FEATURE OPINION — If only I’d had a dollar for each time I’d heard “Don’t slouch; stand up straight” during my formative years. Back then, of course, my parental units’ words were just annoying. But with age, allegedly, comes wisdom. Or at least the Internet. And as it turns out, there’s some pretty compelling evidence that Mom and Dad weren’t too far off-base.
As my maturing spine has endured its share of traumas (a cervical fusion necessitated by obsessive weight-lifting, general malaise from marathon training, et cetera), I’ve found solace in gentler workouts, including aqua aerobics, Pilates and walking. All give my vertebrae a good stretch and force me to give serious thought to my posture.
Who knew? That’s precisely what the doctor ordered. Specifically, Dr. Robert Sperry, the 1981 Nobel laureate in physiology and medicine for his split-brain research.
Sperry found that “90 percent of the stimulation and nutrition to the brain is generated by the movement of the spine” and that “the more mechanically distorted a person is, the less energy is available for healing, metabolism and thought.”
A 1994 study published in the “American Journal of Pain Management” noted that “posture affects and moderates every physiologic function, from breathing to hormonal production. Spinal pain, headache, mood, blood pressure, pulse and lung capacity are among the functions most easily influenced by posture.”
Slouching can actually elevate your blood pressure? Yes, and worse.
Consider this: Estimates are that the average human head, inclusive of the brain, weighs approximately 10 to 12 pounds. Improper posture and slouching typically send the head forward. Then, according to findings by the Mayo Clinic published in November 2000, “forward head posture leads to long-term muscle strain, disc herniation, arthritis and pinched nerves.”
Also, in the third volume of his acclaimed “Physiology of Joints,” internationally renowned orthopedic surgeon Adalbert I. Kapanji posited that “for every inch of forward head posture, it can increase the weight of the head on the spine by an additional ten pounds.”
In other words, not giving your noggin the postural support it needs can double the stress on your neck, shoulders and spine. Pass the ibuprofen, please!
So … how can we transform poor posture into perfection? For a growing number of St. Georgians, that goal is being met at Summit Athletic Club, where members and guests are filling the “Healthy Posture” sessions. A combination of Pilates and therapeutic exercises, the classes are offered by fitness instructor Lorri Soqui.
Soqui, a certified Pilates instructor and former staff member at a Southern California Physical Therapy, united the exercise and rehabilitation modalities after watching patients struggle back to health following major surgeries.
“People would try to get back to their regular exercise regimen, and boom, they’d hurt themselves again, so they’d end up back in PT again,” Soqui said. “So our clinic began designing workouts encompassing cardio, weight-lifting, core strength and flexibility, Pilates and physical therapy.”
These days, Soqui, a 1981 graduate of Dixie High School, leads 21 classes at Summit per week and says the healthy posture classes are by far the most popular.
“It’s like Pilates on steroids,” she said.
Wanting to see what the buzz was all about, I packed up my mat, donned my workout gear and headed over to the cavernous downstairs studio in Summit’s facility just off River Road. Taking a visual survey of my fellow aficionados crowding the floor, I relished the diversity in ages, shapes and sizes (although the majority fell firmly into the “senior” category).
Watching Soqui was a revelation: While my prior Pilates classes were all about soothing music, calm stretching, core work and a minimum of conversation, Soqui is a nonstop dynamo. Even while leading her charges through steadily more demanding moves, she manages to be everywhere in the room, adjusting here, whispering instructions there and ensuring that every participant executes the exercises safely… all while verbalizing non-stop.
“Shoulders down … get out of your neck and into your core!” Soqui said.
I admit it; despite the fact that I’m a daily exerciser, this was hard work! I mean, deeply hard: the kind of hard promising cranky abdominals for the next four days. But there was never a sense of being pushed beyond our limits. Indeed, Soqui’s stock in trade is options.
“When you’re working with the general public, especially people who’ve had injuries and surgeries, you have to change some things,” Soqui said. “So I’ve been trained to give modifications for each exercise, and to always look for the safest way to do it.”
That translates into Soqui offering suggestions for basic, intermediate and advanced moves, and even – for those who’ve had lower back surgery – a recommendation that certain exercises be performed sitting in a chair.
“I’m constantly watching everyone, and I can see if someone’s straining or struggling,” she said. “If someone’s having trouble, or they’re new and not quite strong enough yet, I’ll always recommend an easier alternative.”
At 90, Karren Leslie drives herself to the healthy posture class four times weekly. A retired nurse, Leslie says she had been on heart medication prior to beginning Soqui’s workouts.
“I’ve been going for nine months now … and the last time I had a checkup, my doctor said my heart was perfect,” Leslie said. “Also, I’d been having trouble with my feet, and now I can wear shoes again. Everyone should go to this class … really!”
Marty Jessop had been feeling the aches and pains that normally come with being 71.
“My lower back just about did me in,” Jessop said. “But after class today, I was just elated; I had one twinge, and that was it. Lorri (Soqui)’s really helped me with my mobility.”
Tana Crittenden, 75, credits the class with eradicating the pains shooting down her leg from her sacroiliac, while her friend Dodie Flannery, 69, has experienced significant relief in her knees.
“My arthritis pain isn’t nearly as bad as it was since I’ve been coming to these classes,” Flannery said. “It’s also helped me with my shoulders.”
Is one class a panacea for all that ails us? Of course not. But anything that helps our bodies endure the rigors of daily life can only be a good thing.
“It’s so exciting when people discover they have much more power over their bodies than the medical industry has been telling them,” Soqui said. “When you strengthen your core and improve your muscle tone and range of motion, it’s amazing what can happen.”
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Written by Marianne L. Hamilton for St. George Health and Wellness magazine and St. George News.
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