Faithful blog readers will know I am a fanatic about alignment, so it should come as no surprise that when I teach, I use a lot of the techniques I have learned through studying biomechanics and alignment.

After class last week, a woman came up to me and said, “I always thought that I was really strong, but what I’ve learned in your class is that I am actually not as strong as I think.”

“Yay!” I told her. “You’re getting to know your body better.”

I tell my clients all the time, that the body will always try to find an “easier” way to accomplish whatever movement we ask it to do. Your brain thinks, “Oh, so she wants me to get down to the floor. Silly her, trying to keep her elbows from splaying out. I’ll just pop them out right here and ‘BLAM!’ I’m on the floor.”

Our bodies seek to conserve energy. Perhaps this is a vestige of earlier times when food (read: energy) was scarce, uncertain and required a tremendous amount of physical labor to acquire. Our bodies needed to be as efficient as possible so as to conserve the energy reserves that we had.

But food (and caloric non-food, for that matter) is readily available today and requires precious little effort to obtain it. Our bodies needn’t be so efficient.

Add to that the fact that we perch in non-natural ways all day long. Sitting in a chair, car or office, is not a biological necessity. But we spend tremendous amounts of our time in that position which is actually rather foreign to our bodies. Walking, on the other hand, is a movement that our bodies require to operate and develop healthfully and yet we don’t do it nearly enough.

Because of this disconnect between what our bodies were designed to do and what we actually do with them, we have all these “issues.” Shortened muscles, weak connective tissues, muscles that are underdeveloped for the task at hand, and even muscles that are overdeveloped for the tasks that our bodies need to be doing to function. Case-in-point, it’s possible, likely even, that cultivating the much-lauded “six-pack ab” can result in dysfunctions such as menstrual pain, difficulty in labor and delivery, painful pregnancy, incontinence, painful sex, and even difficulty breathing.

Given all these dysfunctions that we cultivate in ourselves, our bodies learn to work around the pain.

Ack. My lower back hurts. You know what? No problem. We’ll just internally rotate those shoulders when you make us plank and transfer that load from the core onto our shoulder girdle. Dude, then we can totally last the whole minute in our end-of-class “Plank Challenge” and maybe that hot guy who lingers over by the leg press machine will finally notice how rocking awesome we are.

– Your Body

But here’s the dealio. When you focus on maintaining proper alignment, your  body cannot cheat. You have to accept your body’s “limitations” and honor them.

A great example of this is the forward bend. When I cue this stretch in my class, I remind folks not to bend their knees and not to tuck their pelvises under. And, when they reach that point where their pelvis just has to tuck, that’s exactly where they need to stop bending forward. (Katy Bowman offers up a tremendous explanation of the whys behind these cues here.)

Now, for some people this well-aligned stretch is physically challenging, but for many, it is emotionally challenging. They can easily reach the floor if they flex through the spine. But honoring their body and the present length of their hamstrings means that they need to stop before they get there.

The glory of honoring the body’s limits is that we no longer pretend to be something we’re not. We are forced to accept and come to terms with our tightness, our limited length, and our weaknesses. Once we accept them, we can then work to overcome them. But, if we keep denying that they exist – by bending our knees and tucking our pelvis – they will persist, get worse, and we will eventually end up injured in some way.

So, while it may seem odd that I was praising my client for the fact that she felt weaker in a class … did I mention that it was a STRENGTH TRAINING class? … it was actually a clear indication that she is on her way to getting stronger in both body and in mind. And that is exactly the gift I hope to give the clients who come to me.

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