Sunday, June 15, 2008

Sit Up Straight - Be Good! Control Your Lower Nature!

This post is very blunt.  I don't know any other way to say all this. I see so many suffer from lack of understanding this. I did, for years, so again, I speak with passion and understanding. I was raised as a minister's kid, and I took all that good advice and preaching deeply to heart.  In some ways it was good, but in many other ways it really messed me up. Because I did not rebel, and took it all to heart, I suffered for many years for it, until at age 44 I entered a Feldenkrais Training  Program.  Near the end of this post I get to the blunt part - I sort of approach the topic by twists and turns. 

This topic is unusual and rarely discussed: sexuality, toilet training and defecation as it relates to a functional pelvis, sitting posture and our attitudes about all that, and the implications. When this material becomes clear, a load is lifted off your shoulders. Life makes more sense. It can bring light and awareness where before there was subconscious cringing or outright repulsion. 

Now, just because I wrote this post, don't think as a body-worker I discuss such things with clients. Well, maybe with long term clients I know very well.  No, and with the hands-on work my hands of course never ever go near the floor of the pelvis. Some people are so terrified when they read this, thinking I work in that area directly, they would never dream of making an appointment to actually see me. That area, however, is "worked" but indirectly, through movement and positioning. Please relax. I have professional boundaries, I am kind and thoughtful and my thoughts are about Feldenkrais and movement, and you are in charge of the sessions; what you don't want, I don't do. You stay fully clothed during a session.  Even so, I suspect that out of every 10 persons who read this, and would become clients, I will probably lose 3. If that is you, I would beg you to get involved with a good therapist. 

As Moshe Feldenkrais said, and I agree 1000%, the worst thing  your parents (or society, or the voice in your head) can do to you is demand that you to sit up straight. First, it means you learn  to think, sense and feel the spine - your very core of life and support and movement - as something to hold stiffly straight. It destroys the natural curves of the spine. It makes good posture and functional human movement impossible. It makes the pelvis immobile or dead to life and movement and postural support  - I see this in practically every client I have ever had.  

The tailbone, the bottom of the spine, is in the very center, the heart of the pelvis. When you think "pelvis" your first thought, your clear awareness, should go to the tailbone, not sex or defecation or urination or childbirth or soft tissue. People who can do this don't need Feldenkrais (usually). They  become the outstanding athletes; even the coaches don't know why some people are just "more talented." For sure, the best athletes have never, ever taken to heart the insane advice sit up straight. True, the independence and perhaps rebellion that allowed them to stay strong and independent of that very harmful advice will also frequently manifest as sexual promiscuity. But their sexual behavior is not the cause of the freedom of movement  in their pelvis (although it may be related), nor of their athletic ability. They just refused to listen, refused to obey, when people were telling them this crazy thing about sitting up straight, don't slump, don't squirm in the chair. For the most part they sit in the back of the classroom, as far away from the teacher as possible - probably a wise choice. For that I honor them. For the rest, well let me think about it. 

A dead pelvis is mainly the result of sitting hours and years at a desk in school, working the eyes and brain and hands, with a dead-to-movement pelvis, combined with lack of good movement and play while growing up, and not getting involved in sports at an early age.  The pelvis just sits there. Sitting up straight by stiffening the spine and chest just puts the final nails into the coffin.  If that were done to any wild animal, it would go nuts, it would know it would be a death sentence. I doubt you could train any animal to do such an insane behavior. Our pelvis is our power center, our strongest muscles attach there. What kind of horrible personality distortions do you think will happen if you immobilize them, for years on end, all the while thinking you are being good? Now, I am not saying you need to be a sexually active brute, God forbid, I am speaking about personal power, movement, athletic ability, poise, being able to sense the root chakra  in meditation, and no pain in the lower back. It has nothing, or very little, to do with sexuality.  

Our trouble is when we think of the pelvis, we think only of sex, or the toilet.   So, if we are trying to be good and nice,  we usually do not allow ourselves to even sense that area (of course some persons with more sensible upbringings don't have these issues, not in this way). Again, learn to think of your tailbone when you think of your pelvis, train yourself to do that. That will benefit you.  Learn to sense and move your pelvis from your tailbone (for most folks this involves many years of Feldenkrais. So many people have injured tailbones, which compounds the issue). The pelvis is just an intellectual concept for so many. A childhood of supinely succumbing to sit up straight be good don't squirm will tend to  launch you into a lifetime of struggle, back pain, body aches and stiffness as you grow older, neck pain, failures, unnecessary fatigue and more. You'll probably even end up angry, since you tried so hard to be good, while others who don't try so hard, have much easier or more successful lives. The hard truth is - those others were making a more intelligent effort. I am being very blunt - giving some hard truths in a direct way. Psychological counseling will be sometimes good, but more often frustrating, if this crucial somatic issue is totally ignored. 

Most every post on this blog, up to now, as been about the damaging effects of stiffening to sit upright, and how to go about it in a better way. Please read all the posts prior to this date for that information. Today, as you can see, we cover a different aspect. 

When sitting up straight is combined with "BE GOOD" the usual message, if you are a girl, is keep your knees together (which collapses posture forward, causing stiffening of the spine and chest to sit erectly - most women suffer from this), don't have sex until you are married and can support a child. Be modest. If you are a boy it means don't be immoral, be good and spiritual and celibate, until you are married.  Such a culturally entrenched and even religious moral message cannot be bad can it? It is well-intended , but sadly the results can be opposite to what is intended. 

In order to have any hope, any possibility, of channeling the youthful hormones into non-sexual avenues, or as some say, transmuting or uplifting or transforming the sexual energy for sure the pelvis must fully exist - as something to easily, naturally sense and move - in a person's consciousness. If a body part is unconscious, tension becomes chronic there, and the resulting bodily, emotional and mental distortions end up controlling a person's behavior. 

In other words - the harder you try to obey and sit up straight be good the harder the time you will have controlling that energy. When you can - God forbid! Am I legally allowed to do this? - let the "sex" hang down with gravity, relax and drop the floor of the pelvis, wear looser clothing,  let the belly not be held so tight, sense the tailbone as the essence of the pelvis - you enter a kinder, more sane and gentle world. Sex is considered in our internal milieu in the right perspective. It has absolutely nothing to do with becoming promiscuous. Quite the opposite. To get a pelvis like that, you need to do some serious Feldenkrais work, or at least learn to squirm intelligently in your chair! And you'll need to stop using over soft or curved-bottom chairs that compress the tailbone. You need a chair that is hard and flat enough so you can clearly rest on your sitting bones.  

Much of what our culture, and too often our teachers and parents, teach us is like poison to our posture, to our movement and our future prospects. Particularly that is true of anything  to do with posture and movement: those who give the advice have never studied the issue, not even for a moment, but still they speak with assumed authority!  Sadly, TV, video games, movies and computers aggravate postural immobility, pelvic immobility, staring eyes and stiff ribs in the young. We all have to get a lot smarter, quick.  Feldenkrais is like an antidote to the poison we have all ingested - wrong advice about how to be good, how to sit up straight. Really, it just takes a little bit to straighten out the whole situation. It's like a dish that is has no salt - just a little salt make it delicious. If I seem to be ignoring Yoga, or Tai-Chi or Qi Gong, or dance, it is because in past years I have recommended those things to clients, and the results were generally not good. We always had to go back the Feldenkrais basics to create the necessary changes. You can do all of those things while still holding on to harmful chair sitting behaviors, for example. You can do all of those things while keeping your chest stiff, thinking that is a good thing,  or unconsciously drawing up the floor of your pelvis, as most people in fact do.  

We want to enter a world where we don't have voices in our head telling us to do something insane like sit up straight be good when such advice actually does exactly the opposite of what is intended. Using muscles to stiffly hold the spine will guarantee that someday they will give up and you will have serious almost intractable postural distortions. The rigid pelvis that went along with the package guarantees that sex will always be mysterious, dark, inviting, something perhaps delightful, but uncontrollable, unconscious. Maybe it is that way anyway, but we don't need to exaggerate it!  It  will probably control you, more than you want, to one degree or another, if sitting up straight is a priority for you. That's almost guaranteed. The first advice I would give a man who was obsessed with pornography (if I were asked, which of course I never will be) would be to start somatic work with his pelvis. If I ran a 12 step program for sexual addiction, I would be sure this was on the agenda. 

Of course sexuality has to do with desire, diet, culture, belief system, exercise, parental example and training, religion, spirituality, habits, environment etc. I have written this blog to highlight what almost everybody else is ignoring - the somatic aspect. 

The somatic side of things is often the controlling factor in our lives and in society as well. The puzzle is why so few recognize this! Any neurologist will confirm that most of the brain activity of every person concerns movement, and what is related to movement. It takes a lot of work by our brains to allow us to function in gravity - and be coordinated, balanced, locomote, etc, even while we do other things. If  you arbitrarily impose bizarre  constraints  on how the low brain should do all that (something it knows all about without our conscious interference) the effects will not be good. And if all the "good people" in a society are taking on body posture ideas that actually disempower them, that society will take on major distortions as well. 

Toilet training is a clear example. If we are trained even a few weeks too early, before we could voluntarily control the sphincters, we learn "control" by tensing the entire pelvis, and by drawing up the floor  of the pelvis. This is our first, and perhaps most impactful mentoring for a lifetime of being uptight. We  thought  we had to do that to please our parents, and to be good. So from then on, to be "good" means tense, don't sense, don't allow natural feelings, anywhere in the pelvis. Instead - control it with constant effort. That effort becomes unconscious, yes, but it is written into the body language of almost everyone I see walking down the street, every day. You won't be able to see this until you first have learned to release the floor of your own pelvis down, and let go of all that effort. Then it will suddenly be clear to you what everyone else is doing. 

Then we go to school and learn to sit still, and stiffly straight in chairs, while "paying attention." So we learn that to concentrate, we must immobilize the pelvis, be uptight and stare straight ahead. From then on, unless a person has strong counteracting behaviors or attitudes, the pelvis becomes more and more hypnotized into rigidity. Yes, we know we have a pelvis. Yes, we can feel it. If we sit down, we feel our pelvis - yes, of course. What I am referring to is the ability of the pelvis to naturally, without thinking or willing, actively, dynamically support the weight of the torso, to respond with precision appropriately second- by-second to minor changes in the carriage of our head or the movement of our arms, and be a place from which we can initiate movement, and not just be a passive participator. If you have a pelvis like that, congratulations, you are a most unusual person. You'll go far in life. Obstacles will fall at your feet. 

The lumbar spine and pelvis are designed most easily to move in flexion and extension. People associate that movement with sexuality, rightly so. However, it need not have an exclusively sexual connotation. Because of this stigma, many people are shy to move their pelvis in flexion and extension, even to adjust their sitting posture in a chair!  When bending down to pick up a box or any object, few people allow their buttocks to stick out ("rudely") behind them. Yet, that is the only way that integrity of the spine can be maintained while lifting.  Most people keep their tailbone, their pelvis, tucked under (body language for cowardice) for fear of being rude or suggestive. When I teach people not to do this, their back pain usually goes away. Granted we have all been trained into this since childhood, but still, it can only be called absurd.

It is entirely possible to do aerobics, yoga, tai chi, any kind of sports activity - all the while with under-utilized pelvis, or worse yet, a pelvis that is doggedly remaining in the "tucked-under" mode. The harder you work at sports or yoga, like that, the more trouble you will create for your body. Without the pelvis tilting movement available, chair sitting becomes a trial and pain-inducing, we cannot have personal power or real integrity, we cannot have a relaxed chest and we cannot even have relaxed shoulders or necks. We cannot sense our tailbones - and this alone can create a tendency towards chronic anxiety. Untreated tailbone injuries aggravate this situation. With a pelvis like that, everything else has to compensate - we become ungrounded, over-tense, uptight and all the joints over-compressed. That means lots of pain, eventually. No matter what the medical diagnosis or treatment for joint or muscle pain might be - if you work this angle as well, you'll get better results.  

That America has the world's highest rates of constipation and colon cancer is certainly not unrelated to these issues. We are trying to be so polite and proper and good that we are literally killing ourselves in the process.  

When the only place in a society where there is any hope of normal pelvic movement is sex, then sex will take on an artificial glow of desirability, even of necessity or normalcy for all people of all ages in all conditions. Never in he history of the world has that been an accepted truth, not in any ancient culture that I have heard about, yet we seem to be moving in that direction. Morality aside, it strikes one as absurd, just taking it at face value.

Because normal pelvis movement has taken on an overly-sexual charge or connotation, those people in society who are trying to be good or religious or moral or spiritual - won't allow themselves to do that movement (except maybe if they are able with a marriage partner, during sex). It is considered unclean or at least improper. So they hold themselves uptight as a way to be correct or good.  They'll even walk with a pelvis like a stiff board, the legs just swinging as if on immobile hinges. This can quickly wear out the hip joints.

Sadly, and paradoxically, such people will be more or less impotent in both their personal and public lives. The bottom of our spine, our tailbone and pelvis, is the very foundation of our life, our energy, our power. When we never sense it, and hold it all immobile, for whatever reason, we are continually affirming to ourselves and to the world that we cannot fully commit to any action, that we are neurotically, unconsciously committed to unreasonable or dogmatic ideas, that we are blocking our own personal power for some weird reason, that we are easily influenced by other people, that we are not in full control. Living like that - and I've experienced it - is like rowing a boat upstream, and the river is flowing fast. It is a lot of work, you get nowhere and often get swept downstream. 

Children can be our teachers. Rather than fear that they will grow into wild animals, with uncontrolled instincts - and therefore we demand they sit stiff or still and straight and concentrate to do homework, etc -  we should encourage them to sit and eat and play on the floor, encourage outdoor play, sports, involvement  with Feldenkrais, crawling, creeping, dance and minimal chair sitting. They need to be taught how to sit in a chair intelligently - such as I have outlined in these articles. Paradoxically, if kids are denied a functional pelvis while growing up, in their teenage-hormone years, it is highly likely they will be powerfully attracted to anybody with a functional, moveable pelvis.  It will seem so natural, so right, so normal, and "what my parents taught me was so stupid". And they'd be right. Yet, that person may be the last person on earth you want your  child to hang out with!  


1 comment:

DeAnne said...

Great post!! I'm proud of you for tackling the issue. I think it is soooo could write more. I think you should produce a sample program and offer it to whomever teaches sexual offenders.
Sure wish I could take your classes again. My body needs that Feldenkris brain. Thanks again. Do you know a practioner in Colorado Springs?