standing balanced

Standing elevated may feel ‘wrong’

Thursday, June 11th, 2009 | Practice, Standing | 5 Comments


I wrote in Standing 101 that practicing elevated standing may raise the following questions:

  1. why do you feel as if you are leaning forwards, or even about to fall forwards?
  2. why do your calves feel tense?
  3. why do your feet start to ache?
  4. why does it feel as if your whole body is making extra effort to stand like this?

If you experience any or all of these, then it is important to know that everything is fine (even it it does not feel this way!). These are the four most common ‘complaints’ the body has to changing its way of being held when standing, and each is easily explained.

  • The feeling of leaning forwards occurs because re-positioning (re-balancing) the body puts it more forwards relative to its old position. This does not mean that you are leaning forwards, even if it feels this way (any more than the feeling of a room spinning when you are dizzy means that the room really is spinning). Of course this feeling disappears the moment you shift back into your old way of standing (with your weight further back) – because this is what your body and brain are used to. If, however, you practice elevated standing for a day or two, then the feeling of leaning forwards will most probably disappear. Your brain acclimatises itself to the new position – this new way of balancing, holding and controlling your body – with the end result that if you return to your ‘old way of standing’ then you will almost certainly feel as if you are leaning backwards. 
  • The calves feel tense or tight because standing elevated causes them to be stretched ever so slightly. Standing elevated lengthens the calf muscles and so they are bound to complain. Standing with your weight further back will stop the complaining because the muscles are allowed to return to their habitual length. The sensation of tightness can be perceived as ‘something wrong’ or as something to be accepted as a part of the process of re-educating your body. While the feeling of leaning forwards passes after a day or so, tightness in the calves usually takes longer. How long is hard to say because accumulated tension levels vary from person to person – it may take a few weeks or months or sometimes longer, it all depends. For me it took many months because my calves were as hard as iron!
  • If your feet start to ache when you stand elevated then it is simply because they are not used to carrying the full weight of the body in this new manner. Stand with your weight comfortably on your heels and you should be able to feel how the fronts of your feet relax and become passive. Repeat this every day for the next ten years and what will happen? The muscles in the front of your feet will gradually weaken, because they do less work. Indeed after many years, they may even start to ‘solidify’ as they lose their natural suppleness and flexibility – something many elderly people are familiar with. When you stand elevated, you force your feet out of early retirement and of course they complain! Suddenly the fronts of your feet are forced to carry the full weight of your body, doing the work they were designed to do. The muscles and tendons in the feet then become stronger and more flexible as they respond to the challenge of carrying the body. The trick is to just keep them working and ignore the complaining (with a little rest in between, of course) until it passes.
  • If you feel that your whole body is making extra effort when standing elevated then this is just an extension of the previous ‘complaint’, only this time it is a reflection of how unfamiliar your whole body is with holding itself up correctly. Regular practice (self re-education) will prove to you that it does become easier to stand elevated. In the end you feel nothing at all, which is the way it should be. Indeed, on one occasion many years ago, I was travelling home on the subway and was so tired that I fell asleep standing – without holding onto anything. I didn’t realise I had slumbered until I suddenly awoke at my station. I was both surprised and inspired by this new experience.


It is easy to get distracted by these complains (and any others that may arise), and then give up, allowing them to function as excuses for returning to your old habits (even when these habits may be contributing to LBP or other disorders). 


A certain amount of conscious effort is therefore necessary in order to re-position the body and keep it there – until it learns to automatically maintain this new position on its own. This is not unlike the extra conscious effort necessary to break any well worn habit such as smoking or driving on the side of the road that ‘feels right’ in countries where they drive on the opposite side.

MUBA tests help strengthen our resolve to practice because:

  1. they correct any tendency to unconsciously ‘wander back into old habits’ (which in my experience happens to everyone during the first period of practice), and
  2. every time we compare elevated with oppressed standing (using the tests) we are once again reminded of the true differences in function.

If you persevere with this you will discover that a little temporary discomfort is a very small price to pay for the many health and performance benefits that true elevated standing (and sitting, moving, etc) gives you access to.


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Standing 101

Monday, June 1st, 2009 | Basics, Standing | 2 Comments

If you read “Sitting 101″ then I hope you are curious to know how to stand truly elevated, i.e. in a manner that is easy, light and energising, and that also lessens the load on the neck, shoulders and lower back. The problem today is that many attempts to ‘lift the body’ fail because they unwittingly lead to oppressed use.


This woman had a herniated disk and a whiplash injury. Learning to stand elevated benefited her immediately as it reduced the pressure in her spine

Standing elevated is actually very easy IF you understand the way different choices of balance affect the body. To understand elevated standing it is important that we acknowledge the difference between standing correctly balanced over the front or balls of the feet and standing incorrectly balanced over the middle of the feet or over the heels. Unfortunately most of us (including most medical experts and personal trainers) have never been taught to make this distinction - unless we play sports like basketball. Only then do we all seem to agree that you have to stand and move from the balls of the feet because this is what enhances the coordination and control needed to be able to react and move quickly.

Standing is a little more complicated than sitting because the upper body must also be correctly balanced over the legs, which themselves may be correctly or incorrectly positioned.

Oppressed standing occurs when the weight of the whole body is over the middle of the feet or heels and the weight of the upper body is allowed to shift backwards so that the pelvis starts to tip backwards. The support along the front of the chest is weakened causing the shoulders and head fall forwards. The arms become less connected with the whole body which is why extra effort to carry or control things has then to be made from the shoulders and upper back. It is the long term use of the arms in ‘disconnected mode’ that leads to the accumulation of tension in the neck, shoulders and upper back that then causes discomfort, stiffness, pain and eventually disability.

No amount of ‘pulling the shoulders back’ or ‘straightening the back’ will correct the tendency to collapse or the need to ‘work from the shoulders’, because these ‘corrections’ are too shallow (which is why they have to be repeated thousands of times ad infinitum). Nor will treatment of the muscles and joints correct the way the WHOLE body is balanced and directed, even if treatments undoubtedly do provide relief. These interventions fail most often to cure the aches and pains caused by misuse because they do not address the basic mechanism that governs the way oppressed standing is created and maintained.

To get into elevated standing try the following:

1.       begin by standing normally, with your weight distributed equally on both feet, which should be spaced naturally apart and not together or wide apart

2.    go up on your toes – this will lengthen your body naturally; if you wish you can imagine that you are trying to look over a fence

3.    keep yourself tall (maintain your length) and come down SLOWLY.

4.    when your heels touch the ground STOP WITHOUT DEVIATING, i.e. without shifting your body weight backwards; the whole under-surface of your feet should be in contact with the ground, BUT your body weight should be centred over the front or balls of the feet only.

5.     repeat this sequence a few times and observe very carefully; if you discover any tendency to shift backwards after the heels touch the ground then repeat until this is eliminated; in the end you should be able to go directly up and down without any lateral movement

If you have access to someone who knows how to do MUBA testing then you will be able to confirm that this standing is very stable and strong and also very secure.

If you cannot test this standing posture then you will either feel good about standing like this – it will feel light and easy – or you won’t. If you don’t then it is very likely that you have have some questions. For example:

·       why do you feel as if you are leaning forwards, or even about to fall forwards?

·       why do your calves feel tense?

·       why do your feet start to ache?

·       why does it feel as if your whole body is making extra effort to stand like this?

Habitual oppressed standing - something that was for this woman not corrected despite 9 years on sick leave!

Habitual oppressed standing - which for this woman was corrected FOR THE FIRST TIME after 9 years on sick leave!

Because oppressed and elevated use are fundamentally opposite strategies it requires a little patience as well as tolerance for the fact that your body will probably complain a little (just as it will if you go to a gym for the first time in a number of years). I’ll explain more about this in more detail in the next article. In the meantime have a go and see what happens and at the same time consider the following: current thinking about posture and body use, most often based on plumb line alignment, ‘straight back thinking’, and middle of feet or heel standing (or sitting bone sitting) is reflected directly in the oppressed use (and associated disorders) that far too many of us are struggling to escape from.

The irony of this is that this thinking - that contradicts our efforts to use the body in a strong and healthy manner - is the thinking that is most often referenced and encouraged by health experts all round the world – including manual therapists, ergonomists, rehabilitation specialists, personal trainers and even researchers and doctors. 

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