During my physical therapy graduate education, postural assessment was a key factor in all evaluations. And we were taught that the shoulder of dominant hand was often lower than the opposite side. And that was it. No true explanation for why and no recommendation that it could possibly altered. Just merely, a nice party trick to tell people you knew something about them just by looking at them. They are amazed that you could tell. Wouldn’t it be more amazing if you could actually alter that posturing?
It wasn’t until someone pointed out that my Right shoulder was lower than my Left that I began to really look at this and wonder why it had to be so. And couldn’t that posturing be a cause of neuromuscular dysfunction within the body? I was experiencing terrible pain in both of my forearms, scalenes and pectoral region, Right greater than Left. A knowledgable physical therapist/yoga therapist took one look at me and had me shut my eyes. She asked me how I perceived the height of my shoulders and the length of my arms. Ahhhh, what? My Right shoulder appeared to me in my sensory map to be at least an inch lower and my hand felt as though it was hanging down to my knee! And here I was a physical therapist and yoga practitioner and I had no idea. There had to be some way to change this and if I did, it might help with the symptoms I was feeling.
And not only had this PT enlightened me to my asymmetry but she had done so by allowing me to experience it on my own. My “Ah-Ha” moment would have been much different if she had told me what I looked like and then had me look in a mirror. It was the felt experience of how and what my brain was perceiving, that woke me up.
Another PT/yoga therapist, Matthew Taylor notes, “The therapist’s questions empower the individual to become aware rather than listing off the observed patterns. The therapist is helping to identify not only postural but breathing, emotional and spiritual patterns that reflect a hypervigilance on the part of the individual.”
Dr Taylor continues, “The individual learns the ability to accurately describe observed asymmetries in their various postures without first looking or merely repeating what they have been told, but by what they can sense in the moment.……This active participation by the individual during assessment generates an introspective attitude as they sense, then confirm visually and then re-sense if they were inaccurate to begin their embodied therapy…..the importance of restoring accurate interface between the sensing mind and structural body.
- Stand in front of a mirror without looking at yourself, closing your eyes.
- Place your feet hip width apart with the arms hanging by your sides. Do not change anything as you begin to sense you body.
- Begin to sense at your feet if you are placing equal weight Right to Left foot and toes to heels. Where do you sense more weight? Do you sense the feet are rotated?
- Travel up the hips and to the trunk. Do you sense one side feel larger, smaller, twisted?
- Travel up to the shoulders. Do you sense the shoulders at equal height? Do the arms feel like they are hanging at equal length?
- And finally to the head. Do you sense that your head is forward, back or balanced over your body.
- Now, open your eyes and confirm or disconfirm your senses. Was anything different than you expected?
- Now, try doing this in sitting (since many of us spend much time sitting at computers or driving). Go through the same sensations of body awareness.
Check out this HANDOUT for a print out version that you can take with you.
Why should you try this?
- Improved awareness
- Less pain
- Improved respiration and ability to breath
- Appear taller, more confident
- Improved gait
I don’t want to tell you what you look like and then tell you how you should be. I want you to experience it and be able to detect it on your own. Because, if you are sitting (or standing) there all day and have no awareness of your body, then you may find you are in pain later in the day. Or that you haven’t taken a full diaphragmatic breath in an hour.
Awareness is key. As David Frock states it in his article on The Neuroscience of Mindfulness, “Mindfulness isn’t difficult: the hard part is remembering to do it.”
I welcome your feedback and hope that if you find this helpful, you will share with your colleagues and your friends. Contact Tianna to see how she can help you with a posture screening, less pain and improved capacity to breath.
1. Yoga Therapy: A Practical Biopsychosocial Bridge of Care for Medical Rehabilitation Professionals. Matthew Taylor, P.T., Ph.D., ERYT-500
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