There is a lot more to this story but this gives you a hint.


  • A strong abdomen and belly is a reliable antidote for low back pain. Not exactly. For some this is true. And yes, we do need some tonus in the belly and abdomen for proper low back function! For many others this way of thinking is going to hurt them even more. Coordinating belly and low back with appropriate involvement of pelvis and ribs – that is a reliable antidote for low back pain and many other troubles. For instance if you do sit-ups, or crunches or leg lifts, your primary focus should be on lengthening the back, not crunching the belly. Otherwise you are putting your low back in a vise. The person with the worst back pain I ever saw, was the “sit up king” in high school. 


  • It’s good to always use a lumbar support. Wrong. Like any crutch it has its uses. But we don’t want to be dependent for a lifetime! We need the right perspective that we are moving towards independence not dependence. We all need to learn to wean ourselves away from lumbar supports. This book will do that for you. My opinion is that ergonomics is not so much a science as it is a marketing tool of the multi-billion dollar chair industry. If you look at independent university research you get a drastically different perspective about chairs (Google “Medical Damage from Chair Sitting”). 


  • Sitting with a sunken chest and curved back sets a bad example, restricts the breathing, and is bad for the spine. It must be avoided. We must vigilantly sit up straight.  No! If your shoulders are directly over your hips, slumping can be a good thing. The muscles along the spine can only relax and recover when the spine is bent as in slumping!  The worst thing to do is tell yourself to sit up straight – because you stiffen the spine, you pull the shoulders back, you tighten the chest. You become a tension-monster. It’s body language for extreme stress. Instead we need to learn good movement and skeletal support in sitting while sitting effortlessly erect. YES that is possible. This book will show you how to sit in a chair like that.


  • We need to keep our head from protruding forward by a continual effort to keep it back over our center. That’s part of having good posture. It’s never worked. There are no joints in the body that slide over each other like two flat bricks. You cannot correct head forward by pushing the head back! This book will teach you a ten second stretch that does work, and just a few times a day will work wonders. If you do that compulsively like so many people, you’ll end up with military neck. There are better ways.


  • Stoop shouldered posture, shuffling gait, depression and chronic pain in the elderly is mainly due to osteoporosis and the effects of old ageOf course there is truth to that, but there is more to this story. It involves balance, vision, and long practiced bad habits of posture, movement and breathing. What is the most important consideration when working with the elderly? That they are fragile and stubborn and do not easily change habits? No. It is that they need to be encouraged to regain hope, and exercise open-mindedness, patience and fortitude and time and yes, some money, to begin to change entrenched habits of a lifetime with skilled somatic coaching, which are causing most of their troubles. Without at least some acceptance of such attitudes on their part, somatically speaking, they are a lost cause. When approached in this manner, the improvements in posture in the elderly are nothing short of astonishing. I enjoy nothing more than an elderly client who is enthusiastic about all this – they can be the quickest learners, and they get astonishing improvements.


  • Eyestrain means we need to relax the eyes. It’s not that simple. We also need to learn better ways to use the eyes, that are natural, and how to throw off computer/TV habits of staring, not changing focus, pre-occupation with the frontal visual field, lack of eyeball mobility, elongated eyeballs, never looking in the far distance with relaxed open focus and wide angle vision or seeing the relative movement of objects as we walk or move (this, in conjunction with near focus alternately, is how all the wild animals use their eyes). Eyestrain is a clear message that we need to educate ourselves about natural vision. Yes glasses, and special lenses can be necessary and helpful, but the education aspect should not be ignored. Don’t think for a minute that glasses are a complete fix! (Regarding elongated eyeballs, this book will teach you how to reverse that situation).


  • If your shoulders tend to lift, keep them down by will power. If you do that, you’ll get rigid shoulders and tight ribs, along with poor breathing in the upper chest. There are much better solutions. First, learn to organize your body so that you head is not so far forward! Shoulders always lift if the head is forward! That is because there are muscles that go from the scapula and clavicle to the neck, which are stretched when head forward posture predominates. Again, somatic education is the cure, not any kind of will power or postural vigilance.   


  • When balance is poor, grip the toes on the floor. No, gripping the toes reduces our ability to sense the pressure changes on the bottom of the feet, and also restricts the ability of the ankles to respond intelligently to keep us balanced. Gripping the toes and arches immobilizes the sub-talar joint, where the body reads the balance. There are more nerves there than in the entire bottom of the foot!  Shocking as it may be to you, the feet should soften, lengthen and widen at the instant they take the pressure of weight bearing in walking or standing.


  • There is no real benefit to a good foot rub or scalp massage; it’s only a pleasant, but unnecessary, indulgence. Not true. The fact that it feels good is your body telling you that there is lots of tension there to release. You need the awareness of what is tight there, and the release and stimulation. The bottom of your feet are built for pressure, for adaptability, and for massage by the varied terrain upon which we walk and stand. Your brain knows this, and is telling you with a pleasure-response to do more of this. People who have worn shoes most of their lives need to understand this crucial point.


  • Expensive, custom made, form fitting office chairs - are the very best chairs money can buy. If you have back pain, that’s what you need. Not true. Form fitting, to the body, means prison – immobility. Can you imagine any wild animal enduring such a monstrosity even for a tenth of a second? Such chairs feel good at first, but that doesn’t usually last long. Eventually more trouble is sure to come. Such chairs are like a drug that gives you an immediate high – they feel so good in the store!! – but later give you unending pain, disability and addiction to the artificial comfort and immobility.  


  • Shoes that are custom molded to the feet are the best type of shoes to wear. Not so. Feet are built to sense, to adapt, and communicate with suppleness to the ankles to help us balance and walk – not to be held immobile, no matter how soft, and clever and form fitting the shoe may be. It depends on what you want to do. For skiing, certainly, form fitting is best. But you’d suffer if you wore ski boots every day. The worse sandal to buy? That is the one that is most form-fitted perfectly to the curves of your particular feet. That means your feet have no way to move, they are in a “full body cast”. Such sandals are like an addictive drug. This is not the way we should treat our feet. Yes, such sandals feel wonderful at first, the feet are very happy. But long term, your troubles will increase.  


  • Feet need arch supports. Not exactly.  In architecture you don’t support arches from underneath, that would be pointless. If we support the arches of the foot we make them incompetent. There are better ways to create stronger, higher, or lower arches.


  • Lifting heavy things safely means using the knees and keeping the back straight. Maybe that’s true as far as it goes. It also means not tucking your tailbone under – letting your buttocks stick out as you bend down. Otherwise, it creates pain.


  • Good posture is a matter of continual vigilance.  Wrong. Any kind of vigilance will interfere with the natural and spontaneous appropriate or instinctual movements that create and allow good posture in the first place. Vigilance is a good mental quality, but please don’t waste it on body posture! That is clearly neurotic to those who have eyes to see, and why put out that kind of body language? And never on a continual basis. Posture will improve as movement improves. Good posture comes from good movement – period. Education is needed, not force.


  • It’s good to tell kids to sit up straight, otherwise they’ll go through life slumped. It is THE worst thing you could ever tell your children. Slumping means they know how to relax their backs – something you’ve probably forgotten. You want your kids to be as uptight as you are? There is a quick way to learn to sit up straight without stiffening the back – as you will see. It involves pretending doing martial arts sitting in the chair, defending yourself from imaginary sword strikes.  


  • Back pain is because something is wrong with the backYou can always look at it that way, but it is more productive, and safer, to focus on what you may be doing, or not doing, that creates and perpetuates your back pain. Blaming body parts is usually a dead-end street that leads to disability and dependence on drugs. I find it very sad when I see those who stubbornly persist in that kind of thinking. 


  • The greater the pain and trouble, the greater the need for heavy interventions such as surgeries, medications, injections, deep tissue work, and rehab exercises. Surprisingly, gentle interventions are often the most powerful. There is a wide and varied somatic literature now available, and this is a common theme: education, awareness, gentleness and ease and comfort – will correct and cure and help us in ways that endless decades of heavy intervention will never touch. When you take the right medicine, the cure is very quick. 


  • Traction is the best way to release compression of the neck and spine.  The more you use force in this way, the less the awareness and potential for learning, and the greater the potential for damage. We need to also learn to move into length and not into compression. There is no kind of traction device or stretching work that will teach you this. Only somatic education will do that, or good coaching (if you are athletic). If you are patient, and willing to do the work, there are much better ways to go about releasing compression.


  • Low back pain happens because the human body was designed poorly.  Barring injury, it happens because we have not yet learned to use our bodies optimally. Any experienced somatic teacher will confirm this. Those who encourage you to blame a body part for your troubles – are they serving your best interests? 


  • It’s a good idea to break a bad habit, especially if it causes you pain and suffering. Habits are learned behaviors and can never be broken, only replaced. You can never “break” your bad habits of poor posture and compressed movement. But you can gently enter a new world without pain and let all those other habits just gradually die out, from non-use.


  • Pull the shoulders back and lift the chest – these are the keys to good posture. No, good posture can never happen by holding ourselves stiffly. It’s artificial. Keep the shoulders down as you pull them back, and they do not even go back at all (maybe an inch or two) and slightly lift the chest – this is very helpful and intelligent.  People who neurotically pull their shoulders back many times a day, by lifting the shoulders off the first rib, are disconnecting the shoulders, overstretching the ligaments, giving much of the weight of the shoulder girdle to the neck, causing neck compression, and making the head go more forward. The forward head perpetuates the lifted shoulders! Pulling the shoulders back as you try to push the head back is one of the most damaging things you can do to yourself. It is body language for a peculiar kind of insanity “I keep doing this crazy and self-abusive thing since someone told me I have to do this for good posture. Believe me I can see that it does not work, and it always kind-of hurts, but I keep doing it since I want to be a good person with good posture.” Those with eyes to see, immediately know all this about you, if you are doing this. Please stop it!


  • Impaired balance and stooped posture in the elderly is mostly because of issues with the inner ear, fragile bones and weak muscles. Movement, ankles, vision, toes, shoes, learning skeletal support, relaxed breathing are also important considerations. Surprising improvements come from rehabilitating ankles and a global somatic approach.


  • A belly too large means the person is out of shape and probably eats too much. Then why does so much ancient art and statuary (especially oriental) depict ample or even fat bellies? Why do elder-statesmen martial artists often have big bellies – and they can easily defeat any young person with a flat and trim belly? Why? The size of the belly has to do with breathing and posture as much as with diet and fitness. A breath belly may look like a beer belly, but the two things are polar opposites. Did Buddha drink beer? Why is most ancient art depicting people with a full belly, not a flat belly? Did they all eat junk food? Unless you can easily think your way out of such paradoxes, you don’t yet fully understand the playing field – the body and good movement and normal human function.


  • A tight, flat belly and a slim waist mean a person is supremely fit. Possibly. For the young and athletic, it may be true. They have wonderful coordination between the belly and the low back. They have a limited and controlled diet. They work out many hours a day with good coaching. It is usually a very good thing for anybody to increase abdominal muscle tone and over-all fitness. Yes, certainly. This is protective of the low back.  On the other hand, if it’s acquired by constantly sucking up the gut – that’s cheating. Then, there is NO coordination between the belly and the low back, the low back is constantly compressed like a vise.  It’s compulsive, restricts breathing, hinders digestion, contributes to back compression and pain, and is body language for stress. The question is, how are you planning to get a flat and trim belly? There is no shortcut.


  • Carpal tunnel syndrome is caused by overuse. It’s more accurate to say it’s caused by wrong use and lack of education in good movement habits.


  • Strength, flexibility, balance, coordination and postural vigilance – what else could there be to good posture and good movement? Surely it cannot be any more complicated than that? A thorough study of human movement and practical somatics would include insights from biology, physics, sociology, kinesiology, child development, psychology, education, anthropology, medicine, history, anatomy, physiology, chemistry, art, music, comparative anatomy, dance, martial arts and much more. In fact, that is how it is approached in the Feldenkrais Method. If you leave out any of this, you won’t get the full picture.  


  • Concentration means effort and strain, with anxiety, tunnel vision, tight belly, clenched jaw, gripping toes, shallow hyperventilation breathing and clenched hands. While few people would admit to all that, most people do some version of that unconsciously. We learn such madness from our school system. Moshe Feldenkrais said “Western education binds anxiety to learning”.  Concentration is wonderfully enhanced by involvement with Feldenkrais. None of those “parasitic efforts” are needed to concentrate, and you actually practice that skill doing movement lessons. This one reason, alone, is a powerful motivator to get involved in movement education – practical somatics.


  • Abdominal breathing is how we should breathe all the time.  There are many ways to breathe – there is no one particular style appropriate for all situations. There is a time and a place for abdominal breathing, and also a time and a place for chest breathing. Any person versed in somatics could easily explain this. Here is a way to test (and confuse!) the next person who tells you that abdominal breathing is the only correct way to breathe: “so, you are telling me that as I exhale and relax, I must let the belly be relaxed and drawn in – getting smaller – as the diaphragm pushes up into the lungs? Because that is the flip side, the exhale phase, of abdominal breathing! So I fully relax and collapse my center every time I exhale? What about weight lifters, they push on the exhale, but they are not collapsing their center? Does that mean they are breathing incorrectly? Would not a weight lifter be easily injured if his breathing was like that???
© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com