The sad truth is that we are not in terribly good physical condition. Even those of us who exercise.
Take Michael Fassbender, my latest celebrity crush. The other day I was looking for clips of him in the movie 300, a film that features scantily-clad Spartans taking on the Persian army in the year 480 BCE. I assure you, I was only watching it to satisfy my ardent historical interest in the classics. That’s what I told my husband, anyway.
(Ahem) ANYHOO, I came across this still of Mr. Fassbender. Can you believe how fit he looks in this picture? Fassbender says the workouts for this film were so intense that they made him feel physically ill. He certainly looks…trim, wouldn’t you say?
…and yet, I’m looking at that picture, and this little voice in my head says, “Toes turned out, knees locked, pelvis forward. Geez–even Michael Fassbender, in the best shape of his life, has sedentary-person biomechanics.”
Before I continue, let me say that I understand that commenting publicly on somebody else’s physical appearance is gauche. It’s rude, intrusive, objectifying. I do not remotely appreciate it when I read about somebody criticizing a female star’s physical appearance. So Michael, when you read this post, please know I mean no disrespect. You’re a fine actor and I appreciate the talent and skill you bring to your roles. I’m just trying to make a point about biomechanics.
And the point is that most Americans (and probably Europeans also, and anyone else from a culture that emphasizes couch- or chair-sitting over movement) are missing an extremely important piece of the overall picture of our health. We’re used to measuring health by the number on the scale, or possibly by cardio-vascular fitness, or muscular strength. The truth is: you can be extremely cardio-vascularly healthy. You can be extremely muscular and “cut”. You can have great wind and great endurance. And still have lousy alignment.
As my favorite biomechanist, Katy Bowman, points out, poor alignment can lead to or is involved in all kinds of serious, debilitating health conditions. And not-as-serious, but still-very-uncomfortable health conditions.
For example: good alignment is having your feet parallel when you stand and walk. Just like the wheels of your car–they work better when they’re parallel. When you stand and walk with your toes turned out, over and over again, every day, for years, you’re putting loads on joints and tissues that aren’t evolved to bear those loads. Your knee, ankle, and foot joints suffer for it. Got foot/ankle/knee pain? It could be related to the fact that you’re evolved to walk many miles a day with your toes forward and you…um, don’t walk that much…and when you do, your toes turn out.
Another example: Good alignment is having your pelvis stacked over your heels, with enough of a tilt that your pubic bone and your anterior superior iliac spines are in the same plane. When your pelvis is too far forward, or tilted backward, your joints suffer. But more crucially, the soft tissues around your joints also suffer, including your organs. Your pelvic floor, bladder, and uterus or prostate do not function as well when they are being squished because of your poor biomechanics!
Wanna see some great alignment? Here’s a beautiful set of photos of the Dinka people of South Sudan. “They vary their lifestyle by season – in the rainy season they live in permanent savannah settlements and raise grain crops like millet, while in the dry season they herd cattle along rivers throughout their region.” In other words, their lifestyle is different than yours.
Two other examples of great alignment (and pretty nifty sartorial choices):
In all these photos, the pelvis is back over the heels. In the case of the seated fellow, I’m pretty sure he’s sitting up on his sit bones, which creates anterior pelvic tilt in the seated position. The toddler is still young enough not to be molded by chair-sitting. And people in the 19th century, when this picture was taken, did not live in the deeply sedentary way we do now.
I’m a deeply sedentary person, myself. I grew up on a farm but I love to read, watch TV, and cuddle my dog. All these activities can be done from the couch, and that’s my happy place. Even people who are less sedentary than I am, people who work out every day, spend too much time being still in a chair and not enough time moving during the day. Here’s an important piece of information: ONE HOUR OF DAILY EXERCISE IS NOT ENOUGH TO MEET YOUR BODY’S MOVEMENT NEEDS.
We don’t move enough. Instead, we sit. Even if we are running up hills at top speed for an hour a day, we’re generally chair-sitting or lying down for the other 24. The geometry of our bodies is altered by these sedentary habits. We chair-sit so much that our muscles get stuck in the shape they take on in a chair. But we can regain our natural, healthy alignment with some education, some new habits, and guess what…some yoga. If your psoas and hamstrings are tight, come to class, loosen up, and practice getting your pelvis back to anatomical neutral.
And Michael Fassbender, if you’re reading this, I can help you with your alignment! Call me!