Robin’s synopsis SKELETAL ALIGNMENT for BONE HEALTH with Robin Eisen
Robin Eisen is a physical therapist and Feldenkrais®practitioner with over 49 years of experience.
The Feldenkrais Method® was started by an Israeli, Moshe Feldenkrais, and is called a learning technique rather than an exercise. You go internal to feel what a movement is like and find your own path to the end goal. A movement is broken down into smaller components and the learning is being in the movement, sensing how you move, rather than focusing on the end result.
THE KEY TO GOOD POSTURE
As we age, we often lose our skeletal alignment, the uprightness we had as toddlers, especially with all the activities we do in front of us like looking at a computer screen or texting. Although the Feldenkrais Method® addresses posture, Robin has found that paying special attention to our skeleton is key to good posture. To incorporate more awareness of the skeleton, Robin has added techniques from Esther Gokhale and Ruthy Alon, to how she teaches the Feldenkrais Method.
We are not taught to pay attention or feel our skeleton the same way that our culture focuses on muscles. We know where our biceps are, but feeling our bones is often out of our awareness.
CONNECTING YOUR FEET TO THE GROUND
The first thing to do to experience a sense of your skeleton is to feel your feet connected to the floor. Having your feet on the ground in sitting will support your entire spine all the way to your head.
If you are short and your feet do not reach the ground in sitting, find something like a small stool or books to put underneath you.
Notice your posture if you lift your feet off the ground or put them on the rung of your chair-you start to collapse in your spine. Gently push through your feet on the floor and see if you can feel yourself getting taller towards the ceiling. Just by having your feet on the ground, you may regain “uprightness”.
Now feel your sitting bones in the chair and push through just one foot. Notice if it unweights your sitting bone and puts more weight on the opposite side. Now try the other side and go back and forth, pushing through one foot and then the other. Notice if as you push and unweight your sitting bone, you lengthen through the opposite side and get taller. This is important because as we age and lose disc height, and develop poor posture, we are at risk for fracture. So, this is an easy way to create length in the spine, no equipment needed!
When we are paying attention to what is in front of us, like sitting in front of a computer, our heads tend to come forward. Pulling your shoulders back alone, will not correct this. Or just retracting the neck may keep the shoulders forward.
The answer is to connect all the parts and have the skeleton work as a whole. Using muscles to maintain an upright posture is fatiguing and not sustainable.
Remember that this is not a “one and done” exercise but organic learning. As you realign the skeleton and feel better, your body will start to look for the more efficient, comfortable posture but you want to reinforce the behavior.
If you do a traditional shoulder roll, your shoulder will return to the place it started in. Using the Feldenkrais Method®, we pay attention to how we roll the shoulder.
First, lift your shoulder up a little and then let it go. Notice what you are doing when you lift the shoulder. Can you feel the shoulder blade glide on your ribs?
Are you engaging any other part of your body to move the shoulder?
See if you can lift your shoulder without any other muscle engagement.
Now take the shoulder a little bit forward and again pay attention to how you do it. Again, the shoulder blade has to slide.
Moving in this way informs the brain what the body is doing and helps open new pathways for movement. It may be a pathway that we never used as kids or pathways that went dormant and quiet.
After paying attention to moving the shoulder a little up and then a little forward, move the shoulder backward. Can you feel the shoulder blade glide backward on the ribs and come closer to your spine? This takes your shoulder from a forward position to lay more comfortably without having to hold a military posture.
To reinforce this, we combine all three movements with your hands on your thighs. Moving one shoulder at a time, you take the shoulder a little forward, then a little upwards, and when you glide the shoulder blade back, allow your hand to slide up towards your groin. Do this three times, each time moving your hands closer to your groin until your thumb rests there. Repeat on the opposite side.
The above movement places the weight of your elbow slightly behind you, resetting the position of the shoulder. It may feel like you have “chicken wings” tied behind you.
CORRECTING A FORWARD HEAD
Now if you combine pushing through your feet, with re-positioning the shoulders, you have created more uprightness. Now the last piece-your head. If your head is forward of your shoulders, there is a lot of tension on the cervical spine.
Use a mustache hole below your nose or lower lip, the gently retract the head back over your shoulders. This is a reminder that the chin should be tucked and the back of your neck lengthened.
To reinforce the lengthening in the neck, take one hand and place the pinky finger at the base of the skull, your index finger near the lower neck vertebrae so your fingers span the cervical vertebrae, and the thumb anchored at the collar bone in front.
Allow your fingers to spread apart to cue you to lengthen your neck as you tuck the chin and retract your head using the mustache hold with your other hand.
Don’t think, I have to stand up straight and lift your chin. That will compress the back of the neck.
Use all the components of pushing through the feet, resetting the shoulder blades with the elbows behind you, lengthening the neck by retracting the chin, and feeling the increased space of the cervical vertebrae.
Margie emphasized that this is the basis for bone health as you cannot exercise when you are out of alignment. Having the shoulders forward can lead to impingement so having alignment is essential for all activities, especially strength training.
The body will want to move towards efficiency and that is the opportunity the Feldenkrais Method® gives us. It allows us to learn a new habit pattern.
“There was a crooked man who walked a crooked mile” from the nursery rhyme illustrates that if we are out of alignment, everything you do is in that posture and may not be serving you. This is not just for older folks or those with osteoporosis because we are now seeing that younger people are losing the curves in their spine. Being aligned will serve you by reducing the risk of injury even if you are active and exercising.
Another way to bring the shoulders and head into better alignment is to use the collar bones as feedback. When we are in a forward head posture and the shoulders are forward, the collar bones are rolled down and forward. The collar bones extend out to the shoulders so we can anchor one thumb under one collar bone and the index finger under the opposite with your hand flat on your breastbone. Now think about everything we have already done: push through your feet, reset your shoulders, retract your head and lengthen your neck, and add pushing your hand under your collar bone slightly backward and upward.
Inform and teach your whole upper body a more upright alignment. This feedback from your own hands is the same way we learned as babies, exploring with our own touch. You are relearning to connect to your own skeleton.
ALIGNMENT in STANDING
There is an easy way to lengthen the low back and allow the ground forces from your feet when walking to come up through your legs, spine, and eventually to your head.
You can use a hum to send a gentle vibration from the heels through your skeleton to stimulate bone cells. If you have severe osteoporosis or have had a spontaneous fracture, you can align your skeleton and use the hum but do not lift the heels and drop them to the ground during this process. Always check with your health practitioner to make sure it is safe to start any exercise.
NOT THIS and NOT THAT
In standing, if your low back is curved inward with an arch, you are in lordosis putting a strain on the vertebrae.
If you tuck your pelvis, so you flatten the low back, in a “pelvic tilt”, you are putting a strain on the lumbar discs.
To generate an appropriate wave from your feet to your head, you need to have your feet under your hip joints. Most people’s image of their hip joints is wider than where the joints sit. To find your hip joints, place your hands on the top of your pelvis with your fingers pointing towards the groin. Then slide your middle finger into the groin and deep there is your hip joint.
So, if you want ground forces to be useful to your skeleton, you must have your feet in a stance that is not too wide or too narrow. Once the feet are under your joints, you want the lumbar spine in a position to accept the signal coming up so not in lordosis or tucked.
To find that “sweet spot” of the low back, use one hand behind you with the pinky finger anchored towards your sacrum. If you go into lordosis you will feel your fingers come together as you shorten the low back. If you tuck, you will feel your fingers spread wider apart, which you might think is good, but it is too much- you overstretch the low back.
BOUNCING on HEELS
Now, take your other hand to your abdomen with the pinky at the pubic bone and your thumb above the navel. Lift up the tissue of your belly up towards your ribs, while at the same time you signal the low back to lengthen by spreading your fingers apart with the opposite hand.
You are coming up and in, finding a space where you are over your hips and your hips are over your ankles.
Now in this alignment, with soft knees, raise your heels, ½ inch or less and gently come back down. Then do double time, like your heartbeat, and say “pum-pum” or hum in that rhythm.
It has been shown that osteoblastic activity that builds bone, responds to mechanical stimuli and humming is similar to sounds used in meditation that have a positive effect on our nervous system.
Margie mentioned that what is beautiful about this process is it is something easy to incorporate into a daily routine compared to an exercise program that you plan 2-3x/week.
THE FELDENKRAIS METHOD®
There are two components to the Feldenkrais Method®. One is Awareness Through Movement either one-on-one or in group classes where you are verbally cued to do certain movements. Then there’s a hands-on component, called Functional Integration, where a practitioner moves you so that you can feel your bony skeleton and joints that you may not be in tune with.
Having a combination of Awareness Through Movement lessons and Functional Integration is ideal. You can do lessons on your own, but having a teacher watch you, even virtually, is helpful to correct you if you did not hear or understand the verbal cues correctly.
This way of learning to move is not only about alignment and reducing fracture risk, but when you move more efficiently, and you move in better alignment, you’re going to save wear and tear on your joints.
Come back to these simple tools many times a day. Set a timer on your phone to check your posture as often as every 15 minutes, find your sitting bones, push through your feet, and re-position your head, especially when on your computer or phone. Take a posture break by getting up to unweight your spine, lengthen your neck and back and bounce on heels.
Lastly, remember that the Summit has a lot of information and you may feel overwhelmed. Osteoporosis, like any chronic condition, is multifactorial, so work with a practitioner who can help you prioritize: what is the first thing you need to tackle and do that. And then think about the next piece and then the next piece.
It is all layered and do not feel like you have to do it all.
Margie emphasized that overwhelm is our enemy. Take tiny steps and build on that.
My solution for creating new habits:
Start small, do it in community, and/or have an accountability partner!