This article was originally published in Positive Health issue 39 – April 1999
Bats are known to have the odd, almost comical habit of resting upside down. But let us not joke at the bat’s dangling behaviour, because I think we would benefit from aping it a little. I’ll tell you why.
Humankind is fast becoming a species of sitting creatures and, if not sitting, just standing about. Affluent countries are a good breeding ground for cerebral workers who are denied the physical activity necessary to their well-being. While they are using their brains their bodies are largely unoccupied, with the exception of minimal movements of the hands pushing a pen or tapping on a keyboard.
The sitting way of life is aggravated by the posture adopted in this soporific position. Boredom, tiredness, stress and lack of attention, all lead to the development of bad postural habits. Slouching produces round shoulders and depression of the chest. And a drooped chest means a lot more than just an attack on beauty: it creates havoc in the neat and tidy arrangement of our internal organs. When the natural order has been disturbed, ugliness replaces beauty; pathology, physiology. This state of affairs inevitably leads to a general ‘body sag’ where all the organs contained within the abdominal and pelvic cavities tend to be displaced downward. Sagging of the viscera is responsible for much pain (including ‘referred pains’) and malfunctioning – to sag is a drag.
Take for example the diaphragm, the main respiratory muscle, which has been aptly called ‘the second heart’. Sitting badly forces this muscle into an abnormal low position. Restricted in its movements, it can no longer assist, as it would do normally, the venous circulation. Congestion of the abdominal and pelvic organs ensues. Because of its downward displacement, it drags on the heart and the nerves going to the heart, stomach and diaphragm, interfering with normal functioning. The main support for the abdominal viscera is the diaphragm. This is why, since many of our internal organs hang from it, Dr P. Madeuf graphically described it as a coat hanger. If it migrates downwards, the organs fastened on it have to follow the same movement: they ‘fall’ down.
Ptosis is from the Greek ‘to fall’; as a suffix it means a lowered position of an organ. Thus, visceroptosis is a downward displacement of the abdominal organs from their normal position; gasteroptosis, a ‘fallen’ stomach; enteroptosis, a fallen’ intestine. Piles (or hemorrhoids), this common and infamous condition, shows its ugly head when there is an excess of blood in the pelvis resulting from ptosis. Hernias can also be traced back to abdominal and pelvic organs sag. But enough of this list of depressing symptoms; let’s go back to the bat attitude.
If I were to write a popular book about this delicate and sensitive subject, I would call it ‘Bats don’t get piles!’. The title would be misleading though because the horrid conditions described above do not come from a lack of upside down hanging, neither are they the result of the adoption, millions of years ago, of the upright position. Those who blame man’s upright position for all these ills are quick to forget that ‘visceral uprightness’ has been around for a very long time and is not the prerogative of Man. The ills attributed to the erect posture are the outcome of the acquired wrong use of this mechanism.
To counteract the effects of gravity (in fact, malposture) various inversion techniques have been invented. The oldest are certainly the inverted postures of yoga, all of which are difficult to do properly and safely. To remedy this, clever inversion contraptions have been designed, made of straps hooked into the ceiling from which one can hang. Popular a few years ago, were special boots with hooks that allowed one to hang from a bar fixed in a door frame. Unfortunately, one has to be a bit of an acrobat to go up there and back without hurting one’s back. A safe but expensive way of going topsy-turvy is the backswing, a high-tech inversion table on which you can control the amount of inversion by simply extending the arms.
The most recent of these techniques is inversion therapy, a mixture of yoga and a circus double act. Here, the therapist is lying supine with feet in the air and the patient is suspended upside down from their feet. I read recently about it and found the claims made about its benefits to be exaggerated. According to its creator, just to watch these acrobatics is therapeutic (everything seems to be therapeutic these days), which means that you can treat a lot of people at the same time’! (The inventor’s words, my exclamation mark). I wonder if the watchers are going to be charged and if bat-watching will be on the NHS one day.
My favourite instrument for the bat method is the good old slanting board, a very cheap and simple alternative. It is a simple board with one end resting on the floor and the other end on an elevated support. Some catalogues for body-building have them at a good price, support included. There is no need to attain verticality in the upside down position in order to get satisfactory results, a 45º slant is enough. Resting for about twenty minutes on this board will relieve the symptoms caused by the pooling of the blood and the slumping of the abdominal organs in the pelvis. But a full recovery requires the removal of causes, i.e., misuse and misshape.
So, go batty, turn your life upside down and beat the sag.