Sam is a stocky 87-year-old man, who complains of a heavy head and painful tight shoulders. Like many folks his age, his forward head stance and slumped upper back reflects a lifetime of maladaptive posture – sitting a lot, looking down and rounding his shoulders and upper back. Over a lifetime this can contribute to movement dysfunction, pain and eventually a degenerative Spine.
His attempt to correct his pattern is to “stand up straight” by throwing his shoulders back, thereby creating more strain to that area and his entire spine. His neck muscles felt tight and ropey upon initial physical examination.
So what was my Strategy?
To support his already rounded shoulders and flexed upper back, so he could genuinely feel relief and not have to do all that unnecessary work of “trying” to hold his head up.
“By going with his pattern”, i.e. lifting his already rounded shoulders while he lay supine, and engaging his chest to bend and yield, whilst flexing his hips; his neck and upper spine could now relax.
The result was that when he stood up, his shoulders and head were much further back than usual, and his belly stuck out. He had the look of someone who had a workout, although there was nothing “routine” about what we did.
We‘re not looking for 6 pack abs and a tight abdomen which reflects a holding in of the breath, and usually a tight lower back. Rather a relaxed protuberant belly like a Tai Chi master; that reflects breath coming into the tan tien or lower belly – the center of gravity for a person and the focal point of his energy.
In the martial arts, it is taught that the energy and power of a person comes from this point. Breathing there promotes more vitality and ease.
Lastly, it’s not sitting that is the culprit, although I do like standing desks. Rather it is sitting in one “fixed” position for too long, that inhibits our back muscles:
Sitting is a dynamic activity. We all face challenges and conflicts in daily life and must adapt our behavior and our Posture to face them.
Samuel had tried to get help. His doctor had given him exercises to do, and he felt some were helpful, in that they didn’t irritate things, but didn’t solve the neck and shoulder pain. Others didn’t do much at all.
Doing exercises in a mechanical way doesn’t usually solve the problem or change one’s chronic holding patterns. Instead, attending to oneself while moving and varying one’s habitual movement patterns is much more successful at re-training the body.