GENERAL ARTICLES

Don't Be A Stoop!

Pull yourself together! Slouching is like a drug –it's hard to give up but harder if you don't

ERNEST DICHTER, Ph.D. April 15 1947
GENERAL ARTICLES

Don't Be A Stoop!

Pull yourself together! Slouching is like a drug –it's hard to give up but harder if you don't

ERNEST DICHTER, Ph.D. April 15 1947

Don't Be A Stoop!

GENERAL ARTICLES

Pull yourself together! Slouching is like a drug –it's hard to give up but harder if you don't

ERNEST DICHTER, Ph.D.

HAVE YOU ever noticed the story your own body tells others about you? Try to catch yourself in the middle of a busy day or better still, have someone take several rolls of candid shots of you while you are not aware of the camera. Chances are you'll he shocked when you see the prints. They may help you to under stand the basis for the attitudes of some others toward you. Do you (md your chest flat or depressed, your head drooping forward, or your upper back line round? Is the small of your back hollow, your abdomen relaxed or protuberant? Or are your shoulders thrown hack, your knees locked in a military manner, and your bottom sticking out to the rear?

If you recognize yourself described above, you belong to those who are addicted to poor or bad posture. Don’t make the mistake of thinking this is just a matter of taste, aesthetics, or of social and business handicap.

As far back as 1922 a White House conference on child health and protection concluded that your “body mechanics” (a more adequate expression than posture—including the way you stand and sit, walk and lie, breathe, climb, turn, bend, push and pull, lift, and so forth) deeply affect your entire physical and mental well-being.

Poor body mechanics throw the body into bad alignment. When an individual, child or adult, is faultily aligned 16 hours a day, 365 days a year, he condemns himself to a life of unnatural, unnecessary strain, to backaches, constipation, abdominal pains and weakness, and in general to fatigue.

A trained automobile mechanic can tell if wheels are in bad alignment by the wear on the t read of t he front tires. Unfortunately, bad alignment in humans often goes unnoticed and untreated. It. forces our muscles to expend more energy than is necessary, and may stretch the ligaments or cause deformity in the bony structure of the body. In children of preschool and elementary school age it may impede normal growth.

When you let yourself slump in your chair, at your desk, or behind your typewriter, you usually cave in in front, let your abdominal contents spill forward, and pull in your feet under your chair—a position disastrous for your functions and efficiency although it may feel “comfortable” for a while.

What does such a position do to you?

The T.B. Slouch

FIRST OF all, with your abdominal muscles sagging, you do your best to crowd your viscera and put your stomach, liver and other vital organs under unnatural compression. Sinking of the viscera, sluggish digestion, toxic poisoning of the intestines, backward displacement of the uterus, and rupture, are some of the technical disorders associated with lessened abdominal activity.

When your shoulders slump forward and your chest is depressed your lungs

are crowded and their efficiency is decreased. “Sidewise slouching” has been held responsible for limiting the rib movement and inhibiting the movement of air in the lungs, thus setting the stage for tuberculosis.

With your spine unnaturally curved or straight -ened some of your nerves are subject ed t o a squeezing detrimental to the abdominal region. Abnormal positions limit t he supply of pure, nourishing blood through the body, and germs quickly find a place to work.

Secondly, you can’t ignore defects in body alignment and expect to outgrow them. They do not improve without aid from you. If defects of this type in a child are not corrected, they will grow more severe as he enters high school and young adulthood and as the adult adds years.

Impairment of the rapid supply of pure blood and nervous energy to your brain, as is frequently dono by faulty body mechanics, seriously affecte the function of your mind. The «loucher with his weakened abdominal muscles, imperfect breathing, and cramped, stiffened muscles, especially of the neck, does his best to block the rapid flow of blood to his brain and thill its attentive powers.

Furthermore, bad body mechanic« indicate a continuous and tremendous waste of muscular and nervous energy which commonly breeds fatigue and invites exhaustion. The man who has fallen into bad posture habits has unknowingly made his nervous system an enemy, rather than his ally, in the battle of life. The more he tire«, the less lie is inclined ft) make what seems to him a very

strenuous and very senseless effort to change his

habits. He insists that slouching makes him “comfortable,” while correct posture puts him under a strain. In reality his position is as comfortable as a heavy drug; weaning himself from it is bound to appear inconvenient.

If you are a sloucher, or in some other way guilty of faulty body mechanics, you may feel consoled by the fact that you are a member of a large, perhaps overwhelming majority who do not know better, or do not want to know.

At Harvard 80.3% of the young men were found to show poor or bad body mechanics. At Yale, as well as in some city schools, over 80% of the students had foot defects which invariably produce faulty posture. In a silhouette survey conducted at California State Teachers College, only one of the 286 freshmen was found to exhibit a natural “A” grade of body mechanics. The aforementioned White House Conference reported that at least 75% of the youth of the United States showed body mechanics that had to be considered imperfect.

Recently Dr. Lulu E. Sweigard, physical education

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instructor at New York University, took 2,000 X-ray pictures and 35,000 exact body measurements of 500 subjects. She insists that “almost all human bodies suffer from bad muscle habits.”

But if almost all people seem to be abnormal in their postural habits, why should just you bother to be “normal”? Why doesn’t nature take care of it? Perhaps it’s normal to have abnormal body mechanics?

The answer is that we were probably born too early to enjoy completely our status as two-legged creatures. It wasn’t so very long ago—as the world goes—that we travelled on all fours. We are still in a state of adjustment to our changed way of life, and we probably shall be adjusting for many thousand more years. Meanwhile, we have to pay for our human privileges by being prey to many conditions unknown to our quadruped forefathers.

Remarkable changes have taken place in the human physique as it gradually, in the long process of evolution, assumed the upright position.

But the valves in our blood circulatory system, our heart and arteries, are still arranged for the horizontal and not for the vertical stance. Mechanically man represents something like a monstrosity constructed against certain laws of nature: a double-stilted walking tower with a base thinner and lighter than its top, and a heart burdened with pumping blood high up through vertical pipes. That is why it is more beneficial to rest in a horizontal position than in just a reclining one; it takes more of the strain off the heart.

To keep the multistoried and loosely assembled body upright, an almost unconscious but constant muscular action is called for. Walking, for example, with its continual changes of tension and relaxation, calls forth no less than 45 various muscles in refined balancing achievements not unlike an acrobatic feat. Some people grow up with the gift of almost effortless and perfect equilibrium in each and every one of their positions and movements, but most of us must learn the art.

Before they adopted the “conveniences” of modern civilization, the North American Indians, almost without exception, exhibited perfect body mechanics in action and repose. Their

bodily adroitness, feline approach, dignity and poise of movement were proverbial. Peoples who live in constant contact with nature have a natural faculty for easy adjustment to the laws of gravitation. From them, and from the “naturally strong” among us, we can take an example.

These naturally strong men are built no differently than you or me, but they don’t need special exercises because they do them in their daily round of activities. It was found that every one of them had early in life acquired certain sound postural habits, and that, these habits were responsible for their muscular strength, grace of movement, and organic vitality.

Schoolbook Slump

Our civilization, in an attempt to make life easy, comfortable, and attractive, has dressed us artificially, has provided us with chairs and other furniture conducive to sloppy body mechanics, and, in thenameof efficiency and convenience, has taken away many of the body-building activities formerly necessary for life but now relegated to the world of sport and recreation. Hunting, fishing, and other such activities contributed more than food to the lives of our forefathers.

The substitutions have been things like schoolbooks, high heels, cars and can openers, potentially good and potentially bad. For instance, schoolbooks carried continually on the same hip or under the same arm may cause a sideward or lateral droop. Clothes that are too small or too tight may pull a child’s body into awkward positions. High heels force the body to make abnormal and awkward structural compensations in order to keep the body erect: the lower back either hollows or flattens from its normal curve, undue pressure may be put on the abdomen or on the ankles, the thighs may be tense, and the head thrust forward. The entire body is under a strain.

Thirty years ago the American Posture League designed a chair fitted for proper sitting and a writing and reading desk with a moderately sloped surface. However, intelligently designed furniture, made to fit human anatomy and to encourage good posture, is still a rarity today. Public demand on furniture manufacturers would eventually bring about the necessary changes in design, if it were strong enough.

Some years before the war a European boy came to live with American relatives. His peculiar gait worried his teacher who, after some careful interviewing, unearthed this story: one of his schoolmates, a brilliant but snobbish boy, was admired by the class and considered its social arbiter. As the “leader” used to lean on an ebony cane with an ivory crook and, in an affected manner, pull up his shoulders and drag his left foot, most of his admirers, including this boy, followed his example. With the story told the boy’s gait rapidly changed for the better.

It was William James, the great American psychologist, who encouraged us to exploit the magic of physical imitation for our mental benefit. “If we wish to conquer undesirable emotional tendencies in ourselves,” he wrote, “we must assiduously and, in the first instance, cold-bloodedly, go through the outward movements of those contrary dispositions which we prefer to cultivate.”

In other words, if you want to cultivate the vitality, self-confidence and emotional balance those “natural athletes” seem to radiate, try to imitate their bodily habits.

Adults should especially be aware of the power they have in molding

children’s posture by their mere example. Children love to imitate those they admire and respect. They also love to mimic the unusual. Note how a child will imitate the limp of a lame man or the tottering walk of a highheeled woman or the military carriage of an Army officer—or your drooping head.

Make it a point to develop good posture, which essentially means: carrying your body in such a way that all your internal organs can function smoothly and efficiently and that your muscular and nervous power is used economically. It means firm muscles doing the job they were meant to do.

Contrary to popular belief good posture does not mean having a ramrod backbone. The spinal column is normally composed of four slight curves. For proper body mechanics these must be maintained, neither exaggerated nor minimized. The old posture test of standing with your back against a wall, feet five to six inches away from the wall, and trying to touch the wall with your full length of spinal column, particularly the small of the back, is no longer accepted. The curves of the spine compensate for each other and serve the purpose of balancing extremes of body weight and accommodating viscera in particular areas. Straightening out any of the normal spinal curves, just as increasing them, throws the body out of balance because it disturbs the system of compensatory curves.

Thinking of your posture and correcting it as often as possible is not adequate. Good posture and body mechanics implies conscious attention to all activities, to see that you are performing them in posturely and therefore energy-saving ways until the actions become habit. Graceful, efficient position must become as natural as breathing.

Stand to your full height with your pelvis (or hip bone) level, neither tipping forward nor backward. Abdominal bulge and rear protrusion will thus be eliminated automatically. Contracting your buttocks and stomach muscles by themselves is inadequate. Tension of specific muscle groups of that sort tends to develop them out of proportion to your natural muscular development and to make them bulge in an unsightly way.

Keep a Level Pelvis

The pelvis is more or less the keystone of the body. It is built like a basin and should be maintained in a level position, so that if it were filled with water, the contents would not spill out. As it is the pelvis contains viscera which spill forward or backward, making for poor appearance should the pelvis not be kept in a level position.

The “feel” for the proper balance of the pelvis can more easily be established in a horizontal position than in a standing one. Experiment by lying down and then tilting the pelvis forward and backward and stopping in the middle. Make a mental note of the muscular pull you feel, or the “feel” of the position. Then do the same in a standing position in front of a mirror. Take the mirror away and try the same by “feel.” Check with the mirror. You will soon learn to know just how much abdominal and back muscle tension is necessary to keep your pelvis in balance.

Your head and chest (or rib case) should be centred over the level pelvis and held high, not by individually lifting each, but rather by pushing up toward an imaginary spot in the middle of the top of the head with the head kept level.

The knees should be semilocked but never snapped back. The weight of the body ought to be evenly distributed between the ball and the heel of both feet.

In movement these basic positions are maintained with the necessary modifications for action. For instance, in picking up a book from the floor, don’t let your back round as most people do, but go down on one knee, bend forward from the hips, and reach out from your shoulder with no effort or pull. If you still cannot reach the book, bend more in the hips—don’t pull one shoulder forward. If you bend enough from the hips it will not be necessary either to break at the waist or round your back.

Make Your Legs Work

To rise from a chair place one foot ahead of the other, feet slightly apart; bring your weight forward over your knees, bending from the hips; the back is maintained in its natural curves, the upper back is not rounded; lift from your legs and stand. In sitting, reverse the process. Don’t drop into a chair; sit pretty.

And so on and on into all the movements necessary in everyday life. In pushing and pulling, lifting and putting objects down, let your hips and legs do the work; save your back by using the hips as a lever and the strength of your legs.

Once you have got the basic feel for good body mechanics into your system, you will notice an increase in your alertness and resistance and a growing sense of well-being which will lead to a braver and freer outlook on life.

How about beauty? Can good body mechanics “make you beautiful”?

You cannot alter your bony structure by assuming good body habits, but you can integrate it in a way that you will look changed.

What you actually change is your muscles. The reason good posture does not feel comfortable in the beginning is because many of the muscles you need to produce and maintain it are being used in a new role, one to which they are not accustomed and for which they are too flabby or too tense. The more you train them in their new role, the better your posture will feel. Their firmness and suppleness of movement will fill your body with life and expression.

The gradual learning to bring under your control muscle groups you have never voluntarily governed before will give you the adventurous thrill of controlling your own body and a sense of deeper harmony with your physical self.

Others will look at you with new eyes, too. An erect posture and a swinging gait are invariably associated with a youthful mind, strength, selfconfidence and optimism, while a slouchy manner of walking and drooping shoulders signify depression, insecurity, weakness and fear. If you look like a beaten man, you certainly invite a beating, and soon you will be a beaten man. +

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