A note from Katy: This is the first guest post ever on KatySays, which has allowed me to get some extra family time with the new baby. Each post is written by one of our certified graduates, and the topics range from the pelvis (of course) to undoing the postures that come with musical instruments to what it's like being an alignment addict. Today, please welcome Barbara Loomis, aka The Alignment Monkey!
In May I had the honor of assisting Katy Bowman during the Beyond Kegels class she taught in Portland. An assistant’s job is to go around and help the students with their alignment exercises, but I ended up learning something as well. As a graduate of the Whole Body Alignment course and Restorative Exercise Specialist Certification I know the alignment markers and the exercises well, but that day I realized it’s not enough to know what a neutral pelvis is,
you have to consider how someone got there.
If you don’t regularly release the muscles that have been holding you in a posterior tilt (tucked tailbone) for most of your life, then it’s easy to force yourself into “alignment” at the expense of other tissues of the body. For instance, during class when the students were trying to achieve a neutral pelvis while in quadruped, a woman I assisted complained that the exercise hurt her back.
When I put my hand on her low back I could feel the contraction of her spinal erectors working to pull the pelvis out of post tilt. When she was told “how about instead of arching your back to untuck your pelvis, you just relax and let gravity do it?” the tension in her back stopped and her pelvis moved easily into neutral.
This got me thinking about how much unconscious tension we hold in our bodies and how we try to force them into a certain position. Think of all the times you were told to stop slouching. Did your parents say, “It looks like you are having trouble holding yourself up! Let’s get you out of that chair and stretch your hamstrings?” Not my parents. These masters of behavioral change just said “Jesus Christ, stop slouching,” or “Jesus Christ, sit up straight." I honestly thought Jesus Christ was my nick name, and it wasn’t until a later date that I realized I wasn’t the son of God. Their instruction explains why I began thrusting my ribcage forward and drew my shoulder blades together. I wanted to look like the posture they’d be proud of. So many of us have “faked it” at the detriment of our spine, neck, and shoulders. And what I’ve learned through my alignment training is, just because my posture looked better to the untrained eye of my parents didn’t mean that it was good for me.
When we rearrange parts and tense muscles to “correct” in this way, we mess with our alignment -- that is the biological function of our parts. Perhaps I’m being a little dramatic here, but this whole “correction thing” reminds me of trainers teaching show horses to prance around a show ring with their heads down. I’m not sure if they still do this (I hope not) but the standard was using a belt with straps tied around the horse’s neck and ankles to forcefully limit their leg and head motion as they walked. When the straps came off the horses would still flex their heads downward and lift their legs high to prevent the negative feedback -- as if the straps were still connected.
The horse and pony show may look aesthetically pleasing to us, but when you consider how a horse naturally moves it just seems sad and cruel. Knowing what I know now, the amount of sitting we do growing up feels like the contraption on the show horse. We’re strapped into an unnatural position and it has changed the way we are able to move.
Don’t get me wrong, we mustn't blame everything on our parents and teachers. What about fashion? When did it become sexy to stand with your shoulders rolled forward like they do on Americas Next Top Model? BTW, this “look” only works with a SUPER pouty mouth.
Do you remember standing a certain way to look cool, sexy, tough or indifferent? No? Then step into my time machine. I can picture it like it was yesterday: Me standing in line at a Judas Priest concert back in ’87 with my stone washed cut off jean jacket, tight jeans (with a 9 inch zipper by the way) and leather boots with a chain around the ankle. You have to stand with a “don’t mess with me” attitude in an outfit like that. I couldn’t find a full body pic from that time period, but I think you get the idea that I was a bad ass from this “Good Guys Wear Black” photo.
Back in 2012, when I returned from Katy’s course, I looked to see where I was holding unnecessary stress in my body. I realized that I was holding stress in my pelvic floor around my rectum. Yes, I am a butt-clencher. How did I not know I was clenching my butt this whole time? I don’t even know why I hold tension there. Years of holding in gas? Well, not years at a time, but you know what I mean. Stress? Years of having my pelvis out in front of my body?
These all likely contributed to my clenching. Now when I catch myself clenching I send the signal to relax and magically my pelvis relaxes into neutral without force. Nothing falls out of my rectum or crawls up there when I relax, so the clenching didn’t really serve a purpose. That reminds me, my Great Grandmother insisted that we wear underwear to bed to keep the bugs from crawling up our bung holes while we slept.
Oh, I think I just found my butt clenching answer!
Thanks a lot Grandma.
Barbara Loomis is a Restorative Exercise™ Specialist, and certified practitioner and educator of Maya and Chinese abdominal therapy. Barbara is based in Portland, OR and is also available for SKYPE appointments. Read more on her site www.nurturance.net and her blog http://alignmentmonkey.nurturance.net/