This article was originally published in Positive Health issue 56 – September 2000
“You are going to give me a double chin!” complained my patient while I was coaxing her to put her chin in, during a Mézières’ session.
“Quite the contrary,” I replied, realizing that she needed an anatomy lesson!
One of the outcomes of misusing ourselves is that some muscles become short and tight while others become slack and flabby. This unequal and imbalanced distribution of tone does not happen at random: it’s always the same muscles that get too tight or too flabby. To simplify, the back muscles are those which always suffer from a surfeit of tone; the front ones, from a pauperization of tone.
The predominant symptom of misuse of the self is the habit of pulling the head backward and downward. It is obviously the muscles of the nape of the neck that tract the head backward. As they constantly contract in a shortened fashion, they soon become stiff and hard, like wood. Meanwhile, lacking exercise and being chronically elongated, the muscles under the chin do the exact opposite; they end up flabby, withered and wizened. The disused state of the muscles below the chin is the perfect condition for the cultivation and deposit of fat in this region; enter the double chin!
When the head is tilted backward, the chin is lifted up. This position actually hides many a double chin. The reverse is true; when the head regains its normal poise, any existing (but masked) double chin will be revealed in broad daylight. The postural work used during a Mézières’ session generally requires the chin to be nuzzled into the neck in order to stretch the posterior muscles of the neck. Some pupils, like the one mentioned at the beginning of the column, resent this movement of the head as it makes them feel the presence of the unwanted, undesirable double chin. Moreover, they believe that such postures will produce a double chin.
Instead of being anxious, they should welcome this ‘chin in’ movement as it strengthens the front part of the neck, squashes the double chin and, ultimately, remedies it. But an excessive preoccupation with one’s physical appearance can be a psychological factor preventing the expected progress during postural re-education. Hating their existing or imaginary double chin or trying to prevent one, some individuals, keen to show themselves in a flattering light, have developed the habit of putting their head back to conceal the offending flesh. They ought to know that this postural habit is the perfect recipe for cultivating the dreaded double chin they are trying so hard to hide.
Muscular stiffness is not the preserve of the nape. It affects the totality of the muscles running from head to toes because they are closely knit into a chain-like structure. In the mid and lower back, this shortening causes an abnormal hollowing of the spine (lordosis) which, in turn, pushes the lower ribs and the digestive organs forward. In these conditions, the battle of the bulge fought by the abdominal muscles is inevitably lost as they see their energy and tone gradually peter out.
The shape of the back is a clue to the shape of the front. It is the influences coming from the back that distorts the front of the body. For example, it’s fairly common to find a diaphragmatic lordosis (at the level of the 11th and 12th thoracic and 1st and 2nd lumbar vertebrae) co-existing with a lumbarsacral one. The diaphragmatic lordosis pushes the lower ribs and the upper portion of the abdominal wall forward; the lumbarsacral lordosis inhibits the abdominal muscles below the navel and causes the lower tummy to bulge forward.
Between these two protuberant ends of the abdomen there is usually a depression at waist level, as if there was an invisible belt squeezing the middle of the abdomen. Instead of being harmoniously flat, the abdomen presents two bumps and a hollow. The triple bellies of the title of this column refer to the shape just described, and not to the protrusion of the abdomen caused by an excessive deposit of fat.
When a bulging abdomen is caused by a lordosis it is obvious that even the most drastic of diets won’t flatten it. In these cases, the cause is not an excess of food but an excess of tone in the back muscles. The latter need to be ‘toned down’ before the abdominal muscles have a chance to tone up. Direct and specific abdominal exercises are not the solution and often aggravate the condition by hollowing the back even more and the tummy may harden but it will bulge even more.
If we now turn our attention to the lower limbs we cannot fail to notice that the front of the thighs are usually the weakling member of the upper leg. Their muscles, the quadriceps, are generally shapeless, toneless and flabby. Behind them, the hamstrings are famous for being extremely tight. When these are correctly stretched, i.e., along with the whole muscular chain, the quadriceps automatically contract forcefully, so much so that they will often start to cramp.
I remember, in this connection, how a strong body-builder was impressed when I asked him to hold a simple but precise sitting posture.
He could not hold it for more than a minute or so due to the fatigue building up into his hard-working thighs. He was amazed how this simple posture was far more efficient than his body-building machines. What he did not know is that these machines can encourage arthritis as well as muscle growth since ‘pumping iron’ subjects the joints to a lot of stress (compression).
If you have digested and assimilated the above you can now have a well deserved chin and tonic, but don’t make it double!