Back pain is all too common in our modern society. Interestingly, research shows that in certain indigenous cultures, back pain is practically non-existent. This intriguing contradiction inspired some remarkable insights into what, exactly, defines good posture and how the S-shaped spinal curvature came to be accepted as normal.
So we’re going to take a look at this fascinating research on posture and back pain around the world, and how spinal extension plays into the picture, which the Upper Back Extender And Strengthener is all about.
This weekend’s challenge decompresses, flattens, and aligns the thoracic vertebrae to promote the regal posture seen in ancient cultures.
Let’s get started!
Redefining Good Posture
When you think of good posture, you might think of sitting up straight or walking with your shoulders back. But there’s actually a great deal more to posture than just that, since it also has to with with spinal curvature. I’ll explain.
It’s generally accepted that a gentle S-shape is normal – a slight curve inward at the neck, outward at the upper back, then in again for the lower back, and outward at the sacral vertebrae. But this may be a case of the less-than-ideal becoming the “new normal,” as we’ll explore in more detail later.
When a behavior becomes prevalent for many years, it can come to be viewed as normal. This is what’s happening with posture – sedentary lifestyles with hours of sitting, computer screens, typing, and cell phones are just a few of the everyday habits in modern society that encourage a hunched upper back and Forward Head Posture (FHP).
Poor posture can include the lower body, too. Slack abdominals pull the spine forward into a “swayback,” a condition referred to as lordosis if the curve deviates significantly from what’s considered normal.
All of this can add up to a slumped, imbalanced appearance and, unfortunately, back pain.
The Connection Between Poor Posture And Back Pain
When your vertebrae are not correctly aligned and supported by the surrounding musculature, they are in a state of imbalance, and so is your whole body. Always striving for balance inside and out, your body will begin to compensate in other areas to make up for the misalignment in another area.
What happens then is a conglomeration of muscle tightness, tension, and pressure in all the wrong places. Just about every joint in the body can be thrown off by poor posture, with knee, neck, shoulder, back, arm, and even ankle pain all playing in to the poor postural scene. Headaches are a classic symptom of poor posture.
Spinal extension helps counteract and correct all of this.
Spinal Extension: What It Is And Why It’s Important
Extension is the opposite of flexion. When you bend your spine forward, that is flexion. Extension, in contrast, is bending the spine backward. This spreads the vertebrae allows them to move more freely, and it minimizes the outward bend in the “S” at the top of the spine.
Yet extension is not something we practice naturally from day to day. It needs to be done deliberately, as in today’s exercise.
How To Do The Upper Back Extender And Strengthener
It’s more comfortable to practice this exercise on thick carpet or on an exercise mat.
- Lie on your stomach with your feet wide apart.
- Place your forehead on your hands to start.
- Lift your head and bring your arms forward, straightening your arms out in front of your face. Your palms should be down.
- Bring your arms out and around, palms still facing downward, so your fingers are pointing toward your feet and your elbows are straight.
- Lift your chest up off the floor as you do step #4.
- Bend your elbows and bring your hands back in as you put your forehead back down on the floor. The move is basically like a breast stroke.
- Extend your arms back in front of you and repeat the entire move eight to 10 times, or as many as you can comfortably perform.
As I mentioned earlier, this is not a motion we typically perform in our everyday lives. But in other less modern cultures, such motions are more common, and back pain is virtually nonexistent. Remarkably, their spinal curvature actually looks quite different.
Many Indigenous People Groups Do Not Experience Back Pain
When researcher Esther Gokhale suffered a herniated disc and the severe back pain that went with it, she set out to study populations around the world where such problems are rare. Hoping to avoid a second surgery for yet another herniated disc, Gokhale traveled to remote areas of the planet to observe and document the lifestyles of indigenous people groups.
From Ecuador to West Africa to Portugal, Gokhale was amazed at the activities these people engaged in, yet without back pain. Some carried heavy buckets on their heads; others spent seven to nine hours a day bent over gathering nuts; still others spent the better part of the day sitting on the ground weaving. Some of these people were very old, but their posture was excellent and they had no back pain.
The key seems to be the shape of indigenous people’s spines, a shape that is cultivated from infancy. Their spines assume more of a J-shape than an S-shape, with a very subtle upper back curve and a more significant curve at the bottom, so the buttocks protrude a bit. It seems that in addition to an active lifestyle from early age, such a spinal shape can handle the challenges of carrying heavy loads and sitting for long hours.
Gokhale began to do exercises like the one in today’s challenge in order to cultivate a more J-shaped spine, and her back pain diminished and ultimately disappeared.1
You, too, can cultivate a more J-shaped spine and eliminate or prevent backaches with moves like the Upper Back Extender And Strengthener and other Weekend Challenges, such as the Easy Posture Adjuster.
In fact, the Densercise™ Epidensity Training System contains many posture-enhancing exercises that flatten the upper back, reverse rounded shoulders, and promote healthy posture. While Densercise™ is effective when practiced three days a week for just 15 minutes, you can customize it to fit your personal level of fitness and individual goals by adding in Weekend Challenges, or repeating ‘Densercises' you find particularly helpful.
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As always, please feel free to share your thoughts about today’s challenge with the community by leaving a comment below.
Have a great weekend!
1 Doucleff, Michaeleen. “Lost Posture: Why Some Indigenous Cultures May Not Have Back Pain.” Npr.org. June 8, 2015. Web. https://www.npr.org/sections/goatsandsoda/2015/06/08/412314701/lost-posture-why-indigenous-cultures-dont-have-back-pain