Last month, I shared with you how Aston-Patterning is an educational tool that involves the unwinding of old tension and pain patterns in the body, but that it is the movement and ergonomic work that allows a person to sustain change. Now we’ll take that a step further.
In Aston-Patterning, we encourage people to pay attention to their normal posture and body usage before they begin to make any adjustments to their postural or movement patterns. Why? Because the better you’re able to pinpoint the feeling and effects of your current usage patterns, the better you’ll be able to accurately contrast them with any modifications. The resulting body awareness will then help you maintain the changes long-term.
Below, you will find a short checklist that can help you begin to assess your current postural patterns. Please do not put yourself in a compromised position to complete the checklist; if anything hurts, STOP, and see your medical professional!
Body Tension Self Checklist: Building Awareness of Your Patterns
1. When you stand, is your weight settled into your heels, your whole foot, or your forefoot? Do your knees lock, or are they loose (able to bend and tighten)?
• Your feet act as the base of support for the rest of your body. When your weight is focused too far forward or back in your feet rather than over the whole foot, it destabilizes the pelvis and upper body. Similarly, locked knees tend to push the pelvis forward, decreasing support, and increasing tension, in the upper body.
2. When you sit, does your tailbone tend to tuck underneath you, push out behind you, or settle somewhere in-between? Note how your tendencies can change depending upon the height of your chair.
• When we sit, the feet and sitz bones are our base of support. A slumped position (usually with the tailbone tucked underneath you, which puts you on the back of your sitz bones) indicates flexion through the spine, while an arched back (usually with tailbone pushing out behind you, which puts you on the front your sitz bones) indicates an extension. Optimally, you want to be sitting somewhere in-between these two positions, with your spine fairly balanced front to back, directly on top of your sitz bones, with weight both in your sitz bones and feet.
3. Do your eyes tend to rest above, at, or below the horizon (try both sitting and standing)?
• Eyes resting above the horizon can indicate shortening of the back of the neck. Eyes at, or a little below, the horizon tend to be best. This allows for a better balance of the head on top of the spine, and greater relaxation through the muscles of the face, neck, and shoulders.
Did you gain any new awareness about your postural patterns from the exercise?
Now we’ll go through them again, but this time utilizing two self-cues to help determine the effectiveness of your current patterns. Note that most people tend to find one cue more useful or easier to feel than the other. That’s absolutely fine; focus in on the cue that works best for you.
• Head rotation from side to side: how complete is your rotation, and where do you feel a pull?
Why do this? When the neck and head are balanced in a neutral position on top of the ribcage, it tends to take pressure off of the neck and allows for fuller head rotation.
• Full inhalation through the ribcage: when you take a breath, can you direct your breath to your lower back, sides, and upper chest? Note if one area is more restricted than the others.
Why do this? When the spine is neutral- neither overarching nor slumping down- the rib cage can relax into its full volume, which allows for flexibility in all three dimensions of the rib cage. This neutral rib cage allows for a full and relaxed inhalation and offers better structural support for the shoulder girdle, neck, and head.
With these self-cues in mind, work through the checklist again:
1. The position of your feet
• Stand in your normal position. Where does the weight settle in your feet? Perform the self-cues. What do you notice? Now, see if you can change where you settle your weight in your feet, and do the self-cues again. Do you notice any difference in how the cues feel?
2. Seated position
• Sit in your normal position, and notice where your pelvis and spine tend to settle. Perform the self-cues. Now, go in the opposite direction (if you tend to go into flexion, take yourself into extension and vice versa). Perform the self-cues again. Notice any difference? Now, find someplace in-between flexion and extension, and perform the self-cues one more time. Any changes?
3. Resting eye position
• Note where your eyes tend to rest. Perform the self-cues (the head rotation tends to be most useful here). Change your position, and repeat the self-cues. Notice any changes?
Unfortunately, going through this checklist isn’t going to solve any challenges you’re having with tension or pain, in and of itself. But it can help you learn how to pay broader attention to your body and the effects of your body usage. The cumulative effects of daily stressors cause much of our bodily discomfort. By improving our body awareness and developing a vocabulary for contrasting our habitual patterns with new ways of moving/sitting/standing, we can begin to catch ourselves in the midst of those pain-causing patterns and start to develop new habits.
Amanda Skidmore is a staff member of the Anschutz Health and Wellness Center, where she helps people release long-held tension and pain patterns, while also teaching them how to use their bodies with greater ease and efficiency. For more information, give us a call or visit the front desk.