The way we support ourselves in our posture and movement says a lot about what is going on in our nervous systems. Many of our habits form on a subconscious level, which can make it difficult to change them. Some of those habits take away our ability to fully utilize our strength capabilities. The first step to find that strength again is sensing what our bodies are doing at any given time.
Posture and Support
Take, for instance, someone who has a stooped posture. Their shoulders are sloped forward. Their head is tilted forward. Their pelvis is slanted. I would not say that someone who stands or sits like this has bad posture, but it can reduce their strength capabilities and for sure, over time, their level of comfort and function. For whatever reason, their nervous system has deemed it necessary for their body to support itself this way whether it is from repetitive habits, or as an anxious protective measure to guard vital organs, vessels or fascia. Because this changes the interdependent nature of joint alignment, movement, and gravity, the fatigued-resilient deep or inner core muscles are “turned off” or slowly inhibited. Over time, these muscles will present as weakness. These inner core muscles (shoulder rotator cuff, small hip muscles, pelvic floor, Transverse Abdominals, deep muscle fibers of the low back and the foot) anticipate movement and ready you to move in any direction by using only 10-25% of effort. In other words, these muscles will “tighten up” in preparation for movement. These muscles ensure that the center of the joint(s) are in their best alignment so that full range of motion can be possible during function.
However, it is the outer and larger multi-joint muscles, lying closer to the surface of the skin, that are supposed to be the true movers of motion. These muscles are easily seen during pushing, pulling, reaching, lifting, carrying, jumping, running, etc. These outer muscles link the head, legs, pelvis, arms, and shoulder girdle to the thorax (Hamstring/Guteals, Latissimus Dorsi, Rectus Abdominus, Trapezius, Erector Spinae). Often targeted for strength training and stretching, these outer muscles have the capacity to create large and unwanted compressive forces on the spine if the inner core is inhibited. When we have inefficient movement patterns, pain, or the threat of pain, the nervous system reflexively and automatically impacts the inner core muscles by either turning off or sending a message to contract them in an unbalanced sequence or firing pattern. This poor timing is called abnormal or dysfunctional motor control.
We have practiced inefficient movement patterns for such a long time that we think that the pattern is normal. – Carol Montgomery
Trying to “correct” the posture will prove futile because the body will continue to hold the underlying pattern of support unless it gets a different message. Instead, we need to address the subconscious patterns by making them conscious. By using non-threatening patterns of movement that contract the muscles that create this posture and then voluntarily releasing the tension, the nervous system can learn how to reshape its patterns and muscle activation of the deep, inner core muscles restoring joint alignment. This activation will feel like “instantaneous” strength and integrity but without the “hypertrophy” or building muscle bulk, as that takes approximately 6-8 weeks to develop.
Somatic movement is not about creating another exercise. It is about creating an experience that allows the nervous system to reflexively access and choose the most efficient movement pattern and thus a higher level of function. – Carol Montgomery
Support and Movement
In movement, too, we see inefficient patterns arise because the nervous system has either forgotten how to move the body in a free and easy way or it does not have enough information to recognize that it is safe to move freely and easily. Because of poor and dysfunctional motor control, the nervous system has gotten stuck in a sort of feedback loop that restricts range of motion and often causes damage to the body because of these restricted, repetitive motions.
For instance, think of a runner who has been injured. The residual pain, loss of range motion, or proprioception forces their nervous system to create new pathways for the body to move in order to keep running. Even after the injured tissue has healed, these patterns of movement can stick around and cause compensated unbalanced firing patterns. The nervous system does this to help with survival. Wild animals rely on their ability to move for survival. If they are injured, their bodies must come up with ways to keep moving or else they won’t be able to escape predators. Humans are the same, except we have the ability to recognize these patterns and reshape them after the injury has healed.
Once you can recognize where your body’s movements are inefficient and turn the subconscious patterns into conscious ones, you can start to regain the strength that you lost. Not only does “unlocking” these inefficient patterns allow you to use and build muscles that will aid in efficient movement—the simple act of “unlocking” the efficient movement pattern restores the strength that comes from efficiency and pain-free movement.
Anyone can sense how their body supports itself, and anyone has the ability to consciously shape their movement patterns to regain the strength that they have lost. All it takes is the patience to gain awareness of the body, and perhaps the guidance of a professional.
When you allow sensing the pleasure of movement to be your focus, rather than “effort”-ing and trying to make a movement happen, you are encouraging more function to unfold. -Carol Montgomery
Carol is a physical therapist, a co-creator of Integral Human Gait theory, a certified Feldenkrais practitioner, and a Senior Trainer in Movement Intelligence. Focus, Align, Teach and Inspire! These qualities not only describe her work, but they also describe her presence. She is passionate when it comes to reconnecting learning with human function and health. Carol is in private practice at MontgomerySomatics.com in Columbus, Indiana.