Culture of Posture Blog Series: This blog series asks: What laws of nature, our genetic code and our musculoskeletal structure are we systematically ignoring as a culture? How can we return to a friendly relationship with gravity, trading muscular tension and imbalance for enhanced energy and vitality?
HEAL YOUR SPINE WITH HEAD CARRYING
While that iconic basket of bananas balanced effortlessly on top of the Chiquita Banana bombshell's head may seem exotic- turns out it's also one of her keys to powerful posture that keeps her back healthy into old age. All of our ancestors carried things on their heads!
Over the last 300 years, Western culture has, unfortunately, evolved to carry loads predominately on our backs instead of on our heads. While this seems totally normal and logical to us- it's a culturally specific paradigm. This has placed us placed us at a disadvantage for spinal health and how comfortable we are in our bodies.
Anthropological medical literature documents that spinal degeneration begins around age twenty. In head carrying indigenous cultures around the world, many of which are rapidly disappearing due to cultural imperialism, spinal degeneration doesn't generally begin until age 50. In our culture, however, back pain is an epidemic as early as the teen years and serious spinal degeneration begins before age 25.
If you've been in my yoga class, you are well aware that I'm obsessed with head carrying as a path to healing back pain. I was turned onto this seemingly esoteric practice by cutting edge leaders in the realm of postural anthropology, most notably, Ester Gohkle and Brooke Thomas of Liberated Body. In class, we've been holding blocks on our heads and pressing our palms into the tops of our heads and extending up into them to lengthen and strengthen the muscles surrounding our spines.
If you have to carry on your head it keeps the rest of your spine honest. You get immediate feedback if you are slumping, crunching, flattening or exaggerating your spinal curves.
Putting a small weight on the head is one of thethe best way to re-align the spine back into a copacetic relationship with gravity. Ester Gohkale, primal posture guru has even designed a head cushion with a light weight in it but all you need is a book! Placing a book on your head every 15 minutes or so when you take a break from your computer or when you are on a walk is a great way to address chronic neck tension. I've been finding weights in the form of rocks on my daily walks and carrying them on my head until I get home. My friends thought I was nuts at first but now they've joined me in placing a light book on their head while they type and meditate. See our yoga ergonomics in action!
TRY IT! At your computer: either just hold a book on your head for some or all of the time you are typing or, use an smart phone app like Yoga Timer to set a sweet bell to toll every 15-20 minutes. Stand up, place a book on your head, allow your spine to reset for 30 seconds, take a sip of water, and then continue working. I have chronic back tension that is extremely aggravated by sitting at the computer for extended periods. As always, it's FREQUENCY, NOT DURATION that creates lasting new neural pathways in the body.
I was just typing this article without a book and I just re-placed my book on my head. What happened? My entire spine shifted backwards so that my heart is over my pelvis and my ears are over my heart. I feel a lightness in my pelvis as a result of my organs gently lifting off of my pelvic floor as the muscles of my spine naturally engage to meet and support the weight. It's actually an incredibly dramatic thing. Do it now! This moment and see for yourself. Join my head carrying club: Head Carriers Have More Fun (and Healthier Backs) and post a picture of your self on my facebook page.
There are other benefits to head carrying including using your eyes more, which strengthens your peripheral vision and has tremendous effects on your spinal posture, balance and organ function. Another benefit: wagging the head less, which causes less wear and tear on the cervical spine. The Z Health organization for performance training has caught on and focuses on eye health and exercises as the missing link in cultivating a stronger, healthier body.
The lengthening effect of lifting through the spine allows more space for the lungs, making space for a fuller breath, thereby increasing circulation, immunity and all things delicious for the human organism. Lifting the organs off the pelvic floor, creates more space for them as well meaning- you guessed it- better all around organ function (think more consistent and improved digestion, hormone balance, toxin elimination, etc). Everything is connected as we explored in the Fascia and Yoga Blog Series.
When we are talking about creating healthier habits in the human body, little things make a big difference and have a domino effect on all areas of our lives. The more intimate we become with our body, the more we offer our awareness and intention towards living more comfortably in our vehicle, the more energy we have to offer our fullest selves into the world in service of others.
If you are a super body nerd like me, check out Eric Goodman's talk at the Ancestral Health Symposium on simple postural and breath re-patterning to heal the biggest health problem of our age: compression of the spine (long but worth it)
Ester Gohkle and Brook Thomas discuss head carrying in this AMAZING episode of Liberated Body- one of my fav's
Thanks, Nick Ursa for your lead on Kathleen Porter's "Natural Posture for Pain Free Living," an awesome resource on returning to our postural roots.
If you are curious about head carrying, don't miss this video by Ester Gokhale on retraining the body to rediscover a friendly relationship with gravity through head carrying.
Although backpacks are highly preferable to purses, check out a collection of research on kid's back pain as a result of backpacks.
I'm slowly training to carry my groceries on my head. ;) Seriously, though.