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Head over heels? The forgotten art of posture

Santiago Calatrava, the Spanish engineer and sculptor, describes what he terms as the 'the aesthetic problems' in constructing skyscrapers as two-fold: "how to meet the ground and how to meet the sky".

To me as an osteopath [and practising human being] I find his phrasing a perfect description of the challenges of human posture. Evolution has pulled us up to be the high-rises of the animal kingdom: lifting us up onto our hind legs, opening out the backs of our knees, prising open our hips , easing our spine upwards to stand vertically above the bowl of the pelvis, and finally, placing our big, round head precariously on top of our slender neck.

the turning torso, Santiago Calatrava, Malmo, Sweden

It is a revolutionary transition for creatures that once relied on the use of their front limbs as essential components of their support and transport systems. It takes the human child a long time and practice to achieve this feat of bipedal balance, independent of any props or helping hands.

"How to meet the ground

and how to meet the sky"

We are a tall structure on a very small base. Unlike other forms that share this small base/tall form ratio, for example trees that have roots, or skyscrapers that receive stability from underground foundations, the human form has none of these stabilising elements. Instead we have feet that lift easily off the ground. Obviously this ability of the feet to move off the ground and transport us from place to place, compromises us in its role as a support for the body. But still our ability to realise our full height depends largely on the efficiency of the base in providing solid support; the ability of the feet to support the legs, the ability of the legs to support the pelvis, the pelvis to support the trunk, and the trunk and spine to support the head. An upward chain of supports and height. If one supporting link shirks in its responsibility, the posture will similarly droop and drop.

woman in market, Vilanculos, Mozambique

trees have roots, skyscrapers receive stability from underground foundations, but the human form has none of these stabilising elements....we have feet that lift easily off the ground

The primary support that sets the tone for good posture comes from the feet. Human posture is a bottom-up endeavour. The contact of the feet on the ground sends impulses up the body that encourages height at each link. If the feet are in any way restricted, the posture will reflect this weakness. Similarly if the lines of balance and weight are shifted this will also affect our ease and poise on standing. Many shoes have this effect, including shoes that have high heels.

In spite of the fact that the heels themselves add height, the struggle to keep balance, invariably causes the foot-wearers posture to fall in on itself. The person gains height from the inches of her heels, but paradoxically looses height [and poise] due to the bad support she is receiving from below. In addition, heels shift the person's weight forwards so that the body tilts over the toes.

Make sure your head sails high above your heels.

style of footwear of many guests at wedding in Lecce, Italy

the support provided by the feet

determines the quality of the posture...

human posture is a bottom-up


How is your posture?

Do you feel you meet your maximum potential height when you stand and walk?

Do your feet work well to support your posture?

Do your shoes do justice to the function of your feet, in supporting your posture?

Gabriela Cohen

registered osteopath

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