Development as Nature Intended
How misalignment starts and what we can do to stop it.
Energy. It’s something we all want more of and something that all too often seems to be in low supply. The less energy we have, the less we want to move. furthering a cycle of sedentariness.
It’s all too easy to make excuses for not moving: “my knees hurt,” “I’m too old,” “I didn’t sleep well.” But Pete Egoscue, Father of Modern Postural Therapy and Co-Founder of Elev8d Fitness, argues that functioning at our prime—and thus, sustaining high energy levels—all comes back to proper body alignment.
When we’re properly aligned and vertically loaded, our diaphragms, dome-shaped muscle under the lungs, pump oxygen into our lungs, helping our body and brains perform at their peak. When we’re misaligned, other muscles, including those in our torso take over. Since they’re not nearly as effective at doing this task, this results in poorly functioning muscles and bones.
So how do we get misaligned in the first place? Humans are living, stimulus-response organisms, which means we evolve to fit within our environment, Egoscue explains.
And an ever-changing environment, as well as how we respond it it, is shaping our body for better or worse from day one.
Babies are born with flat feet. Along the way, thanks to developing muscles, arches form in our feet. The arch enables movement in every direction, balance and spring.
“Intuitively and genetically, babies understand the nature of development,” says Egoscue. “They move and kick and develop and eventually, they’re able to crawl, stand up, and walk. That’s nature unimpeded.”
Crawling, for one, helps a growing body develop hip, back, and shoulder strength and stability, which create the foundations of human movement—walking, running, jumping, pushing, and pulling.
But due to a slew of factors—including interrupting a child’s crawl stage too early and the overuse of baby shoes (more on that later)—human development is disturbed in the toddler years, argues Egoscue. “The failure of an arch to develop is merely the failure of an organism being allowed to develop the way nature intended it to.”
Raising children in an evolving environment full of technology and transportation that eliminate the need for movement is altering the way their bodies grow. “Many parents think that children are more intelligent if they walk earlier,” he says. So we start picking children up. We put them in hard shoes. We encourage them to walk before they are developmentally able.”
But this is a mistake, he says. That’s because the brain, muscles, and bones develop during the crawl stage, he notes. Babies need this time to adjust, adapt, and grow.
As for shoes? Sure, footwear protects the skin from the abrasions and environment, but Egoscue says that widely-available hard-soled baby shoes can actually slow the body’s ability to develop arches in the feet—crucial for proper movement. “If the foot can’t spread out and rock through its motion pattern because it’s being held with a rigid sole, there’s no reason for the muscles of the foot to do any work,” he says.
Carry toddlers or buckling them into car seats for hours at a time also impedes development. “We are motion machines. We are designed and developed through motion,” he says. “All of our systems depend on cell exchange and movement. The more we move, the better off we are.”
In short, interrupting the crawl stage, hard-soled baby shoes, and a lack of movement restricts the development of the arch, and because the body is a unit, this creates a cascading effect, compromising posture into adulthood.
To see the poor posture years later, Egoscue says all you have to do is look at young people as they grow into their teen years. They’re improperly loaded, he notes, with their heads forward and their shoulder rounded. And this is something that only intensifies with age.
Barefoot play for kids and shoes with the little of support—like moccasins—allow feet to develop the way nature intended, Egoscue says.
Parents should also allow children to develop in their own time on all fours, he says. “One of the ways humans learn is by mimicking. We should let them crawl until nature says it’s time to walk.”
As adults, using the body in its full range of motion and making sure to move in many different directions—at any age—can help realign the body.
To this extent, modified versions of traditional moves like Bear Crawls, which counters common issues like pelvic dysfunction come in, activating load joints, engaging big muscles, and re-invigorating the body.
But play (a pick-up football game, an impromptu game of tag, running around with the children in your life) is perhaps the most important—infusing a much-needed variety to our daily movements, challenging and surprising our body in new ways—motion as nature intended.