When most folks think of injuries gaming is not the first activity that would come to mind.
Gaming is a very hot topic in today’s world and also in my household. The topic of gaming contains many layers of knowledge, judgment and opinions and yet little research has been done to determine the long term effects, if any; on our mind, body and spirit.
What is Gaming? Definition from Techopedia – Gaming refers to playing electronic games, whether through consoles, computers, mobile phones or another medium altogether. Gaming is a nuanced term that suggests regular gameplay, possibly as a hobby or competitive sport.
I myself, am like many other parents today navigating this new and very different world of online gaming. My biggest concern is poor posture however, equally important is eye strain, repetitive strain issues and lack of movement. I often remind my 16 year old son to find balance between gaming and physical activity with one being a regular YogAlign practice.
First of all let’s take a look at a typical gaming posture below:
To the naked eye we can visually see the forward curving of the spine – backline of the body, shaping into a C formation. The shoulders are also rolled forward due to the way in this picture and with most gaming mouse are used in relation to the hand, wrist and arm position. The head, neck and chin are jutted forward as the eyes are pulling the head closer to the screen. Some of the things the naked eye may not be able to see is the tightening and clenching of the jaw and teeth (as the gaming becomes more intense or gamer becomes more irritated). As the spine – backline of the body curves forward into a C, the frontline of the body becomes collapsed. The chest, diaphragm and organs of the frontline are being squeezed making it difficult to take a full inhale and exhale (breathing becomes shallow). While the gamer sits for long periods of time daily some muscle groups are becoming shorter and tighter making other muscle groups longer, stretched out and tired. The body is a continuum and can only be affected as a whole not in pieces as some might believe.
We are just scratching the surface here in regard to the intricacy of the human anatomy while sitting and it’s wear and tear on the body, when done on a regular basis for long periods of time.
I found that once I transitioned my yoga practice to YogAlign I learned and became more aware of the intracicies in regard to human anatomy, movement and function. Not only during my YogAlign practice, but in mine and my families everyday life (including my sons gaming posture and habits).
How can gamers best prevent injuries?
Let’s go back to the ergonomics – at a very basic level. “Ergonomics”, as defined by the International Ergonomics Association, is “the scientific discipline concerned with the understanding of interactions among humans and other elements of a system, and the profession that applies theory, principles, data and methods to design in order to optimize human well-being and over all system of performance”.
Ergonomics relating to gaming explains how players interact with their hardwares and tools. Gaming products should be designed to support the natural posture of the body and the repetitive movements of the body that are necessary to operate them. Shoulder, wrist arm position, seating posture and playing style all come into effect when it comes to ergonomics in gaming. Self control, limiting the amount of time playing for pleasure or for competition daily and days weekly can be helpful in preventing injuries. Movement before, and after gaming is key especially movement that re-wires the brain from poor posture habits to proper posture habits.
Here are a few ergonomic gaming tools I have come across:
Helps players keep an ergonmic posture from their couch or bed by not having to rest their keyboard on their lap.
Whether you sit in an office staring at a computer all day or sit gaming for hours we all need to get up and move. So, next time you sit for an extended period of time, check in with your body, breath and ask yourself:
How long has it been since I stood up, stretched and maybe walked around a bit?
Sitting all day is bad for your health – A University of Waterloo professor says his research shows that people should be standing for at least 30 minutes per hour to get health benefits.
Do my eyes feel strained and maybe even feel a slight head ache coming on
Extended computer use or inadequate or excessive lighting may cause eye strain.
When was the last time I had a drink of water or a healthy snack?
There are many different opinions on how much water you should be drinking every day. Health authorities commonly recommend eight 8-ounce glasses, which equals about 2 liters, or half a gallon. This is called the 8×8 rule and is very easy to remember.
Am I sitting closer to the edge of my chair to allow by spine to lengthen?
Sit up at the end of your chair with your back straight and your shoulders blades down, all three natural back curves (cervical, lumbar and thoracic) should be present while sitting. (if possible get your hips above your knees).
Are my shoulder blades relaxed down my back or creeping up to my ears?
Tight shoulders can be caused by sitting for extended periods causing pain or stiffness in your neck, back and upper body.
Am I clenching my teeth and tightening my jaw?
Stress or anxiety can cause the muscles in the jaw to tighten. A person may clench their jaw or grind their teeth without even noticing it.
Am I able to take a full inhale an exhale from my diaphragm?
On average, a person at rest takes about 16 breaths per minute. This means we breathe about 960 breaths an hour, 23,040 breaths a day, 8,409,600 a year.
Believe or Not, it takes more precious life force energy in our everyday lives and activities to have poor posture than it does to have proper posture.
My motto “sit up and cheer up, get up stand up – for your life”.
You might be thinking what does sitting in a chair haft to do with an ocean’s reefs? I would be thinking the same thing if I had not made the connection personally on my last adventure out snorkeling.
A little back story:
Last year in the middle of April 2018 Kauai received 50 inches of rain in 24 hours that devastated the island. The north shore communities of Wainiha and Haena were cut off from the rest of the island due to countless mudslides that covered the only two lane road in or out of these communities. It took over a year to repair the road to a safety standard that would allow all non Wainiha and Haena residents to re-enter the area.
During this one year period the only folks allowed in and out of the above mentioned communities while massive road repair was taking place were the full time residents. As a full time resident living in Haena I saw with my own eyes the land transform.
Myself and many of the locals had an opportunity of a lifetime to spend time on the secluded and empty beaches. We began to see the fish returning, turtles nesting that had not been there since folks could remember and the reefs were coming alive again.
This is when I began my regular snorkeling adventures!
During this time I continued teaching and practicing YogAlign – pain-free yoga from your inner core. I began realizing much of my movements in the water reflected my movements in YogAlign. Not to mention breathing through the snorkel replicated the SIP breath in my practice. Like snorkeling a full body activity we too in YogAlign engage the entire body in practice and view the body as a whole.
The primary muscle groups engaged while snorkeling include:
Hip flexors, ham strings, upper and lower abdominal’s, quads and gluteul muscles
A fair amount of flexibility in the ankle region as well as the ability to point the toes like a dancer is necessary (if you prefer to avoid leg and foot cramps).
A strong core (abdominal, Oblique and back muscles) help to create a stable platform for legs to kick as well as a balance in your front and back leg strength.
Here is were the sitting in a chair comes in as none of the above mentioned muscle groups are engaged during sitting – it is quite the opposite. (the average American spends 7.7 hours a day sitting)
Having said that you take an average person who sits 7.7 hours a day in a chair and he or she decides one day to go snorkeling chances are the ocean reefs (fragile underwater ecosystem) and themselves are going to suffer.
How because he or she would be expecting their bodies to preform in a way it is incapable of preforming. The primary muscle groups that need to be engaged while snorkeling have amnesia from sitting. Flexibility in the ankles and pointing of the toes would be limited – due to the shortening and tightening of the front line while sitting. Their core would be void creating an unstable platform for their legs to kick not to mention the unbalance between the back and front leg muscles.
How does all of this effect the oceans reefs?
On my last snorkeling adventure I realized I had gained greater endurance, strength and stamina (all supported by my regular YogAlign practice). However when I looked all around me as far as my eye could see people were STANDING ON THE REEFS! Why? Because they were tired and or had leg/ foot cramps and difficulty breathing (and yes I asked).
I swam up and said do you realize you are standing on a fragile underwater ecosystem that has had a years gift to repair itself from the endless years of damage it has received? Usually the response was I was so tired I could not get back to shore or I was having trouble breathing and got a leg cramp. lol
I encourage everyone to get out and get moving including snorkeling however, not at the sake of our ocean reefs (fragile underwater ecosystems) or their safety. #getupstandupforyourlife
You may want to stand up while you read this — and a lot of other stuff.
Experts now say you should start standing up at work for at least two hours a day — and work your way toward four.
That’s a long-awaited answer for a growing number of workers who may have heard of the terrible health effects of prolonged sitting and been wondering whether they should buy standing desks or treadmill desks.
Today, the average office worker sits for about 10 hours, first all those hours in front of the computer, plowing through e-mails, making calls or writing proposals — and eating lunch. And then all those hours of sitting in front of the TV or surfing the Web at home.
According to the expert statement released in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, Americans should begin to stand, move and take breaks for at least two out of eight hours at work. Then, Americans should gradually work up to spending at least half of your eight-hour work day in what researchers call these “light-intensity activities.”
“Our whole culture invites you to take a seat. We say, ‘Are you comfortable? Please take a seat?’ So we know we have a huge job in front of us,” said Gavin Bradley, director of Active Working, an international group aimed at reducing excessive sitting that, along with Public Health England, convened the expert panel. “Our first order of business is to get people to spend two hours of their work day NOT sitting. However you do it, the point is to just get off your rear end.”
Bradley said the first level of activity is simply standing.
“I’m standing right now while I’m talking on the phone,” he said. While the group endorses the use of sit/stand desks, Bradley said there are other activities that can get people to move for two hours during the work day. “Taking your calls standing. Walking around. Pacing. Holding standing meetings. Walking meetings. Walking over to a colleague’s desk instead of sending an e-mail. Using the stairs instead of the elevator. Taking a lunch break. Simple stuff.”
Bradley himself has changed the way he works completely since taking on this challenge to get people out of their seats: He starts his day standing on a comfort mat and has his sit-stand desk programmed to tell him, through a pop up notification on his computer, to change his posture every 20 to 30 minutes.
It’s all about mixing it up,” he said. “Metabolism slows down 90 percent after 30 minutes of sitting. The enzymes that move the bad fat from your arteries to your muscles, where it can get burned off, slow down. The muscles in your lower body are turned off. And after two hours, good cholesterol drops 20 percent. Just getting up for five minutes is going to get things going again. These things are so simple they’re almost stupid.”
Researchers have known about the link between inactivity and higher rates of sickness and mortality dating back to studies of bus drivers and office-based postal workers in the 1950s. And more recent observational studies comparing workers who sit for long periods against those who sit for fewer hours have found that sedentary workers have more than twice the risk of developing type 2 diabetes and cardiovascular disease, a 13 percent increased risk of cancer and 17 percent increased risk of dying.
At the same time, with the rise of office work, the use of cars and buses rather than walking or bicycles, and the rise of leisure pursuits like TV and computer games that favor the couch potato, the world has become more sedentary. The World Health Organization estimates that 95 percent of the world’s adult population is inactive, failing to meet minimum recommendations for health of 30 minutes of moderate to intense physical activity five times a week.
Authors of the new guidelines said they were a starting point only, and designed to give people some kind of research-based target, rather than rely on the claims made by the manufacturers of treadmill and sit-stand desks that are becoming all the rage. (More than 90 percent of workers in Scandinavia have access to them.)
“This is an initial guidance, which we do expect to have to evolve with time,” said James Buckley, one of the report authors and a professor at the Institute of Medicine at the University Centre Shrewsbury and University of Chester. “But to ensure the marketing and promotions people to race away with self-determined claims, we have felt it is better to have some guidance rather than no guidance that is some how linked with scientific evidence.”
James Levine, an obesity expert at the Mayo Clinic and author of the book, “Stand Up,” though not involved in the guidelines, said they were a good start. In his work, he found that the reason why some people seem to eat a lot, never work out, yet never put on weight, is because they’re standing, walking and moving more throughout the day, rather than sitting for hours on end.
The guidelines “show we need to fundamentally rethink the way we’re working,” Levine said. Some small studies, he said, have found not only health improved, but also productivity ticked up 15 percent when people stood and moved more during the day. “The way we have developed our workplaces and even our schools is actually profoundly unhealthy. It’s a real design failure.”
But it’s not just office design, the researchers say. It’s work culture. Shannon Wurthman is a case in point. When Wurthman, 29, moved with her husband to Urbana, Ill., she left her office job and became a freelance consultant for web development companies and social media organizations. She began working at home.
“In the office, there’s so much pressure to sit – the feeling is, if your butt’s not in your seat, you’re probably not doing your job,” she said. “But now that I’m working at home, I don’t get up and walk around to talk to people. I’m not walking to meetings. I’m not even walking to and from my car in the parking lot.”
She has the flexibility to take walks during the day. But she doesn’t. “I get so caught up in my work,” she said. Plus, her work in social media keeps her digitally connected at all hours. And, research has found, people who telework tend to put in longer hours than office workers.
But Levine and other researchers said change is on the horizon. Some companies are holding standing meetings. Jennifer Heimberg, a physicist at the National Academy of Sciences, goes on a run with her boss for her annual performance evaluation. “It can be easier to introduce difficult topics when you aren’t sitting across the desk from each other,” she said.
Ikea is marketing a cheaper sit-stand desk. And Apple’s new watch can be programmed to tell people when it’s time to move.
Jessica DeGroot, who heads the nonprofit ThirdPath Institute designed to help people better integrate their work and home lives, can also find herself caught up in work.
“But I know that I think better when I get up and walk outside,” she said.
So at a recent conference, she paired up attendees and had them “Walk and Talk” from 2:30 to 3 p.m.
“At the typical conference, people have been sitting all day, and by 2 or 3 o’clock, they’re drained,” she said. “Instead, when people came back from the walk, they were smiling and engaged. Strangers sat down next to each other just so they could keep on talking they were so jazzed. It was fun to watch.”
Michaelle Edwards is one of the most free-thinking, iconoclastic, revolutionary yoga teachers in the world. She is one of the first modern postural yoga teachers, who over 20 years ago, began introducing curvy, dynamic myofascial alignment in her public classes in rebellion to the yoga world’s standard model of static, linear stretching. Her leading edge book, “YogAlign: Pain-free Yoga from Your Inner Core” (published in 2011) emphasizes health through natural alignment of an anterior tilt of the pelvis and an activation of the posterior chain of fascia. She has infused her postural method, YogAlign with techniques that allow the body to heal by rewiring the innate postural software using core breathing, primal body positions, self-massage, proprioception enhancement, visualization, experiential anatomy, and activation of the psoas/diaphragm connection. Michaelle has been a student of yoga for more than 40 years and a teacher for more than 25. She is the founder and director of Kauai Yoga School, offering teacher trainings, retreats, and workshops in Kauai and worldwide.
Bowspring method is much in agreement with Michaelle’s curvy, natural alignment ideas, so it was reinforcing and supportive for me to have a full conversation and interview with her back in the Spring of this year to discuss the new paradigm of dynamic, curvy alignment.Michaelle speaks boldly and provocatively, yet with care and concern for yoga students worldwide who inadvertently hurt themselves with their regular asana practice of the standard model of linear alignment. In this eye-opening interview, Michaelle contrasts passive, heavy, hyper-extended linear alignment, which is common today in modern postural yoga, with a radically new, curvy, springy posture in which the back of the body is actively engaged. This new paradigm of alignment, expressed by both Bowspring and YogAlign, embraces animal-like, primal movements that brings lightness and agile power to the practitioner. Despite all of its health, therapeutic, and fitness benefits, the new curvy alignment paradigm continues to get push-back from the status quo of the yoga world. Michaelle openly shares about the opposition she has faced from the mainstream yoga world, which is economically invested in the old paradigm and afraid to shift paradigms. Yet, the standard model is breaking down as more and more new students are embracing wavy, dynamic postural alignment.
John – Michaelle, who has been your greatest influence in the creation of YogAlign?
Michaelle – My answer is the human body. In reality, it took many years and specifically hundreds of hours to create YogAlign and it came about mostly from my own explorations in my practice as well as conducting private classes with clients. Teaching one-on-one is key because I could actually observe if anything was changing using the techniques I was developing. I realized that in order to feel balanced in our structure, we have to change the automatic programming of posture and movement by engaging the conscious and unconscious aspects of our vestibular system thereby increasing proprioception in the client. I practiced yoga for 20 years before I trained as a bodyworker (massage therapist). I realized after a few years of doing bodywork that most chronic pain is a result of posture and movement imbalances and massage; although it was beneficial to the client, was not enough to really change postural alignment at the neuromuscular (brain) level.
At the same time, I had yoga injuries and was beginning to see clearly that – Modern Postural Yoga (MPY) alignment – was not working the way I was taught to believe it was. That’s when I started changing and creating a whole new system of yoga based more on maintaining the spinal curves and also developing poses based of posture alignment rather than alignment of the ‘pose’. We use a great deal of movement in YogAlign because this is how the brain learns new patterns.
One of the ancient tenets of yoga is that ‘change is possible’. I have felt a keen desire to give people tools to make changes that could lead to a feeling of ease and stability in the body and the mind. Over my many decades of teaching, many people would say they could not do yoga because it felt so uncomfortable or it was unattainable to them. I wanted to create a way to do yoga that made anatomical sense and would support how we move in the body naturally rather than just ‘performing poses’. Why not do yoga in a way that felt comfortable and allowed everyone to do it? That made sense to me. Many of our habits in the body and mind happen in the unconscious mind or in the autonomic nervous system. I became fascinated with ways to tap into our natural ‘bio-intelligence’ and learn how to change the body by changing the way the brain automatically dictates our posture and how we move. So, in YogAlign and FitAlign, re-programming the brain is one of the key elements to facilitate change on a deep level.
The body is designed to move so it made sense to create something using movement rather than some yoga poses, which are static body positions; and some of them go against the way our body is designed to move.
Also so many people told me that yoga felt so uncomfortable or unattainable to them. I wanted to create a way to do yoga that felt comfortable and allowed everyone to do it. That made sense to me. Reprogramming the brain is the key element to the work I do with YogAlign and FitAlign Posture Training.
YogAlign is a form of somatic re-education, and we do not try to force the body – the re-alignment is more like blooming it from the inside. I train people to use breathing in a way that recruits the trunk muscles as stabilizers to align the spine in its natural curves and position the sacrum in its natural 30 degree nutation.
I think it’s definitely more natural to have a slight anterior tilt. You can see in pictures of people in Africa of these guys that stay totally strong into their 90’s – they have a lot of anterior tilt to the pelvis.
Most yoga instructors (and people in general) tell others to pull their navel in if they think they have lordosis. When there is lordosis, or excessive lumbar curve I use the breathing to create a lengthening of the lumbar as well as aligning the rib cage over the hips. For people with a flat or posterior tilted sacrum, and SI joint pain – it is best to do movements and breathing that restore the lumbar curve and sacral nutation.
Traditional yoga forward bends are not practiced in YogAlign as we keep the anterior flexors and posterior extensor chains engaged in all movements.
Bending forward to do a pose like Uttanasana can create laxity in the ligaments of the posterior chain including the spine, sacrum, hip, hamstring and knee area. There is a belief system in yoga that stretching the posterior chain to make the hamstrings and back looser or longer is beneficial. However, we need a strong back and so why not practice being upright instead of forward? Also, the ligaments of the spine, sacrum and hip are stretched and pulled apart in doing straight leg forward bending, which is so common in mainstream yoga.
So, that’s what I’ve been teaching for years is to stop trying to pull things apart. Instead, pull things together. I look at a lot of what people are doing and to me it looks like they are just trying to pull their limbs away from their body. Though my views are counter to most of the industry, what I do teach is still Yoga. Although I have friends say to me, “you know this is really great, but this isn’t Yoga,” I’ll say, In YogAlign, we practice asana and breathing that helps us move and breath from the center of our body and that is the middle path so often described in the yoga sutras. In yoga philosophy, we are encouraged to practice ahimsa or non-violence and YogAlign is comfortable and safe so we feel that we are practicing ahimsa in asana. Many people told me how uncomfortable yoga was for them so I decided to practice ahimsa and make YogAlign steady and comfortable. People are coming to my classes, and saying they feel more comfortable and stable in their body, and when they feel more comfortable in their body, their mind is naturally more peaceful, so they get what they are looking for in yoga.
J – To get some more clarity on the historical beginning of YogAlign, when did you start to open up to other ideas of alignment instead of the classical forms in Iyengar Yoga and Ashtanga Yoga. Do you remember the year?
M – My son was born in ‘87, so probably around ‘95.
J – Yeah, that’s important to note because a lot of people after they hit 40-years old attribute their pain in yoga mainly to their age. They don’t consider the source of the pain in their yoga practice to be the widely accepted standard model alignment. For you, as you are now moving into your mid-60’s, it sounds like the curvy alignment method of YogAlign has helped you age in a very healthy way.
M – Basically, what I try to do in YogAlign is in response to the fact that we’re all so out of alignment from sitting in chairs. We’ve all got these breathing problems because of our posture because we’ve been forced into the chair which is a linear right angle and not a natural shape for the curving design structure of the human body. So, basically my whole focus is to restore the natural spinal curves, but also including the knee curve and the foot curve.
I have experience with a number of people who have torn the hamstring tendon off the sit bones doing vinyasa flow types of yoga. They felt no pain until the attachment pulled away from the bone. These people were never told that trying to bend forward in a straight line and even using the hands to create tensions and pulling on the back side of the body will undermine the necessary tension in the ligaments and also lead to laxity and collapse of the natural curves of the posterior chain. I’ve been telling people this for a long time, the human body is made of curves, we’re not made of linear lines. These curves act as shock absorbers and help our body to undulate during movement so keep the curves! So, I don’t do poses like staff pose. I don’t see any point in that – trying to flatten the body into a right angle doesn’t make sense to me.
So far, I am not being invited to teaching in the popular yoga conferences and perhaps its because I’m too different. There has been a lot of pushback and alienation over the years because of my views on yoga pose alignment and the importance of working with the body globally rather than in parts. I also have had hundreds of people contact me who have serious injuries from yoga and they are afraid and feel that their body failed them. I give them a safe and effective way to continue to practice and/or teach.
J – So, in the mid-1990’s, you’re following your own heart and just feeling what alignment is right in your body. You’re feeling that we need to return to these curves and allowing the pose to come from inside – is that more like it?
M – My whole idea is that the Universe is in a state of contraction and expansion, and you want to walk that line between. The way I teach the breath is that if you’re in a position that is compressing the spine, the breath won’t move. So, you can use the breath as a barometer to know how close you are to the middle balance place. I stay away from extreme extension and extreme flexion of the spine. I focus more on a neutral spine.
I used to think that going to the end range of flexion or extension and having my joints as flexible as possible was going to be good for me. Now I know that that is absolutely not true. There is science showing that you don’t create the middle neutral posture by going to the end ranges. I believed it for years, and I believed that making my body as flexible as possible was going to be good for me, and it was a mistaken idea. A flexible spine is an unstable spine and statistics show that those with a loose, flexible spine have the most back pain.
I do explore beyond the neutral spine of course. It’s not that I don’t to go into flexion or extension. I just don’t go to the end range. I relate it to how you use your body in real life. Do you need to extend or flex your spine that far to function in the world?
Although, I get my students on the fitness balls and they go into really deep backbends, I don’t let them do it passively. I train them to engage their muscles.
I’m not a proponent of Yin Yoga as I think passive stretching is really problematic. It is important to engage the muscles to make the joints move. Holding the body in static positions can create laxity in forces needed for upright stable alignment. I think that the benefit of just staying with your breath and mindfulness is important, but you can do that taking a walk.
J – Let’s talk about the benefits and the downside of the most static yin positions. Do you find any benefit? How does that alignment serve?
M – I think again, if you’re in passive spinal flexion – say you’re gone to do Child’s pose or something like that – it’s like hanging meat off a hook or something. It’s going to start to pull the structures apart. To me, collectively we have such a big issue with people going forward. I don’t see the point in making a body flexible by bending it more forward. My version of a yin pose, would be more, to lie on a support in Shavasana. Most people are so forward (contracted on their front line) that just laying on a floor is to them, an opening.
In a loaded spinal flexion – when people hang on their ankles in a forward bend and pull with their spine in a C-shape – they can do a lot of damage because there can be so much more torque from pulling into it using their arms.
Recently, I had a discussion with a guy online that was telling me that my before and after YogAlign pictures are just anecdotal and did not prove anything. I said well, let’s talk about Janu Sirsasana – where you are sitting, you bend one knee in and you’re gonna flex your spine over the other leg. I asked him if he ever saw injuries in that pose? This guy teaches some kind of Ashtanga vinyasa flow derivative.
He’s says, “Yeah, I’ve seen people herniate their discs, de-stabilise their SI joints, hurt their knees, and he said especially when they power in there using their hands on the ankles to pull forwards.” I asked him if he has seen these injuries? “Yeah.”
Do you see a benefit? “No, there’s no benefits to Janu Sirsasana,” he replied.
So, I asked, “But do you still teach the pose?” “Yes,” he said, “you don’t need a reason to teach a yoga pose. It’s just a challenge.” That’s what this guy said.
We’re having this discussion online and then I said, “I’ve been working on YogAlign for more than a couple of decades. I’d be happy to send you my book and see if you might be interested in reading what I’ve been doing with yoga.” “No”, he replied, “I just started PT school, so I don’t have time.” He didn’t think that was scientific. He is one of these people that has probably taken a logic course and likes to go line-by-line through one of my articles to and try and debunk it by saying it is simply ‘anecdotal evidence’ or ‘non-secular’.
J – That is very interesting, because it’s been just 5 years for Desi and I with the Bowspring method, and there is so much is just exactly the same. We naturally discovered what you’ve been doing for a couple of decades — of not going to the extremes in the poses, finding the natural curvy spinal alignment — and then getting push back for teaching it. We have gotten used to being trolled and attacked for also disturbing the standard paradigm.
M – People (yoga teachers) are trying to protect their livelihoods. I taught at a couple of conferences and people came and took one of my classes along with many other classes offered on the conference menu. After the first day, I’ve got gangs of students following me around asking questions and obviously excited for a different perspective. But I also have other teachers over in the corner avoiding eye contact or discussion with me. What would happen is that students would come in and take my class and then go into the next class and say, “wait a minute, we just learned that spine alignment is not beneficial, and we don’t want to do that now.” The conflict in the alignment paradigms seems to cause problems, so for now, YogAlign is not yet offered at the big yoga conferences.
J – What is the first step in helping people to shift their mind?
You’ve been doing it for so long, you know the tendencies for the students’ minds.
What are some of your strategies in helping the students to open their mind and maybe even switch systems of alignment?
M – I explain, “this may challenge some of your practices and belief systems. I’m not saying that this is the only way, I’m just presenting to you my experience and what’s been working.
I encourage students to focus on the value and functional benefits rather than the belief systems about a yoga pose or exercise. I’m very careful to consider people’s feelings and their experiences because I have seen some of them almost have nervous breakdowns once they get the global body concept and realize what they may have been doing to their body for decades.
I’ve had people start shaking, crying. Because they realize, in order for them to understand it, they have to view the body differently, they have to see it globally.
I take pictures, so they see it looks so much different and it feels that much different, they go, ‘whoa! I feel really light, energized, strong.’
Very few people, once they have taken my class, will go back to straight line body positions or linear right angle poses. They tell me, ‘you’ve ruined yoga classes for me. I can’t go anymore.’
I say, “You can adjust what you’re doing and still go to yoga classes. Many people in the yoga world are adjusting the way they teach and questioning what they teach. Back when you and I started yoga, John, it was considered disrespectful to question the teacher or the practice.
By the time the students come to me, they’ve already been around the yoga block and they’re hurting or they have pain they do not understand. A lot of people will come to me and say, “I always thought that poses just didn’t feel right. So I quit doing yoga.”
Most people will think that it is the fault of their individual body – that there is something wrong with them. What I do is give them the understanding that they are not designed to bend over with their knees straight, not designed to touch their toes and try to pull on their hamstrings to get deeper.
They go, “OH!” when they see that it’s a big relief to them – that they don’t have this tyranny that they have to always stretch things out. Most people have a feeling of guilt when they say, “I can’t stretch, so I am really bad at yoga.”
You don’t see a lot of men in yoga classes because their back body including their hamstrings and butt muscles are so developed that their body won’t let them bend forward without a deep bend to the knees. I joke around that we women make all the men do the hard work. We don’t have strength in our backs, so we can just flop forward. Men may feel that they can’t do yoga because they’re not good at it and they don’t want to look foolish. But usually, I have half and half (men and women) in my classes because the men feel comfortable, they can do it. That’s another great thing.
I think a lot of yoga has become elitist, where only certain body types and certain people can keep up, and it leaves a big part of our population out. Anyone can do my class. You don’t have to be 25 and hyper-mobile. I think that yoga is leaving a lot of people behind because of that.
One of the things I recently read about is that they are seeing a big link between people with hyper-mobility, perhaps born with a connective tissue disorder, and anxiety and stomach disorders.
J – That’s very interesting. Can say more about that?
M – Hyper-mobility is now being related to anxiety, stomach disorders and fibromyalgia. I think it could be the proprioceptors/mechano receptors in the ligaments and other connective tissue that are relaying to the brain that something is not stable in the joint area. The brain may respond by creating a sympathetic state in the nervous system that leads to many kinds of autoimmune diseases. Stress creates higher levels of cortisol, less blood to the organs etc., and it is possible that over-stretching may do the same thing. What I understood is that the researchers know there is this health problem with laxity in the connective tissue, but they don’t know why.
J – We also see with students that low tone of the connective tissue leads to adverse effects in the nervous system. Our hypothesis is that the connective tissue, particularly the fascia, when it is low tone or very lax, doesn’t give the nervous system the necessary balanced level of uniform engagement that a natural posture provides. The nervous system can freak out into classic fibromyalgia symptoms. The fascia moves away from the bone and its stable centerline, and it becomes spongy. Anxiety is a normal fibromyalgia symptom.
M – I think that the movement to foam roll the fascia and use balls to loosen their tissue is happening without consideration of how the nervous system responds to all that we do. I remind people that it is most likely a bad idea to make connective tissue too loose. Fascia has a natural recoil which helps us move forward as much as the contraction of our muscles.
Years ago, they studied that kangaroos capacity to jump so far from a static position, which was originally attributed to some sort of special muscle tissue, but then they realized the power to jump came from fascial recoil. We have the same type of fascia recoil in our body as the kangaroo. We have the necessary good ‘tensional forces’ in our body needed to keep the tissues resilient and strong, which we don’t want to reduce by passively stretching connective tissue.
J – How do you deal with the difficult students – the ones with the biggest push back to this new paradigm alignment? Do you find it’s the yoga teachers who have the most difficulty or trouble with this curvy alignment?
M – By the time someone comes to a YogAlign workshop, they’ve already read my book or seen some of my videos, they already want to hear what I have to say. But I tell them, “Don’t believe me. This is just the beginning. I’m giving you tools, and you have to work with your body. And if you want to teach this, you gotta get out there and experiment by teaching.
But in terms of the pushback, the negative comments on an article I wrote or my alignment ideas, I think that some of it comes from people feeling threatened. Others want to blindly believe things like “ no yoga pose is inherently bad for the body’. I have heard that as an argument to dispute the natural spine alignment in YogAlign.
Yoga hasn’t been questioned for so long because it has sort of a ‘religious’ protection around it, and you don’t question the church’s beliefs, you know.
I just worked with an older yoga teacher from NZ and she said “thank you for giving me my asana practice back, because I practically gave up on it because of my injures and my discomfort.”
So if anything, I feel that I’m trying to help put yoga teachers back in a working condition – because once they start hurting, and when they realize it’s their yoga, they can really suffer a lot of anxiety and/or denial. Those who have a conscience about what they are teaching, question, “what am I showing to other people?”
They realize, ‘I better quit this damaging alignment, and I want to learn how to do this so I’m able to teach in a safer and more effective manner.’
Most of the people counter against my warning about the dangers of the standard yoga alignment with, “well, I only teach gentle yoga”, but I say just because the alignment is slow and easy, doesn’t mean it’s gentle on your body.
J – In the short-term, you can do a sitting forward bend and it can feel good. But that postural form as a long-term practice and lifestyle is degenerative. These common misalignments are now catching up on the health and joint mobility of many experienced yoga teachers. Yet, they don’t know yet about an alternative, new alignment paradigm. That is one reason why it is important for us to spread this information to support the growing awareness about curvy, dynamic alignment.
There is a lot of questioning starting to happen in the dogmatic yoga culture. However, the standard model is pretty deeply ingrained in modern postural yoga.
M – What you and I are teaching is more about alignment — about how your posture is like a program to support the function and longevity of your joints.
But I think that the bread and butter of teacher trainings has been the performance of yoga poses.
To me, the word ‘pose’, which if you look it up in the dictionary, it says, ‘to strike a position’, to make one look sexy and powerful. There might be some benefit to holding poses for a short amount of time, but certainly not the five-minute static Virabhadrasana (Warrior pose) and that stuff. Most of my work is movement-oriented.
The idea of posture and alignment is changing and people are waking up to the fact that the body is a continuum and all parts affect the whole.
John, you have had a big influence on changing yoga. The basis of Anusara alignment – the Loops and Spirals and other principles. You got people to turn and think in another direction and see that there’s more to the body than the cut and dry, linear alignment.
It’s so much more fun for me to teach this way, so much more dynamic. Without being attached to standard model, you’re learning all the time as a teacher, not confined in a box.
There are some other posture educators like Kathleen Porter talking about how babies shouldn’t be put in those C-shaped carriers, since we start collapsing the sacrum in the infant stage. My theory is that babies should walk a lot sooner than they do. My son crawled at 3.5 months and walked at 7 months. By the time he was one years old, he was running and dancing. I simply let him move, swim and be on his stomach so that he could push up with his arms and engage his back muscles. We don’t let the babies engage their back muscles enough.
J – So in functional movement, how much focus do you give to the action of the glutes?
M – I do a lot of exercises that recruit the glutes, which are part of the extensors of the back chain of myo-fascial tissue that includes the entire back, hamstrings and the back of the neck. Most people have their head forward, their hamstrings disengaged, sacrum flat with their non-existent butts. So, I do a lot of things to recruit the extensor chain in positions where the cranium and the sacrum are in line.
I also focus on the breathing apparatus and recruiting the midline. If your breathing apparatus is collapsed — if your ribs, for instance, are collapsed, it doesn’t matter what you do, you’re not going to be able to align your posture. So, this imbalanced alignment, in which it is difficult to expand your ribs when you breath, is really disturbing to me.
I think the whole Yoga thing might be falling apart from the inside out.
I think that when the mainstream media really does an in-depth report on what we know now about alignment – all these people getting hip replacements, etc. – the yoga industry may get a lot of backlash from orthopedic surgeons and physical therapists.
I obtained the ‘YogaInjuries.com’ domain in 2008 when there was no other websites on yoga injuries and now there are hundreds of similar sites.
People are going to start thinking… ‘whoa, maybe this pose alignment isn’t that good for us?!’ This growing awareness among the public is why I think the yoga world is scrambling now to try to respond to the increasing number of injuries.
You know, everybody is learning all this anatomy in yoga teacher training. But I tell people that it is not enough for a yoga teacher to learn a bunch of anatomical terms and the names of various bones and parts. You have to understand how it all works together. Just naming a bunch of separate body parts or seeing some image where the hamstring is highlighted in blue does not help people understand the global nature of the body.
The hamstrings do not exist in isolation and are part of the extensor chain which is the entire posterior chain. That’s the trend I’m seeing — you might know all the names of the bones and muscles, but you don’t know that they don’t exist in isolation. And do you know what you need to do to teach someone to recruit them in their natural chains? If you don’t, all that information on separate anatomical parts is not going to be enough information to change the global picture at the nervous system level.
J – You mentioned to me in a recent email about a “saggy sacrum.” Can you please elaborate on that?
M – Forward bends recruit the flexor chain to shorten tremendously. As it does, and especially as the psoas shortens or as the navel is pulled in, the sacrum is going to flatten. It causes the natural nutation of the sacrum that should be there – the 30 degree tilt – to flatten and to tug backwards on the sacroiliac joint. Then of course the skull will likely be pulled forward, because it’s all connected. You’re generally not going to observe someone with a saggy butt and see a skull aligned with the rest of the spine.
I received a letter from an Australian man. He said, ‘Oh my god, my girlfriend started Yoga 6 months ago. Her butt is disappearing, her sacrum is flat. I don’t like it, it doesn’t look good. I told her that too. This can’t be good anatomically, it just can’t be good. You’ve got to write my girlfriend now!’
Another yoga teacher injured from hip openers who started a Facebook group about yoga and movement explains that she was told to relax her butt in the backbends. I said to her, ‘but to think beyond just back-bending and see all of yoga. She did thousands of forward bends without using her back or butt extensor forces. If you’re glutes are recruited, you wouldn’t be able to bend over into a forward bend. In other words, you don’t use your butt in forward bends. I .am not sure she understood what I was saying.
J – Even I taught that you could do any forward bend while squeezing your butt. In Anusara yoga, I always had the glutes going down, yet that’s not a functional direction.
I think that there is a big confusion about what is good postural alignment. There are two separate optimal alignments – a natural functional, dynamic alignment versus a passive, quiet alignment that is best for rest and sleep. Neither alignment is to be used 24 hours a day. For a healthy, balanced life, we need both dynamic, curvy alignment and a static, more linear, C-curved alignment.
M – Right, that’s a good way of putting it. What is commonly taught is forcing the natural design of the body in another direction. I tell people, you look at any 2-year old, and they have perfect posture. They have a really strong butt, their head is sitting on top, they have a slight anterior tilt, they don’t push their knees back when standing or bending forward.
Then what do we do? We put the children in a chair. That’s the insanity – the chairs are the deep cause to the global misalignment in the western world. So why do we then practice yoga poses such as staff pose that are the same shape as a chair?
I’m going to start doing something for the schools here, for the 6th graders. Because I’m concerned about this movement to have kids do yoga, since that’s not a good thing either. They shouldn’t be stretching their joints, their end plates of their bones aren’t even properly formed till about age 16- 18.
Even though a 14-year old girl who did Ashtanga Yoga in the school said she got a labrum tear from doing this alignment and she couldn’t do sports anymore, they didn’t even listen to her because everybody thinks that yoga is so harmless.
J – Oh, that’s unfortunate. Sorry to hear that.
M – I think the main thing is if we never say… ‘we’d feel uncomfortable in our mind, you created a yoga, yoga came from a feeling of separation and I think we’re so separate from our body, from being in that linear angle, so that’s why we need to move more towards paying attention to the global nature of the human body.
It’s like I tell people, you wouldn’t drive a car 100 miles an hour down a bumpy road to think about how you are using your car, and if this way is beneficial in the long run? I’m getting younger, and younger people that are listening.
One young gal, she’s only 23, she started passing out and it was from her hypermobility. She now says it’s hard because her friends don’t want to listen to her about the problems with the stretchy, flexy alignment. But she’s trying.
J – Thank you, Michaelle for this insightful interview. This paradigm-shifting idea of wavy, springy alignment is now starting to spread out more and more, so hopefully we won’t have to wait decades before there is a big awakening!
A few years ago, James Levine, a doctor of endocrinology at the Mayo Clinic, sparked a radical change in America’s office furniture. His research had inspired a pile of viral stories cataloging the negative effects of sitting at a desk: leg muscles shut down, blood pressure increases, good cholesterol plummets, your children starve. OK, I made up that last one, but the real takeaway was no less dire. “Excessive sitting is a lethal activity,” Levine, who has studied sedentary behavior for nearly 20 years and is the most widely quoted expert on the topic, told The New York Times in 2011. And the solution—at least the one people heard—was to start standing.
Cue the office makeovers. Over the next several years, workers all across America embraced stand-up desks. At Outside’s headquarters in Santa Fe, our building manager furiously reconfigured work spaces. Desks were removed from their shelving brackets, raised a foot and a half, and remounted. Walking the hallways, I’d do double takes every time I realized that another editor had taken a stand against sitting. Close to half our offices were eventually converted. Good science had spurred a small change that was dramatically improving our health. We were literally rising from the dead!
Or were we? The stand-up revolution was followed by another wave of stories reporting that being on your feet in the same place all day has its own downsides, including increased risk of cardiovascular problems. What’s more, at least at Outside, few people’s habits really changed. This morning, I took a tour around our building to assess our commitment to stand-up desks. In 14 of the converted spaces, editors were either hunched over on stools or perched on chairs that they had elevated to meet the new level. They were still sitting, only higher. In a half-dozen other cases, people had simply lowered their desks back to their old positions.
When I called Levine and told him what had happened at Outside, he let out the sigh of a man who’d heard all this before. “It’s not the furniture that makes the difference, it’s the behavior,” he said. “The desk without the behavior doesn’t help you.”
In other words, we missed the larger point that Levine and his colleagues were trying to convey. The solution to sitting isn’t to stand, though it helps. In fact, according to the findings of a 2015 consensus panel on the topic, we need to be on our feet two to four hours while at work. But the real solution is to move. All day. The stillness is what’s killing us. We should be pacing the hallways and climbing stairs and squatting and lunging and stretching.
Now that requires a radical change, one exponentially more difficult than putting your desk on stilts. But aiming for more movement might also be the most important habit you adopt from an issue of Outside packed with 72 pages of fitness advice. This is especially true if, like me, you exercise vigorously each day and therefore consider yourself healthy. Researchers have shattered that idea. I might run for an hour every weekday morning, but studies show that if I then go to work and sit at my desk for epic stretches, which I do, I am no more immune to the side effects of sedentary living than the prototypical couch potato.
When I accepted this scary conclusion, I realized how difficult moving really is. I’m not like my ancestors who worked on a farm where motion was an all-day requirement. My job seems specifically designed to keep me wasting away in a chair. A phone and a computer allow me to communicate and conduct business with nearly any writer on earth without leaving a two-foot radius.
Then there’s the fact that, as Levine put it, “people don’t like change.” In one of his more recent studies, subjects who agreed to take on a rigorous regimen to move throughout their workday saw an initial spike in stress levels. Not surprisingly, the repeated prompts from researchers to exercise were pissing them off. Eventually, those subjects who managed to stick with the plan experienced an overall decrease in stress—and, corporate-HR types should note, a 15 percent increase in productivity. But therein lies another challenge. How do you actually stick with a two-hour movement plan without a team of researchers to keep you honest? Especially when you consider what might be the biggest hurdle of all: the public embarrassment. Moving all day requires one to willfully perform lunges and complex yoga stretches and push-ups in a place where such behavior seems loony. “Getting off your bottom is almost forbidden,” said Levine. “We have to have environments that send the right message.”
Still, I was determined to be the guy who changed his behavior. (Writing this article was a great motivator.) It didn’t go so well at first. I arrived at work determined to move more, but once I sat at my desk, old habits glued me to the computer and I forgot all about my intentions. So I placed a sticky note on my office door that said FARTHER, a little prompt reminding me to use the facility most distant from me every time I needed a drink of water or bathroom break. I also connected my computer to the printer downstairs and across the building. And rather than sending e-mails or using the phone, I tried to go directly to colleagues’ offices.
Once I had those tricks nailed, I got some digital help. There are dozens of fitness wearables that can remind you to move, from the basic step counter to the fully loaded Apple Watch. Instead, I went with a free phone app called Move. It buzzes every 45 minutes and assigns me a random exercise: say, 20 body-weight squats or 15 push-ups. These alerts initially drove me crazy. (Again?!) And their commands can be cloyingly phrased: “It’s time to move it, move it.” But eventually I welcomed the interruptions. I noticed that I felt refreshed when I returned to my desk, like I’d rebooted my clogged circuitry.
And the embarrassment? I haven’t exactly been a bold office revolutionary. Instead, I’ve meekly learned to be a stealth mover. Now I either find ways to look like I’m doing something perfectly normal or I make sure I don’t get caught. I do push-ups with an ear cocked toward the door, listening for approaching footsteps. I do wall sits in a corner that no one can see from the hallway. While I’m on the phone, I pace as if I’m carefully deliberating vital magazine business. At my desk, I do inconspicuous yoga poses with names like seated eagle and hip opener. I do laps around the building carrying papers to look as if I’m going somewhere, when all I’m really doing is walking in a large, 223-step circle back to my office. (If you want the full log from a recent day, see “Self Pro Motion,” below.)
Am I happier? Less stressed? More productive? Any conclusions I draw from my experiment would be based on anecdotal evidence, the enemy of real research. But here’s what’s certain: if I continue to squeeze in an extra hour or two of movement each day, I’ll be significantly healthier in the long run. That’s the takeaway Levine and his colleagues need us to hear.
If you want to dedicate yourself to a lifetime of good habits, don’t start at the gym. Start at the office.
What Three Hours of Daily Movements Looks Like
7 a.m. Morning run (45 minutes)
8:30 a.m. Walk to coffee shop (10 minutes)
9:15 a.m. 25 push-ups (1 minute)
10 a.m. Wall sit (2 minutes)
Walk around the building plus three flights of stairs (5 minutes)
10:45 a.m. 20 body-weight squats (2 minutes)
Trip to far water fountain (3 minutes)
11:30 a.m. Pick up papers at printer plus two flights of stairs (4 minutes)
12:15 p.m. 25 push-ups (1 minute)
15 side lunges, each leg (2 minutes)
Plank pose (2 minutes)
Pacing during phone call (10 minutes)
1 p.m. Walk around building for quick meetings (10 minutes)
Desk yoga: hip openers, seated eagles, spinal rotations, shoulder stretches (5 minutes)
2 p.m. 25 push-ups (1 minute)
2:30 p.m. Walking meeting (45 minutes)
3:30 p.m. 15 Hindu push-ups (1 minute)
20 side leg raises (1 minute)
4:15 p.m. Chair pose (1 minute)
20 body-weight squats (2 minutes)
Walk around the building (5 minutes)
“You need to learn how to connect with your glutes.”
That’s what my physical therapist told me after I pulled my hip flexor a few years ago for the third time in the previous two months. Honestly? I was puzzled, to say the least. I had been teaching group fitness for years, and I did glute-strengthening work several times a week. What was I doing wrong?
It turns out, all those times when I was pouring sweat and I thought I was strengthening my butt? My hamstrings, hips, and lower back were actually stepping in to do the work instead. I was feeling the burn—which gave me the illusion of success. It turns out I wasn’t feeling it in the right place.
As I dove deeper into learning about my glutes and the importance of glute strength and how to turn on these hard-to-connect-with muscles, my attention shifted during my workout. I became less focused on how the moves might affect the way I looked, and I was able to tune in a little deeper to how the moves felt in my body. The result? A more connected, meaningful sweat session—not to mention a little more compassion for myself. I created an entire online class devoted to strengthening your glutes right here in the hopes that sharing this knowledge can do the same for you.
Why glute strength isn’t just about looking good.
The glutes are one of the most major muscle groups in our bodies, and we need strong glutes to power us during our workouts and to perform simple day-to-day tasks—like picking something up off the floor, climbing stairs, or even just standing tall and upright.
Here’s the thing, though: Because of all the sitting we do, our hip flexors—those ropy muscles at the front of our hips and thighs—get short and tight. As a result, our glute muscles become limited in their range of movement and they weaken. Another harmful effect of sitting is that the glutes can become malnourished. Just like when you sit in a funky position and your leg falls asleep, the same thing is happening to our glutes on a regular basis.
When they don’t have access to regular blood flow and nourishment and this pattern is prolonged, our glutes can even forget how to turn on properly. They become desensitized, and they lose their ability to generate force—which means, even though we try to contract and fire our glute muscles, we can’t. Instead, the muscles in our legs, hips, and lower back take over to compensate for our loss of strength. And this leads to all kinds of health problems—including pelvic floor issues (think sneeze and pee) plus lower-back, knee, and ankle pain.
A 3-move guide to activating your glutes.
So how can we make sure our glute muscles are working efficiently? How can we light them up and train these muscles to work as a team so our body is functionally strong? I’ve got three effective butt-burning moves you can try right now to wake up your glutes and reinforce healthy muscle patterns in your body.
Move 1: Bridge Lifts
Set it up: Roll all the way down onto your back and bring your feet hip distance apart. Place your hands on your hip bones. Exhale, push your feet into the floor, and engage your glutes. Inhale, lift your hips a few inches.
Take it deeper: Push your feet down into the ground and then, without moving them, energetically drive your feet forward. Hug your low belly in and knit your ribs (so they’re not popping out). Every time you breathe in, imagine that you’re reaching the tops of your thighs and your knees away from you. As you breathe out, focus your attention on turning on your glutes even more. Option to press your palms down into your hip bones to add a little more resistance. Because the glutes are difficult for many of us to connect with, know it might take you a little while to activate these muscles. That’s OK. Just keep focusing. Persistence is key.
Add some movement: Make sure you can feel your glutes activate before you layer on movement.
Start to move your hips up a little bit and then down a little bit. Do 20 reps of small movement—if I were right there with you, I may not even be able to see you moving. When you’re done, try 20 reps of moving a little bit bigger.
Move 2: All Fours
Set it up: Come onto your forearms and knees. Extend your left leg back and bend your knee so your heel is firming tightly in toward your glutes. Lift your low belly so your lower back is supported.
Take it deeper: Without moving, energetically reach the top of your left thigh and knee behind you. It doesn’t matter how high your knee and thigh are lifting. What matters is finding the length. The more you can stretch the front of your thigh, the more your glutes can turn on.
Add some movement: Begin with 20 reps of smaller movement. Then increase your range of motion and try moving bigger. If you lose the connection with your glutes when you move bigger, go back to moving small. You’ll know the range of motion that is best for you because you’ll be able to feel your glutes activating the whole time. Be sure to repeat this on the right side so you stay balanced.
Move 3: Squat
Set it up: Step your feet out wider than your hips. Turn your toes out slightly. Bend your knees and drop your butt down.
Take it deeper: Dig your heels into the ground, and then without moving them, drag them energetically away from each other. Also, press your knees gently out, so they’re in line with your three outer toes. When you do, you’ll start to feel your glutes turning on.
Add some movement: Stand all the way up without pushing your hips forward. Then drop back down. Every time you lower, have the intention of digging your heels into the ground and pressing your knees out. If you’re having trouble feeling the burn in your glutes, go slower. The slower I go—particularly as I lower down into a squat—the more connected I feel.
Lower back pain is the most common symptom presented to GPs in the UK. According to recent figures from the Office for National Statistics almost 31 million days of work are lost every year due to back pain. Treating all types of back pain costs the NHS more than £1billion per year. The costs of care for low back pain alone, exceed £500 million a year. Lost production as a result of low back pain costs the UK economy £3.5billion a year.
According to NICE (National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence) low back pain results in many problems, including impaired quality of life, mobility and daily function; long-term morbidity; a higher risk of social exclusion through inability to work; reduced income; reliance on sickness benefits; and social isolation through disability. Low back pain represents a considerable burden to individuals, families, society and the economy (for example, loss of working days, and early retirement).
To be able to prevent the occurrence of low back pain it is important to first understand what causes it:
Improper lifting techniques
One of the most common causes of acute low back pain is from lifting something without adopting a proper lifting technique. If you lift something without bending your knees, or twist whilst lifting, then it puts pressure on many of the structures in your lower back that can cause pain. A proper lifting technique ensures all the weight and pressure is distributed throughout your leg muscles.
Tight buttock and hamstring muscles
Even if you do use a proper lifting technique, your lower back can still be left vulnerable to injury if your buttock and hamstring muscles are too tight. These muscles attach into your lower back so play a big role in supporting your back when lifting something up from the floor. Also, these muscles are designed to absorb the force from each walking step we take. If the muscles are tight then that force transfers straight through into the lower back. The average person takes approximately 6000 to 10,000 steps a day, so you can imagine over time it can cause pain in the lower back.
Poor core strength
Your core muscles are responsible for holding your spine and pelvis upright in every movement that is made, preventing us from falling over like a rag doll. It also protects certain structures within the spine from injury. These structures include discs and ligaments. If your core muscles are weak then it can lead to too much force from a particular movement going through your lower back causing either a ligament sprain or slipped disc. Poor core strength can also lead to poor posture in routine activities such as sitting and standing.
Poor posture is one of the most common causes of chronic low back pain, and can be the reason why a low back injury fails to get better. In our busy day to day lives the postures we adopt are often subconscious and habitual. Poor posture whilst sitting can cause muscles and tendons to overstrain, leaving them vulnerable to going into spasm.
Inactivity causes many of our low back muscles to lose strength and forget how to coordinate. If our muscles lose the ability to coordinate then it can leave the low back vulnerable to injuring from simple routine movements such as getting in and out of a car. The age old saying applies with inactivity when people say if you don’t use it you lose it.
We spend a third of our lives on a mattress sleeping so it’s not rocket science to understand that an old or weak mattress can cause low back pain. Depending on the sleeping position, a weak mattress can put your low back muscles under strain. You may feel as if the position you dose off to sleep in is comfortable but if you are in that position for up to 8 hours then it can leave muscles vulnerable to going into spasm.
Misalignments are the most under recognised cause of chronic low back pain. They can be caused by several things such as limping from a previous injury, soft mattresses, repetitive movements, pregnancy. Misalignments of the spinal joints puts pressure on the low back muscles during every movement you make. Misalignments of the pelvis can often cause a difference in leg lengths. This can cause your body weight to become unevenly distributed between both legs, causing pain on the side of the lower back that is bearing most of the weight.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Oliver Eaton is a qualified and registered osteopath, Medical Acupuncturist and Musculoskeletal Injection Therapist. He specialises in the treatment of sciatica, arthritis and headaches/migraines with patients travelling from across the UK and Europe for treatment. He is one of the leading practitioners in his field on Harley Street, having built his reputation on achieving results with patients who had previously had no success elsewhere.