Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Why Is It So Difficult To Control Posture?

How many times have you been told to sit up straighter or to drop your shoulders? Does badgering someone to stand up taller work? Of course not. Why not? Because posture is not regulated by the conscious mind.

People often ask me what the difference is between massage and FELDENKRAIS. Having spent over ten years working directly with muscle tissue as a massage therapist, I can say with complete assurance that muscles only do as they are told. Why is it, then, that attempting to control your posture by repeatedly telling yourself to sit up straight flat out does not work?

Your posture is a reflection of the length of your muscles at rest, otherwise known as the 'normal resting length.' This set length (different for different muscles) results in posture and is set by the nervous system. The nervous system consists of a network of several branches, some of which are within our conscious control, such as the use of arms and limbs for reaching and walking. Yet, a huge portion of the nervous system is not usually accessible to conscious control. This is the portion of the nervous system that regulates the things we do all day without awareness: breathing, for instance as well as standing, sitting or other basic activities required for survival.

AWARENESS THROUGH MOVEMENT (ATM) is a process by which you can learn to bring these basic functions into conscious awareness and change how your nervous system regulates them. Say you live in continuous tension: your back is tight, your neck is sore and your feet bother you all the time. Consciously, there is not much you can do. Unconsiously, there is not much you can do either, because control of postural muscles does not lie in the realm of the unconscious. The control of postural muscles lies in another realm entirely, a realm that heretofore has only been accessible to yogis and people who have spent lifetimes in meditation on mountaintops. These masters, according to documented science, have learned to change things like heart rate, blood pressure and body temperature. How is this possible? Some might call this access to some kind of superconsciousness. Whatever it is, it is a place where consciousness and the normally inaccessible portions of the nervous system overlap.

What most people are completely unaware of is that the nervous system seems to have an innate intelligence that can specifically control and make changes to the resting length of postural muscles. It may be the same innate intelligence that directs all regenerative functions of the cells so that often, the body heals itself. Any general practitioner knows that healing is a matter of generating the right conditions. It's not the doctor that does the healing, it's the patient. ATM is a practice that teaches you how to lie down on the floor and get this innate intelligence to kick in and change your posture for you so that you do not have to engage the consious mind.

This principle dictates the fundamental difference between massage and FELDENKRAIS. Massage can release muscles locally, temporarily, but it cannot change the resting length of the muscles. Trying to change posture from this level is like trying to change the course of a war by blaming the soldiers. FELDENKRAIS deals with the command center because it is a method that works directly with the nervous system. ATM does this by cultivating the awareness that is the key to accessing this innate intelligence. It's like developing the skill to recognise where the door is. Once you do, it's up to you to knock on it with enough regularity to create permanent change.

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