from the Introduction
“Hi there,” said the pretty checker as she reached across the counter to scan my purchases. In an instant her friendly smile dissolved. “Oh, man! I’ve got to get to the chiropractor.” I watched as she twisted her torso this way and that, trying to relieve the pain without attracting too much attention. But she had mine. Why was an attractive twenty-something complaining about her body to a customer? True, it was closing time, the end of a long day. But it was only Wednesday and the new Target had been open less than a week. Her name tag said “Carmen.” Maybe she was in a fender-bender, I thought, and that’s why she’s looking for a doctor. But just as likely not. Just as likely it was the way she used her body that had her tied in knots.
As a movement therapist, it’s my job to correct the poor posture and poor movement habits that underlie my clients’ complaints and symptoms. People often consult with me as a last resort when conventional medical approaches have failed to give them relief. Sometimes it takes months of gradual change for someone to transform his or her posture enough to eliminate pain, but sometimes there’s a quick and easy fix. I wondered whether I might find just the right comment to set Carmen on the road to healthy posture.
If I was to say something helpful, I needed to hit the mark with my assessment and offer a solution that would work right away. Most people have little patience for complicated advice about body maintenance.
The pretty woman was tall, five foot ten or more, with long legs and a short torso. When the cash drawer opened, it seemed low in relation to her height. As she reached for my change, folding inward at the waist as she must have done dozens of times that day, my own body signaled, “Ouch!” There it was, I felt sure: low back pain. Carmen was among the eighty-five percent of Americans who experience back pain sometime in their lives.
The checker’s ill-fitting workstation--tall girl/short counter--was part of her problem, but I wanted to consider other factors before offering a solution. Sometimes poor eyesight or bad lighting makes people hunch over their work. Poor posture caused by poor vision can persist even after vision has been corrected. But no, Carmen’s neck seemed free, with no trace of the forward straining neck tension that accompanies faulty eyesight or faulty hearing.
I glanced at the floor. Only a thin rubber mat protected the checker’s feet from the concrete floor. Hard surfaces take a toll on the best of feet. But Carmen’s shoes looked sturdy. Barring foot problems that I couldn’t see, the shoes seemed supportive enough.
Okay, then, what could I observe about the young woman’s spine? As she stood, Carmen’s lower back looked balanced, neither overly straight nor overly curved. But could she freely bend and straighten it? When she leaned forward, there was a smooth release of back muscles that let her vertebrae separate slightly as they must to allow forward bending. So, no problem with her flexibility. Nor were her buttocks tucking under, a pattern that could fix her lower back in a bent position, that could make straightening a hazard. Seemingly her spine was as adaptable as it looked.
Finally I saw both problem and solution. Carmen was stuck in a pattern I usually associated with women over thirty, so it had taken me a while to notice: camouflaged within the girl’s tight jeans was a flaccid belly--not a fat belly, just an under-active one. I watched as she bent to retrieve a box of tissues that had fallen to the floor. She straightened, then reached down again for a shopping bag. Each time she bent down, her belly bulged forward. In healthy forward bending, the abdominal organs settle back into the abdominal cavity. Because Carmen’s abdominal muscles were lax, her organs fell forward, putting unnecessary drag on her lower vertebrae. She desperately needed abdominal support.
If only I could show this woman how to engage what I call the “inner corset.” In my mind’s eye she grew statuesque. I imagined her jeans fitting better, her chest opening, her shoulders relaxing, and her back pain a distant memory. And, with better abdominal support, Carmen might unexpectedly benefit from improved digestion. Emotionally, she’d be better able to contain her “gut feelings,” and have better boundaries to her relationships.
She’d bagged my purchases by now. It would take only minutes to explain.
But it was closing time. Shoppers, no doubt many of them also wishing for a chiropractic adjustment, clamored in line behind me, hoping to get the kids to bed before ten. I handed Carmen my card. “I can help you with your back,” I said, as the customer behind me jostled into place. The checker gave me a blank look. “Have a good night,” she said.
WHY HEAL YOUR POSTURE?
Such a picture is not unfamiliar, but it doesn’t have to be true. You can have a body that stands gracefully and moves effortlessly throughout life once you learn to use it the way it is designed to be used. It is never too soon, or too late, to heal your posture.