How is habit related to back pain?

That’s the question my teacher asked over 10 years ago…and I still keep exploring. Would you like to join me in that exploration?

Let’s start by defining habit as Wikipedia does:

An acquired pattern of behavior that often occurs automatically”

How is habit related to back pain?

The word “automatically” called my attention then and still fascinates me…“You mean something happens by itself, with-OUT my control????”

Well, yes! At an early age we learned to move in a certain way; we created a picture that has a certain pattern that kept repeating over and over throughout the years.

Most of us mammals learn by imitation, and that’s what we did; we learnt how to move from our most immediate care givers and we sure did a good job: we ARE moving and it just seems to happen with no effort on our conscious mind! …UNTIL…pain becomes apparent. It’s then that we are forced to ask questions about how it is that we carry ourselves.

So first of all, if you are experiencing physical or emotional pain, you may start by following this tip:

Thank that body part or that emotion for waking you up, for showing you a piece of that so far unquestioned pattern of behavior.

I invite you to start the healing process by saying:

TIP # 1: Thank you pain for showing me that which I have not been aware of.

Yes, it may sound funny. Just amuse me and try that for a week….you’ve nothing to loose.

Your description of the lower back

Each one of us speaks, moves, thinks, and feels in a different way, each according to the image of him/herself that he/she has built up over the years. In order to change our mode of action (the one that most likely is causing us pain) we must first become aware of the image of ourselves that we carry within us.

TIP # 2: Lie down flat on a soft surface.

Feel your spine sinking into the floor. Bend your knees or rest your feet and legs up on a chair if your lower back is hurting.

Allow for words, images, scents, memories to come to you as you ask the question:

“What’s the image that I have of my lower back?”

Record those feelings, get to know them well and above all, accept them. You will sure have the opportunity to question that perception and if you want to, make small adjustments (that are actually huge ones) to create room for different views to shine through.

Making a Pause….

Australian-English actor F. Matthias Alexander (1869-1955) found a solution to his vocal problems by observing himself in the act of speaking.

In his book The Use of the Self, he describes how he gradually became more conscious of the abnormal positions and movements that were ruining his voice. This awareness allowed him to gradually change the false impression he had of his posture and he began to experience healthier positions that eventually resolved his problem.

Alexander, like most of us who have gone through the process of waking up, realized that it was really easy to fall back into the harmful but habitual movements that were giving rise to his problem. That’s the force of a habit, it just happens in an unconscious way. He also realized that those habits were not simply “physical”; they started with his intention to speak. As soon as he formulated the idea of speaking, he could observe himself tightening the neck, pulling his head back and down and initiating the rest of his pattern of excessive tension.

Alexander experimented with pausing before he spoke and instead of saying to himself:

“Do not stiffen the neck, do not pull back and down…”

he used what he called “directed intent” to create a new pathway for movement.

This “directed intent” materialized through certain “directions” or “orders” (I personally like the word reminder better) that allowed him to exercise thought and awareness as he was about to speaking.

This simple but powerful maneuver allowed him to make a pause and choose the way he will carry himself in that particular situation as opposed to letting the habit carry him.

TIP # 3: Sit on a chair. Look for your seat bones (the two bony structures right below your gluteus) and sit on them. Before standing up I want you to tell yourself:

Release the neck to let the head go forward and up, to let the torso lengthen and widen to let the legs release from the hip”.

Concentrate your attention on your thighs and initiate your movement from those powerful muscles to stand up.

Allow your torso to “hinge forward” at the level of the hips.  You will notice that your spine will stretch out instead of collapsing onto itself.  We call that the “monkey position”. 

You will definitely feel pressure on your quads…don’t worry, they are designed to bear quite a bit of weight!

As you stand up, you will notice that your back will not need to arch back, that in itself will give you a break from pain…just imagine the so many times that we repeat that same movement on a single day!

Use gentleness and not force to explore your back…. That in itself is the first step towards healing!!!

There are other techniques, other than the Alexander Technique and/or therapies that will help you make that necessary pause to create a new pathway for healthy movement. I recommend you explore: Feldenkrais, Chi Kung and Acupuncture.

Thank you for reading through this post! and stay tuned…more on back pain will be posted soon!


Back Pain Solutions. Bruce I Kodish, Ph. D, P.T

The use of the Self. F. Matthias Alexander

Awareness through movement. Moshe Feldenkrais

ii It is interesting to note that the Chinese Chi Kung classics advice: “Use Intent, not Force”.