Regain Your Primal Posture
Maintaining a healthy posture is key to eliminating pain, especially in the lower back. Researcher Esther Gokhale has looked at how conventional advice on body alignment may be detrimental. Instead, she says supports a “primal posture”, as seen in many traditional societies that report very low levels of back pain.
Why Posture Is Important
Good posture is essential if you want to avoid chronic pain in the back, hips or neck. Having a healthy body alignment will improve your breathing and increase your lung capacity by opening up the chest. It reduces stress on ligaments and joints which can lead to arthritis. Good posture will also reduce the likelihood of injuries and may improve athletic performance by minimising aches and muscle fatigue. If you wanna look more sexay then maintaining a good posture can help you look more attractive, appear slimmer and feel more self confident. Dancers and actors in particular need excellent posture when performing.
Traditionally we associate back pain with a sedentary lifestyle – many hours behind a desk or on the sofa combined with little activity. This can be compounded by badly designed furniture, stress, age and excess bodyweight. While these are all factors that exacerbate the problem, the underlying cause is poor posture.
Rather than follow common guidelines to posture correction, researcher Esther Gokhale looked to traditional cultures around the world to find a solution. Much like the work of Weston A. Price, Gokhale examined why people in these societies seemed so suffer little in the way of back pain despite often spending their days doing tough physical activities.
Her conclusion, from observing people with low rates of back pain in Asia, Africa, Europe and Latin America, was that their posture was a key factor in pain-free living. In addition, the movement and posture in these cultures did not resemble the typical approach to good posture we see in the West.
J-Curve vs S-Curve
Whilst most health professionals will tell you to stand tall with a neutral pelvis, Gokhale suggests that the most beneficial and natural posture is to be positioned with an anteverted (tipped forward) pelvis. This means that instead of the usual S-curve in the spine, we should be adopting a J-curve by straightening the back, letting the pelvis sit forward and with your backside slightly out. In this position, the spine is supported and decompressed – reducing stress and muscle injury. This is the posture common in those that Gokhale studied and it is also the way that babies and toddlers will naturally align themselves.
This picture shows how the body should be positioned according to Gokhale’s research. Here they are both standing tall, spine in a central alignment allowing the muscles to be supported with little effort by weight-bearing bones. The back and chest are both relaxed and you can see the slight forward tilt in the pelvis which gives the body a J-curve shape.
Achieving a Primal Posture
An important aspect of correcting your posture is that it should be the by-product of good functional muscle strength and core stability. Imbalanced or tight muscles and poor functional strength can often lead to an excessive forward tilt of the pelvis creating an exaggerated effect. Focusing on functional movements will help strengthen the core, back, glutes, hamstrings and hip-flexors so that the J-curve is a natural, comfortable posture and not a result of musculature weakness.
Here’s an excellent TED talk video from Esther Gokhale explaining how you can find your primal posture and learn to sit without back pain.
In the primal arena, good posture and body positioning is perhaps a little overlooked. Considering how much of our time can be spent standing, sitting and sleeping it’s essential we find a healthy body alignment and not just associate good form with time under a barbell.
Gokhale has given us another example of how looking at traditional cultures and even young children, we can learn something about how our health can be improved. By studying people living in more “primal” environments, it’s clear that the body acts and adapts quite differently from our Westernised bodies. In the same way we examine the paleo diet, training and lifestyle, a J-curve posture may be another piece in the primal puzzle.