Maintaining a balanced position of the center of gravity is vital for proper posture and natural movement mechanics. Unnatural habitual patterns result in the development of compensatory mechanisms in the form of abnormal muscle tension and structural alignment in order to maintain those patterns. In our modern society, prolonged activities such as driving, working at a computer, use of a handheld device, and excessive amounts of time sitting or standing in static positions can stimulate the body’s adaptation via abnormal compensations. Over the long term, these compensations lead to chronic tension and abnormal pain in the body, that in turn create misalignment of the structure and deformation of the natural alignment of our joints. When joints are misaligned like this, many functions of the body, not just musculoskeletal can be adversely affected. To fully understand this, we must first understand how the human body is structured.
The quadrupedal animal is built like a house, the spine is like the apex of the roof, the limbs are like the structural support pillars at the four corners of the house. If you add a head and tail, this is the basic structure of an animal on all fours. For the structure of a house to remain sound, all four pillars and the roof must maintain integrity. If just one of those structural elements shift or fall out of alignment, the whole house will lose stability. The body is the same way. Everything is connected, and every element of our structure is reliant on and affected by every other element. Neglecting this vital principle of linkage in motion inevitably leads to distortion and deformity in our bodies.
However when it comes to the structure of our bodies, there is one vital complexity that sets human beings apart from quadrupedal animals, and that is the fact that we stand upright. The human animal is not quadrupedal, and if we take for granted the theory of evolution, humans have sacrificed a lot of stability to become bipedal. Of course, this sacrifice was absolutely worth it, and we would probably have gone extinct long ago without it, but it comes at a cost. The spine was meant to be a horizontal structure, however, adapting to the verticality that we have imposed through our evolutionary process leads to a big issue that we have to deal with; Gravity creates compressive forces in our spine.
When we move in a way that goes against natural principles, tension is created in an attempt to negate the force of gravity. When this becomes a habit it is called a compensatory mechanism. This may take the form of always leaning onto one leg when standing, slouching when sitting, or other common “poor posture” habits. When our body is aligned properly and movement is natural, the force of gravity passes freely through our skeletal structure. When our alignment is broken and we feel the pull of gravity, we try to find balance by distorting other parts of the body to compensate for what is out of place.
For example, most people who experience chronic lower back pain have their center of gravity displaced from the center and located posteriorly (behind) where it should be. In this state, if a person were to stand up and relax into that position, they would start falling backward. In order to counteract this, muscles that pull the pelvis and spine forward must remain unnaturally engaged. Over time these muscles become overused and stressed resulting in lower back pain and weakness in lumbar extension. Trying to relax the stressed muscles and addressing the symptoms of the back pain will only provide temporary relief, as the habitual pattern of centralizing the center of gravity must be addressed to correct the pattern of distortion. Releasing the tense muscles is necessary, but without addressing the reason why those muscles are holding this tension, the pattern will remain unchanged.
Everything is connected. Even abnormal changes in the thoracic spine results in compensations in the orientation of the pelvis and knees. Thus, you may experience soreness in the neck and shoulders that cannot be resolved without addressing the imbalances in the pelvis and knees. These compensations are the body’s attempts to maintain alignment of the line of gravity within the base of support, but involves a high level of stress to maintain, creating strain and tension throughout the body.
To truly resolve an issue of abnormal chronic pain and tension, a person must identify their postural alignment imbalances. Training to hold the center of gravity in its proper position to allow the force of gravity to funnel through the body without requiring abnormal tension to maintain is an often-neglected element of the healing process, and requires active involvement and daily practice on the part of the individual. If you want to change the way you feel in your body, you have to change the way you move. If you want to change your life, you have to change the way you live.
When we move incorrectly we create abnormal tension in the body, which causes the proper alignment position to feel stressful, and a poor posture to feel more relaxed and natural. Trying to force good posture is not the correct approach, and only leads to deeper compensation. Learning the principles of natural movement, changing your movement habits, and putting some serious effort into structural alignment training is the only way to correct these self-destructive habitual patterns without the symptoms continuously returning.
Correcting bad habitual patterns and restoring natural postural alignment is not something that happens all of the sudden. You have likely been spending decades cultivating the habits and weaknesses that you are living with today, and it will take plenty of time and devotion to a consistent practice to bring yourself back into balance. If you wanted to become a bodybuilder or fitness model and started going to the gym, you wouldn’t expect to see a full transformation in one workout, or even in one month of consistent training. You certainly wouldn’t expect to become an athlete by going to the gym inconsistently whenever you feel like it. It requires discipline, and consistency. Another analogy would be learning to play an instrument, or learning a language. These all take time and consistency, and there are no shortcuts that bring instant gratification. The same goes for cultivating vibrant health. If you want to change your life, you have to change your lifestyle.
We are not “finished” evolving, and we are likely still adapting to this drastic change in the orientation of the bodies of our species.
The center of the bones is the spine, and because we stand upright, the spine is supported by the pelvis. Therefore, the waist and hips are at the center of our movement. Once again, the center of our movement is the spine and its base, which is the pelvis. Because the spine is made up of short bones, it enables a wide range of movement, however, because these bones are stacked, the spine is easily deformed. Quadrupedal animals do not develop spinal deformities as easily as their spines are horizontal, and gravity isn’t constantly running through them in the same direction, but humans with our spine in vertical alignment can easily develop deformities in our spines.
The natural curvature of our spines help to funnel the force of gravity, but when we develop a distortion, the force of gravity encounters resistance at that part of the spine, and must find a way around. Chronic tension in the surrounding muscles attempt to support this, and ultimately lead to finding a sort of balance within distortion, but this balance requires specific and continuous compensation to maintain which leads to more distortion.
Natural movement must involve movement of our center of gravity. For example, if we are bending forward we need to shift the hips back slightly, otherwise our back and hamstrings have to brace against gravity. This bracing is a compensatory mechanism, and it’s also much more strenuous to hinge like this. Once it becomes habitual, this consistent stress ultimately leads to structural distortions in the body.
When flexing the torso, weight should be shifted slightly in the opposite direction. When rotating or extending, weight should be shifted in the same direction as the movement. When pushing off with your feet such as when walking, running, jumping, throwing something, pushing a heavy object, etc… the big toe should be pressing off of the ground. When moving the hand, the pressure should come to bear on the ulnar, or pinky finger side of the hand while the elbows should stay close to the body. Pressure with the ulnar side of the hand directs the force through the center line and into the core of the body. Conversely, pressure on the radial side of the hand causes the force to spread out to the sides of the arms and rather than recruiting the core to generate power, this movement relies on the shoulders, separating them from the rest of the body, which demands compensatory mechanisms to hold everything together. Integrating these guidelines will unite your whole body in the way you move in daily life, result in less effort to generate power and maintain stability, and restore balance and alignment in the body.
The spine facilitates movement, and many skeletal muscles connect to the spine. Nerves also emanate from the spine to innervate organs, muscles, and other parts of the body. When there are deformities in the spine, dysfunction of the autonomic nervous system is a result. This also causes tension in the muscles that connect to the spine, which in turn causes tension in the nervous system and circulatory system, and can even cause problems in the internal organs. This can contribute greatly to the cause of many illnesses. Abnormal tension in the muscles can be caused by distortion in the spine, and both chronic tension and spinal distortion are often caused by unnatural use of the body and compensatory mechanisms in the muscles due to habitual patterns.
Manual Therapy, and other intervention are extremely helpful and necessary in the healing process, but without addressing the way we move, especially how we use our center of gravity, any problem we resolve will likely return.