The way we habitually hold our bodies can have implications on our movement efficiency, power production and pain. Here are the basic points for finding a neutral position in your lower body.
Please maintain a light-hearted mindset when practicing these alignment exercises. Do not be goal oriented or easily discouraged. Instead approach them with a spirit of curiosity, as a way to gather information about your habits and as a way to begin to see additional options for the way you carry your body.
- Stand with your feet 6 - 10 inches away from the wall.
- Feel the weight of your body in your heels. Do not let the weight of your body shift to the balls of your feet.
- Allow a very slight space between your lower back and the wall.
- Allow your shoulders and upper back to round forward away from the wall as you press your middle back strongly into the wall. Your middle back is the area from your bra-line to your true waist.
- Attempt to stand upright as you keep the area of your mid-back pressing strongly into the wall.
- Keep feeling for weight in your heels.
- Do not lift your chin in an attempt to put your head on the wall. Keep your chin lowered. For some of you this will feel like you are making a double chin.
The is great debate amongst those who work in the movement and somatic fields (ie, researchers, academics, coaches, movement instructors, somatic practitioners) about the relevance of alignment guidelines and exercises such as this.
My intention here is not to say that there is one perfect, static, pin-point alignment that we all must find and maintain.
My intention is to help you begin to become aware of your habitual way of holding yourself and explore how this habitual posture might be holding you back from your health and fitness goals by disrupting the force production throughout your kinetic chain, increasing your energy expenditure, placing unnecessary strain on your joints and connective tissues and potentially causing you pain.
Alignment is not everything. Many studies show that "good" posture and exercise technique (form) are not always indicators of pain-free movement. You can perform a "perfect" squat and still have hip pain.
I do not believe in having people stand in front of grids or measure their joint angles with special tools in order to assess their alignment. This is far to rigid and takes people away from feeling their own bodies and encourages to rely solely on external markers to measure "progress."
I believe that our job as movement professionals and body workers is to help our clients to find greater intimacy with their bodies, not less.
Our bodies are naturally asymmetrical. Just consider your internal organs: the way your heart sits to the left of your midline and your liver sits to the right. Consider the twists and turns of your intestines and the amorphous shape of your stomach. Doesn't it seem only natural that the bony structures that surround and protect these organs would be asymmetrical to some degree as well?
But to say that alignment doesn't matter at all is to ignore basic laws of physics. The way our bones organize themselves in relationship to one another, in relationship to our soft tissues and viscera and in relationship to gravity absolutely DOES impact the force loads to which your body will adapt.
Poor alignment is part the reason why bunions get formed and why shoulder injuries are common in yoga classes where Chaturanga (yoga's variation of a push up) is centerstage. Sometimes it's a very big part of the reason why. Over the years I can name 6 clients who came to me with bunion pain. (They actually came to me for health and fitness goals, but revealed that they had bunion pain in our initial session.) All 6 of these people had been told they needed surgery for their bunions and all 6 of them were cured of their bunion pain within a couple weeks simply by learning to align their lower body and mobilize their toes.
I have similar stories around shoulder, hip and knee pain.
The more we know about ourselves, our bodies, our habits and our movement patterns, the more empowered we are to take ownership of our health.
While it is important that we not be rigid in your assessment and application of alignment points or to invest all your energy and efforts into standing and moving "perfectly," it is also important to become aware of the way you habitually hold your body and move. Attempting to improve your alignment in your daily life and in your exercise technique is a practice worth pursuing.