A recent NRP article highlighted how some societies have virtually NO back pain – and no disc deterioration.
An acupuncturist, Esther Gokhale, who seeking help from her own severe back pain, started researching indigenous tribes in South America, Asia and Africa. These are places where people are often seen carrying heavy loads of water on their heads, or sitting on the ground weaving cloth for hours. Even the village elders are working all day, bending over collecting food, and have no pain.
It’s how they move, sit, and sleep that protects their backs from problems.
Esther noticed when these people walk, it’s very similar across the board to each other: their back leg is slightly straight and the buttocks muscles are engaged. Their feet are slightly out. They move very industriously and with elegance. They travel great distances and carry very heavy weights almost effortlessly and without problems.
She ultimately found that the ideal spine is actually “J” shaped, rather than “S” shaped, as we have been taught in modern medical textbooks.
You know who else have perfect movement and posture? Babies. Their butts just naturally stick out into a perfect “J” shape. They squat and walk with perfect posture. I remember as a baby, my son who was maybe 2 at the time and about 30 pounds, lifting a 10 pound kettle bell. Aside from worrying about him dropping it on his little foot, it was remarkable how easy it was for him to squat down and lift it perfectly without changing the shape of his back in that process. It was fun for him! Not like those macho guys at the gym grunting and groaning.
The lack of pain and freedom of movement in these older, preserved cultures suggests that this is a natural way to move. It is your birthright and heritage to have beautiful, regal, and pain-free posture.
A couple of things to try when you walk:
- When you walk, you should be able to feel the glutious medius (just below the hip bone at the very top of your buttocks.) Do this by squeezing the outside of the back leg when you are walking. If you can’t find it this way, lift your leg slightly. Then keep the contraction and set your leg down. Switch sides.
- Your feet should turn slightly out when you stand, squat, and walk.
Sitting is another major reason behind most people’s pain.
So many jobs require many hours a week of continual sitting. But, jobs that require prolonged standing also can lead to health problems: blood stagnation, foot problems, etc. So many things have to be done sitting; fine motor tasks are harder to do standing.
It’s not that sitting itself is a bad thing, but we just need to do it correctly.
The main idea with sitting is you want to sit healthily. Most people either “slump sit” or “arch sit.” Some people do a little bit of both. Since we are a “chair society” – no judgement, just the facts – it’s helpful to know how to sit in a chair properly.
- Interrupt your sitting frequently with some standing and moving around. There’s no exact parameters: how often, etc. Just occasionally move into a different position. Pay attention (“listen”) to what your body is telling you.
- Roll your shoulders up, back, and down frequently. This prevents the weight of your shoulders from slumping you forwards. Plus, it just feels good.
- Your tailbone should jut out at your point of contact of the chair / floor. Do NOT tuck your tailbone under your body. This is a solid foundation for stacking your vertebrae in a healthy way.
- From the base of your tailbone, align your spine straight up, including your neck. Make sure your chest isn’t sticking out. Feel the muscles on either side of your spine for a second. You should not feel tension here. Your breath should come easily in this position.
- Your legs should rotate externally. Activate your glutes when you sit, but don’t allow that to arch your back. Activate your glutes to put energy into your outer leg.
MOST IMPORTANT: Stack your spine straight from the slightly angled out tail. Rib cage in. Do not stick your chest out.
NOTE TO PARENTS: Do not perpetuate the cultural norm of “container babies.”
This is a phrase coined a few years ago describing infants spending most of their time in some artificial container: they are shifted from a car seat to a stroller to a high chair, etc. These chairs emphasize this unhealthy C-shaped, slumpy spine. Sadly, incidents of children with back pain is on the rise as well.
Also, it’s been found that babies who are “worn” as opposed to “contained” – grow into more intelligent kids! Maybe it’s better blood flow to the brain. But also more emotional intelligence. With baby-wearing, the parent is more likely to talk to and otherwise interact with the baby which enhances the environment from which they learn.
Esther’s book, 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back, is available on her website which I recommend checking out, or you can probably find it elsewhere online. This article is kind of just an intro to fixing your own back problems, but she is the real expert on posture!