Chronic pain is endemic in our culture. Through my work as a yoga teacher I have noticed that chronic bodily pain is not just restricted to elderly, sedentary people – it’s widespread. I have seen so many people who are healthy, young and active with chronic pain; with headaches, low back spasms, cracking or painful knees, to name a few. I, myself, suffered chronic pain throughout my youth and young adulthood. While yoga helped mitigate much of this, it lead to a host of other problems, including increased ligament laxity – I started out as flexible and ended up unevenly overstretching, which weakened my joints and left me vulnerable to injuries. My journey to understand what was going on in my own body lead me to study anatomy, biomechanics, and the new anatomy of biotensegrity. I felt a deep, internal imperative. I had lived here all my life, but had no road map. I quickly discovered the work of Katy Bowman, Kelly Starrett and Jill Miller, Tom Myers, and Jules Mitchell, among others — some of my principle influences currently.
My study of biomechanics quickly lead to the realization that poor postural habits in my daily life (and those of my past) were sabotaging my ability to reduce my pain through yoga. The body work I regularly sought out didn’t have lasting effects either. At best yoga and body work would comprise 3 hours of my day, but the postures I was assuming for most of the day deeply affected the way I could move the rest of the time. I wasn’t spending most of the day moving around. Mostly I was studying. The quality of my daily movement habits were affecting my posture, and my emotional state as well. And what was that posture? It was the same one for me as it is for most others …
The consensus is clear – the biggest “innocuous environmental load” that we face in our culture is the immense amount of time we spend sitting in chairs. The human body evolved to move; to squat rather than stand at counters or sit on toilets, to run or walk instead of drive cars, or ride bicycles, to dance and skip and climb trees. For nearly 200,000 years we moved most of the time. Then the industrial revolution slowly began to fix us to one position and one set of movements most of the day, and Fordism (the advent of the production line to improve the efficiency of capitalist production) reduced the variety of movements we did even further. As technology advances, the amount of us sitting work increases exponentially. In the last decade, with the advent of smart phones, the workplace and social space grow even more cramped.
However, sitting at your desk can’t just be replaced with standing at it. As Katy Boman says in her book Move Your DNA, The “collective move of workers to chairs stemmed from the standing injuries created by post-industrial standing-all-day factory work. ‘Standing’ already has its risk of injury on file.” Instead, the solution is in increasing the amount of time during the day that you are moving, and varying the type of movement and the positions as much as possible.
The classes and workshops that I teach, informed by biomechanics and theories of biotensegrity, offer empowering techniques to treat aches and pains, to increase range of movement and importantly, to improve knowledge of your own intimate architecture – to integrate with yourself. There is a strong emphasis in these classes to help students undo some of the common postural issues created by our cultural way of living – the long hours we spend sitting while at a desk, or driving, or on a couch; the hunch of working with our hands in front of us at a counter; our reliance on heavily padded shoes with raised heel shoes.
But our bodies and our lives are unique; while many of us suffer from ailments and bodily pains with culturally common causes, each of our bodies has a different starting point, different methods of adaptation, and different goals. This is one of the reasons that the increase in inner body perception, or interoception, is a key part of this practice. As a Yoga Tune Up teacher I often start classes with the suggestion that those practicing become “students of their bodies”. I strive to empower each person in my class or each private client that I have to learn to assess themselves; to discover ways to mitigate the damaging effects of daily posture habits they can’t avoid (most of us won’t quit a job because we don’t want to spend too much time sitting at a desk), and increase mobility and stability for the activities they do enjoy (salsa requires a significant amount of internal rotation through the hip).
Healing happens within. Doctors, physiotherapists and body workers can help to facilitate that healing. But we can also become responsible for our own healing; we can become active agents in making the changes necessary to thrive in our bodies. I am constantly studying and learning new things to offer to my students, but the most powerful tool each of us has is this power to look inside. The techniques that I teach–self-massage, precise stretching and corrective movement–are fueled by increased self-awareness, proprioception and interception. It is through this that they offer a way into taking more responsibility for your own body, for your own being.