An exercise in seeing…

One thing that has always surprised me is how different a patient’s posture can be from the way patients see themselves. I ask people if the are sitting up straight and they reply yes yet they have their neck leaning forward at a 20 degree angle. I ask people to stand on one leg and tell me if they are standing up straight and again the answer is always a resounding ‘yes’. It seems that we believe what we think until we are forced to do a reality check which is something that rarely happens before coming to me.

So I thought maybe if I gave you a couple of things to try out on your own you might start to get a better idea of what reality is like for you, before you necessarily have any complaints. Ready to have a go?

First, you will need at least one if not both of the following tools. I like a mirror because it is in effect dynamic and will show you exactly what you are doing. Preferably a full length mirror because it leaves you with no where to hide and exposes any faults that might be present. Alternatively, you could use a camera (still or video) which also will tell you similar information. Unfortunately with cameras it is harder to get immediate feedback unless you have it connected to a large screen monitor or TV (which is not always convenient). (note – if you have any health problems that restrict your ability to exercise then please check with your health care provider before attempting to try out these exercises)

Ok now once you have your tool(s) it’s time for a couple simple tests.. Try standing in front of the mirror: hips straight and pelvis not rotated, feet pointing straight forward and placed under your shoulders, knees slightly flexed over the middle of your feet with the weight distributed equally. Try to set yourself up without looking in the mirror and then look up and see if everything is where you think it would be. Common faults are having one foot turned out, one arch flattened/raised, more weight on one leg, the trunk leaning off to one side, one knee pointing either towards the middle or away from mid-line.. the list goes on!! At first it might not be obvious to you what you are doing and a photo or video recording may allow you to relax and review what your posture is like after. It is good to look for natural vertical lines (or you can hang a string behind you to act as a plumb line) so you can compare where you are positioned to what I have asked for.

Happy with where you are? Okay then lets progress to the next step. If not, then see if you can work on getting your body to take on this basic posture.

Now that you think can find a balanced position it’s time to add a bit of chaos :’ ).

Stand on one leg with the knee slightly bent and see if you can once again line yourself up with everything straight as in the first test. Can you do it? No? Well, many people can’t and this time faults are even more obvious. You may find that on one side it is easy to do but on the other your knee twists in quite a bit, the foot twists out, the pelvis rotates, you lean over quite a bit to one side… again the list can be extensive!! You may need some help from a friend who can look at what you are doing and give you honest feedback to help you correct your positioning. A healthy adult should potentially be able to stand up straight without leaning/twisting for up to 2 minutes without huge difficulties. Most people won’t be able to do this but that does not mean that they are not capable. ┬áIf you can get into this posture then see if you can relax and breath comfortably and hold the position with the least amount of effort. You should not have to strain yourself when you doing these exercises.

Sometimes I will do things to see if I can identify what the potential cause of the leaning/twisting is. For example, if I think that the person has weakness in their hip muscles then I give them a weight (a couple of kilos/up to 5 pounds) to hold onto on the same side they lean to. If this makes the list go away then the weight is doing what the hip muscles are supposed to be doing and I tell them that they should be doing something to strengthen the hip to see if that makes controlling the movement easier. I also like to see if the list happens before they actually try to shift their weight which might be more a habit than something their bodies are forcing them to do.

There are more things that can be tested/evaluated but you can at least start to see ,from what I describe, the process that needs to be carried out to improve your performance of these tests.

These sort of postures are similar to what people may do in some yoga, qigong and tai chi classes. I am not pretending to be teaching these arts but what I think is that someone in the past decided to provide simple preventative posture exercises that would be useful in keeping up one’s strength and coordination. I personally feel they are a useful tool and still have a use for most of the population these days.

10 thoughts on “An exercise in seeing…

      • I purchased his book, for svaerel reasons. I have suffered from lower lumbar back pain for 40 years. Forty years ago, the Veterans Administration Hospital strongly recommended surgery. And meanwhile provided grocery bags of killers.But I also lived and worked in an African village for two years. I knew Esther was on the right track. The functional posture and strength of both men and woman in the tribe in which I lived, was awesome. Esther’s photographs beautifully capture the functional poise that I witnessed many years ago.I bought this book with great hopes. Sadly, some of the ideas in this book only injured my back further.But I can also say the same for the dozens of back books and seminars which I have read or attended over forty years. Whether the subject is Tai Chi, Yoga, or Pilates, I always find that some exercises seem to help, but there are unhappily always a few exercises that do further injury. And there is the rub.I am also amazed that Esther does not show the ancient village squat. This is a glaring ommission. A westerner can not live, or travel, in the 3rd world and not observe the ease and frequency with which villagers young and old can assume the village squat.Generally, Westeners just can’t seem to squat like this for any length of time. I am mystified that this functional and popular position is not captured in her photographs.I would love to see Esther take her beautiful but beginning research a step further.Thankfully, I eventually found right here at Amazon some back books and DVD’s which have given me relief from for the first time in 40 years as well as a new found ability to run and ice skate again.Admittedly, my search was a long journey, but I found the best self help yet in the books and DVD’s of Peter Egoscue. Book by book, I became so impressed with the results, that I eventually bought every book and DVD Peter has written or produced.My back problems are largely confined to the lower lumbar area, due to injuries sustained in Vietnam in 1970.Ironically, Peter Egoscue is also a Vietnam veterean who sustained injuries while on duty. Peter embarked on his own search to heal himself.What a marvelous, simple and sound approach he has pioneered. Not one of Peter egoscue’s procedures has ever caused my back further injury or pain!In response to the one negative comment I received, may I affirm and clarify that my back injuries are serious due to substantial injuries sustained in Vietnam. I do recognize that many other people will be well served by Esther’s exercises. But, I also wish to extend a hopeful hand to those whose injuries are severe, life long, and who so far may have found only partial or intermittent help with the many modalities of back treatment that have developed over the past 40 years.In addition, to the books and DVD’s I recommended above, I now wish to one more book that I earlier witheld due to its price. Rehabilitation of The Spine: A Practitioner’s Manual by Craig Liebsenson. Available here on Amazon.Yes, the price is edgy! But this book is a must have for anyone who experiences chronic and severe back difficulties. A magnificent and clearly articulated review of all of the current treatment modalities available in the mainstream as well as the alternative medical fields today. Pay attention to what Dr Vladimir Janda is doing to treat patients in Czechoslovakia.Once again, good luck with your own search for back health.

    • You are correct!! I’m a little lost as to how to tell which are spambots trying to up someone else’s blog/webpage and which are just comments from people who speak a different language. I have a lot of readers from Brazil and other non-english speaking countries.. (ok maybe not a lot, small blog so maybe a relatively big proportion ;’ )

      Come to think of it, you have a fake website as well and your e-mail does not exist on my e-mail checker…

      I’m a noob at bloggin so anything you can tell me to help me sort this out would be appreaciated. I do have the filters installed which are supposed to stop this sort of thing :’ P

      Thanks for the comment!!


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    • Thanks so much for your comments and exneciepre, Scott. I have to say for me it’s like which came first the chicken or the egg. I can see what you are saying, and I will truly do some thinking/reading on that matter: with the clients I work with, I am not convinced it was posture decline before the range of motion restricted, (refused to sit with good posture so that the muscles no longer have the range of motion? hmmm). The one example I was referring to is the hamstring and it’s restriction on posture through the lower back, (sitting on their sacrum as opposed to the sit bones because their hamstrings area so tight). I see lots of that with clients in certain exercises and many of the students and athletes that I do some fitness classes with. I also have clients who greatly benefit from the range of motion in the upper extremities, even if it is an aerobics class not athletes. I can think of several exercises that would be better done if a certain range of motion was acquired. Great discussion topic Scott.

Anything you can add that might be helpful to others would be appreciated!

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