Continuing our exploration of the concept of health:
Chronically poor posture: A first world (Global Pandemic)
Estimated reading time: 10-12 minutes
In this article you will learn why most “unexplained” Chronic pain conditions aren’t the least bit surprising, we will explore some of the major contributing factors and seek to better understand our bodies, the state of HEALTH and how to achieve it.
In order to gain a practical understanding that can guide us to positive change, we will need to explore a few important concepts and principles, so prepare for a journey of knowledge exploration and discovery (containing a few necessary segues), leading us to functional wisdom.
These ideas if understood and integrated, will make a meaningful difference to how you see the world, aiding you in making effective decisions.
Primary questions and topics we will address:
- What is posture?
- Why is posture important? How does it affect me?
- What makes posture good or bad?
- Is posture genetic?
- What are some things I can do to improve my posture and health?
Important related concepts:
- What is the S.A.I.D. Principle? Why is it important?
- Adaptive cycles: what they are and how they are crucial in life.
- Adaptive competence: What it is and how to improve it over time.
- The ‘fight or flight’ and ‘rest and recovery’ mechanisms of the body.
*Fair warning, I will be reiterating a few key ideas in an attempt to strengthen conceptual understanding.
Ok, so now that we’ve outlined these key points, let’s delve right in!
Posture is so much more than, “Do I look confident”
It is crucial to understand that having a healthy body is largely dependent on having good posture. We will explore some of why that is in this article.
So, what is Posture?
Simply put, posture is how you hold your body and it is your approach/attitude when using your body. It is the physical manifestation of your being, moment to moment.
It is the poise with which you conduct yourself… and you should be aware that it has powerful, inseparable, influential relationships with all other systems of the body. Simply put, if your posture is bad, it will mess you up… In many different ways!
It helps to think of posture as a process, rather than a fixed state. Posture is meant to be adaptable and fluid in order to reorganise the body to give optimal function to the moment. A person with grace and poise tends to have a good balance between controlled movement and functional spontaneity i.e. flowing with the moment. Their adaptive competence is fluid and high functioning. Most people however, lead very sedentary or inactive lifestyles This causes a host of problems, as their bodies adapt to, and “lock” into these limited activities. Basically, sedentary people get really good at sitting i.e. remaining in poorly aligned, tight, locked up positions for hours on end. This excessive adaptation to sitting comes at the expense of functionality in other activities. (Being a specialist at sitting with poor posture is a terrible idea, but your body is just making lemonade out of lemons, and doing the best it can, given the situation and circumstance we put the body in.)
Introduction to the S.A.I.D. Principle:
It is important to note that the body is always trying to adapt to the stress we place upon it. This very useful concept is summed up in the Acronym, S.A.I.D(Specific Adaptation to Imposed Demands) – This is a fundamental Principle!
Adaptation to stress can take many different forms. In this article, we are discussing mostly physical adaptations. However, through neuroplasticity, we start to see how physical adaptations are also mental and emotional adaptations i.e. they are all connected and part of the same thing. We have conceptually separated and labelled them – a very interesting topic that we can go into another time.)
I will do my best to simplify a few very helpful ideas regarding the S.A.I.D. Principle below.
Having at least a basic understanding of this concept, will give you a significantly better understanding of human development, health maintenance and performance improvement.
Let’s start by clarifying the S.A.I.D Principle a little further- Specific Adaptation to Imposed demands:
- Your body adapts to its environment and the stresses placed upon it. An easy to understand example of this is muscle growth and increased bone density in response to the demand of heavy lifting. Your body is trying to help you by adapting. By restructuring, it is better able to perform and meet demands placed upon it.
- Examples of other Adaptations are endurance, coordination, speed, concentration, temperature regulation, memory, etc (notice the variability of attributes and skills that develop based on this principle).
Key idea 1: Adaptive cycles
Without getting into excessive detail, it is important to know that there is a continuous, adaptive cycle taking place when engaging with life. Stress in various forms is constant. The human body is designed to continuously adapt and change; to flow with these shifting challenges and obstacles.
Key idea 2: Do your best to keep challenges well-calibrated.
In order for the body to optimally adapt to “life”, you should strive to keep your daily challenges well-calibrated i.e. take on the’ right’ amount of challenge each day in various forms. This will trigger adaptive responses, making you better at handling those types of stresses. Variety and variation are good to keep things from becoming stagnant.
Key idea 3: Avoid being overwhelmed
The greater the stress, the greater the damage. This means more recovery time and resources needed to fully recover and facilitate the adaptive improvement. Too great a stress will be beyond the individual’s ability to cope, and will cause ‘damage’ i.e. physical, mental or emotional harm. Mindful and prudent engagement helps keep you away from unnecessary, harmful extremes.
Degrees of stress relative to a subject’s capability, simply put:
|Degree/amount||Simplified description||Simplified result||Simplified scenario|
|3||Extreme stress||usually leads to death or significant damage (possibly permanent)||Destruction or damage||Usually sudden “external” stress. e.g. a severe car accident|
|2||Excessive stress||makes recovery difficult and adaptation unlikely||Strain, no improvement||Working to complete exhaustion|
|1||Optimal stress||allows for quick recovery and adaptation||Improvement||Working to fatigue but within good function|
|2||Too little stress||doesn’t trigger an adaptive response||Maintenance||Some engagement but no fatigue or lack of challenge|
|3||No stress||generally leads to accelerated deterioration of an unused system||Deterioration||No engagement|
* Long term adaptations can clearly be seen in an athlete’s changes in muscle mass, body shape, performance etc. (abstract adaptations seem to come about in a very similar fashion to stress e.g. social skills from social engagement, emotional resilience from overcoming obstacles linked to hope and adaptive competence).
Understanding and embracing this amazing phenomenon is one of the most powerful keys you will ever have to lead a healthy life whilst gaining the power to create extraordinary changes within your body.
Key idea 4: Adaptive competence
Your collective adaptive competence is an evolving collection of ability which you use to navigate everyday life. The greater an individual’s adaptive competence, the more likely he or she will find a way to integrate successfully with life challenges day by day. Consistently dealing well with challenges is a good mode of being that moves us towards self-designated desirable outcomes.
*Operating beyond your realm of adaptive competence will result in excessive disharmony or failure which could lead to anxiety, depression or various other “negative” emotions. (The phenomena of emotion and its utility will be a topic for another article).
Fight or Flight and Rest and Recover: two modes of being, which you need to be aware of
This topic will be addressed in more detail in a later article, but below is a quick summary to introduce you to the concepts.
The body’s nervous system has two extremely different circuits which it uses to operate under different situations and circumstances. i.e. Fight or Flight circuit/mode and Rest and Recover circuit/mode.
Flight or fight, which you’ve likely heard of, is when your body “flips the switch” to operate in the “major action now” mode.
You can think of this as a red alert, all hands to battle stations.
- High output
- Fast response
- Strenuous on the body (physically, mentally, emotionally)
- Uses a lot of resources
- Creates a lot of waste / toxins
- Dysregulates normal harmony and reallocates resources and activity within the body
|Priority||Maximize immediate survival systems (digestion, organ function and hormone relegation are put on the back burner… Balance is thrown out the window). The body’s state calibrates for maximum action NOW.|
Flight or fight is a crucial functional system and mode of being when needed, but it is terrible for health to stay in longer than necessary.
Rest and Recovery – few people have heard of this mode, but you can think of this as the “holiday / spring cleaning” mode of the body.
- Moderate output
- Moderate response
- Easy on the body
- Low resource use (efficient)
|Priority||Balance body systems and functions. Maintenance and recovery mode. The cardiovascular and nervous systems are prioritised as well as organ function, hormone regulation, blood and lymph circulation. Resource distribution in the body is better regulated, toxin and waste removal are better regulated. The body enters a more harmonic state of flow, integrating with a safe, relaxed environment.|
The human body is constantly adapting; seeking to harmonise with its environment.
This can be seen immediately if you break into a run… your heart rate goes up, your breathing volume and rate increases, your body undergoes countless metabolic adaptive changes in response to this imposed demand.
If the body’s systems are inadequate for a given task, the body will do its best to compensate in various ways to meet the imposed demand. In the short term, this can be an amazing adaptive function of the body but, it increases strain significantly. If the body is not maintained and frequently recalibrated, these compensations lead to injury, chronic pain conditions and or sickness.
Why is Posture important?
Sustaining good posture is a BIGGGG part of your health. We’ll explore why that is below, using contrast to help shape the conceptual landscape.
Poor posture leads to compression and restriction of vital structures. e.g. organ compression and restriction, connective tissue tightness, blood and lymph flow restriction, nerve impingement etc. Basically, poise and adaptive structure are necessary for health and function Without them the body lacks fluidity, becoming too rigid leading to strain and accelerated deterioration.
What is good Posture?
Good posture is relative to situation and circumstance.
Components of healthy, functioning and adaptive posture are:
- Good proprioceptive awareness, enabling appropriate body architectural adaption to the moment (geometric suitability with kinetic linking).
- Good spatial awareness.
- Bones that are well aligned and supported by appropriate, adaptable tension (healthy body tension / tensegrity).
- Pliability and adaptability to take various forms and postures, meeting the ever-changing demands of the environment.
- Healthy functional and adaptive body tension: Fascia connective tissue plays a major role here, as all systems of the body are contained within it. If that tissue is chronically tight and deformed, it compresses and restricts the systems within it!
- Balanced muscle strength and length, with synergistic coordination.
Neglect your posture, poise and grace at GREAT peril
A stiff body that is locked up in chronically “poor” posture, is under constant strain and is unable to flow and adapt to tasks outside of its accustomed norm. For most people, this means that their bodies have adapted so extensively to “chair sitting”, that they struggle to do many things or can’t do them at all. That’s a big deal! (unless you are content with a stagnant, rigid and sickly body).
Our bodies often compensate so well, that many of the negative consequences of our actions are offset and only manifest themselves in a slow creeping manner. Systems slowly become strangled, overstressed and destroyed over weeks, months or years. We overlook the importance of the aching muscles and joints. We just accept the chronic fatigue and tell ourselves that we’ll feel better later or it’s just part of getting old. We don’t embrace the pain, embrace the warnings and act upon them; PAIN is your tough love best friend looking out for you. It is a vital function of the body; it signals important information to us … YOU JUST NEED TO LISTEN AND RESPOND appropriately to get from a bad situation to a better one.
What are some of the major effects of POOR posture?
- FATIGUE and PAIN
- Excessive strain, stretch, compression and torque on vital structures (e.g. neurovascular system, skeletal system, muscular system)
- Impaired breathing (major strain on health -sickness waiting to happen)
- Impaired digestion (major strain on health -sickness waiting to happen)
- Wear and tear on joints, tendons, ligaments etc.
- Energy wastage – during both static and dynamic posture (poor or broken kinetic linking leading to weak and inefficient movement)
- Compensative soft tissue tightness resulting in joint and movement restriction
- And sadly, much more…
|Some areas negatively affected by poor posture:||Meaning|
|Stability – which means more injuries and strain||TEARS, SPRAINS AND FALLS|
|Mobility – less functional ROM||INABILITY TO MOVE PROPERLY|
|Blood and lymph flow restriction i.e. sustenance and toxin management restriction||TOXIN BUILD UP AND INADEQUATE INTERNAL RESTORATION|
|Neurological activity restricted, endocrine regulation hindrance (hormone regulation)||HORMONE DISREGULATION|
Your posture is NOT genetic!
What we see can be reversed… Posture can be changed.
*extreme genetic abnormality would be the exception to this but generally speaking, posture is a by-product of your lifestyle.
Posture is meant to change and adapt throughout the day.
No one has “perfect” posture all the time… That’s not what the standard is. Rather, functional adaptation to the moment is generally the goal. Remember though, a variety of challenges over time keeps the body healthy, limber, strong and fluid.
This is what it’s designed to do… It is necessary to maintain and even improve function.
So why is our posture so MESSED up?!
The answer to this could be an article unto itself, but I’ll try make a brief key point summary.
- We SIT in chairs for often more than half of our waking hours (for many people it is way more than half).
- We walk very little and generally only on flat smooth surfaces whilst wearing shoes.
- We have very little movement diversity, based on our modern lifestyle (no need to hunt, scout, forage, construct, climb. Heck, we hardly even play or dance).
- We almost never sit on the floor (floor sitting positions are fundamental to helping maintain the function of our design).
- The ‘artificial bubble’ environment we have created for ourselves in this modern age has removed many of the challenges we are designed to face. Challenges which bring out the best in us, ones that trigger adaptive responses creating health, competence and longevity.
It is no wonder that most peoples’ health and quality of life is so poor, surprisingly it isn’t worse!
Considering just some of the conditions we typically find ourselves in, such as excessive chemical exposure, sedentary lifestyles, lack of personally meaningful pursuits, poor posture, technological radiation, etc., we need to ‘catch a wake up’ and give more awareness and energy to the fundamental nature and aspects of our being.
We need to take greater responsibility for ourselves and our environment. There is no organism without the environment. There are no humans without nature to sustain them. We are inseparably part of nature and we’ve lost sight of this great, most significant of truths.
Now I’m not saying that everyone needs to regress to the stone age, but we need to see the cause and effect relationship in our lifestyles and wellbeing. We NEED to be more mindful of meaningful issues in the present that will dictate the future.
There are some simple steps we can take to counteract the negative effects of modern society. These include:
- Don’t wear shoes when you don’t have to. This again is a topic unto itself, but trust me that shoes are really bad for your posture and your feet.
- Spend more time sitting on the floor (the various positions of floor sitting are great for recalibrating the tension in your body, especially your hips!) They are also great for maintaining and developing functional core strength.
- Take up a movement practice. Some fantastic common ones include martial arts, yoga, Pilates, dancing, rock climbing…just do something to actually use your body in ways that challenge you to think and grow.
- Not moving, damages you physically, mentally and emotionally… the body cannot function correctly if you are a couch potato. (Failing to engage with the world physically is a sure-fire way to destroy your health and body function).
- Counteract your postural torsion with periodic limbering up. Stretching, mobility and stability work throughout the day will transform your body in amazing ways.
- Be mindful of how you feel. Be mindful and accepting of Pain. Don’t ignore it or block it out, unless you have already taken the necessary measures to correct the problem it is signalling to you.
- Lead a balanced lifestyle.
I hope that this article has been an informative and enjoyable read.
Knowledge has an evolving nature over time. I encourage you to always maintain a questioning mind, using your best judgement when learning and practising.
Stephen du Preez
Article Word Count: 2877
Author: Stephen du Preez
Date: April 24th, 2020
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