Q & A with PaleoOsteo on Posture, Injury, Training and Embodied View

Q and A – Mark McGrath

First of all Mark, thanks for taking the time to share with us some of your insights into human movement and body awareness.
Some of our clients have already spent some time with you, whether one on one or in a group setting at one of our integrated classes.

For those who haven’t, could you share with us a little bit about yourself, your background, and your philosophies and approach in what you do, and how this ties in with our approach here at Paleo Osteo?

Thanks Josh, I think the Q & A format is a great way to communicate about the Understanding of living and moving optimally.

A brief background is that I grew up in the Bendigo area, doing the the conventional things of tennis in the Summer and Aussie Rules in the Winter.  I had a deep love of tennis, but couldn’t find anyone who could answer the questions I had about hitting the ball, particularly the forehand.  In a way this was the beginning of my autonomy as a learner.

I was also fascinated by the energy and dynamism of Bruce Lee, I remember my father telling me that he was going to take me to the drive-in to see Chinese Connection, and it was though I couldn’t believe that this was actually going to happen!  I think my love of Bruce Lee, was probably the beginning of my investigation of Eastern Philosophy and the Wisdom Traditions. This study has yielded the finding that ultimate answers can only come from a Global Understanding.

My initial study and work was Physical Education, after which travel beckoned and I spent 3 of the next 4 years overseas (1990-1993).  I lived in London at this time with my now wife Jamesie, and it was after arriving home from this that I began post-graduate study in Exercise and Sports Science.

I would say that I felt I started to truly learn after a 3 day workshop with Professor Janda in 1998.  He turned everything I thought I knew inside out and this was the start of the 180 degree shift that I experienced, that I talk about in classes.

I have continued to study and learn from Prague School Approach since this time.  At times I have experienced great resistance to these ideas, but I acknowledge that this could also have been my gross attempts at the communication.

Since extended study with Professor Kolar and a good amount of time to familiarize myself with Developmental Kinesiology, I feel that I can now observe from this Global Understanding, and see what is happening clearly.  From this vantage point, the intervention is self-evident.

For those who might consider seeing you clinically at our practice, could you outline a few key concepts behind what you might be looking to address, say, in someone presenting with persistent tightness in a certain area of the body?

The experience of tightness is always accompanied by uneven use.  The language of the CNS is tone.  Tightness is hypertone and results because the area is being over-used.  The person is not aware of the over-use in activities of daily living, because they never experience a contrast to this way of moving.

Usually when they can no longer bear the discomfort of this un-eveness, they begin to seek treatment.  They may need to see many practitioners before they feel they are beginning to understand their presentation.

My approach after taking a persons history is to observe standing, single leg stance, squat, forward fold, plank, and gait mechanism to create an initial hypothesis of the stabilizing strategy that the person is being bound by (lock-down strategy).  After checking out the hypothesis with bodywork (proprioceptive based massage), I start to show the person the way out of being locked-down.

This liberation of degrees of freedom (Bernstein) is our birthright and our intrinsic stabilizing system.  Once this starts to function as the basis for moving, the person is free to begin to choose from the menu of life again.

This deep system stability, or central control approach ties in nicely with osteopathic treatment.  I often describe to patients that the hands on treatment is breaking down the dysfunctional response, and your stuff is “filing in the gaps.”  Any comments on the effectiveness of the integrated team approach vs a single practitioner model?

Philosophically, when people are open to working together, we can begin to bring the best of ourselves.  Even hearing the same message from 2 different people helps understanding because of resonance and communication styles.

Treatment based on care and skill, meeting coaching based on care and skill is an amazing gift.  The commercial model around this will constitute the beginning of a living systems paradigm, that transcends but includes our current conventional medical model.

The characteristics of this post-conventional model can be clearly outlined, but the key integrating factor is that behavioural change happens experientially.  There is still resistance, but this resistance is welcomed as part of how learning happens.  It is not labeled as ‘bad’ but simply acknowledged and understood once the teaching is clear in our actual experience.

We tend to be seeing a large influx of patients who are showing up with injuries after just taking up running for the first time, or having returned to running after a large break from it…now one would think that running would be the most “hard wired” motion a human could perform, and should come freely.  What do you think are some of the factors involved in this injury “phenomenon” that is so common at present?

I agree that running is a program in the CNS and therefore a natural organic expression, however learning is still reliant on experience.  The cross-section of experiences we have in childhood are so important for robust development.

At Woolomoloo wharf in Sydney there are photographs of the Sydney Harbour bridge being built.  There was next to no safety equipment, even though the guys were hundreds of feet in the air.  They had optimal spinal posture pushing big loads in an inherently dangerous setting.  They had to have the capability, and they had to pay attention.  I find that there is an ease in the men and women of this generation because their upbringing was unambiguous.

Well-meaning do-gooders have done a lot to put people to sleep around on-going adaptation.  Regulation locks affordances in the environment down because of fear of something bad happening.  If an accident happens, their immediate response is to make the chance of this happening again, next to impossible by banning exploration. For example if a kid falls off climbing equipment and suffers a fracture, there is a ban on climbing.  The inverse should happen, climbing should increase exponentially in a progressive, supervised manner!  The informational fragment should inform the totality, but not dominate through fear.

The short answer to your question is that people are hyper-specialised in their functioning, and the general load of running overwhelms their stabilizing and moving capability.  The postures we adopt to rest and to affect the feedback of the body have a huge role to play in changing phenomenon.  This involves getting on the floor as much as possible and understanding the optimal ways of getting from floor to standing, just as we did from 0-4 years of age.

“How should my posture be?”  is a common question from clients.  How would you respond to such a question, and why do you think poor posture is so prevalent?  Are there any modern lifestyle influences you think are especially pertinent?

There is a subtle understanding which is important in this question.  The ‘my’ posture, is the posture I have based on the sum of all the happenings in my life to that point.  This includes interpretations and compensations.  The interpretations are the messages I have uploaded in relation to posture, and compensations are the non-preferred strategies I have adopted due to difficulty and injury.  Therefore my experience of posture when I have no information about ‘functional ideal’ is one of pain and difficulty.

Our birthright or Universal posture is a living perception.  Living posture is our most basic perception, which is the tuning of all of our inter-related systems to gravity.  Or said another way, posture is our living perception of vertical.  It just so happens that all of our important informational physiological deep structures are aligned horizontally to the vertical of gravity, with the exception of the diaphragm which is also aligned vertically.

The reasons for poor posture have already been partially outlined, but the below bullet points summarise it succinctly;

  • Poor contextual attention, where the involvement of the whole bodymind is necessary to solve the task.
  • Poor cross-section of developmental experiences leading to uneven adaptation.
  • Hyper-specialisation from a younger age
  • Achievement basis, which has poor appreciation for the importance of basic, meaning foundational.
  • Poor understanding of the importance of breathing, stabilizing and understanding gait as the peak of evolution.
  • Gross under-challenging of our physical based heritage.
  • Fear
  • Poor understanding of the role of living nutrition
  • Image basis which is distorted.

Ok so lets talk about your experiences training some of australias elite athletes, such as our Olympic swimmers and rowers, and perhaps we can explore some things with the footballers too, as football is quite big here in Bendigo, and something a lot of clients can relate to….

What do you see are the major deficits in training for sports such as these, and why do you think we see so many injuries at elite level?

I enjoy working with athletes because they are motivated and are usually willing to do the work, to see what’s possible.  In some cases they are incredibly fast body learners, although this can back-fire if they cant learn everything in this fast manner.  Sometimes they have an obsession with achievement and this can limit the broader learning necessary for on-going even adaptation.

The work I am currently doing with sprint swimmer Matt Targett is incredibly exciting for both of us, as there is a willingness to push the envelope in terms of creativity, while also being incredibly honest with each other.  We are managing to train the actual movements involved in butterfly and freestyle swimming in ways that will give Matt real transfer.  We are also doing sprint training on land with powerbands.  This is to give Matt another total body power experience, where proprioceptive load increases significantly.  The philosophy here is one of training the organism first, while also taking into consideration, the needs of the sport.

The major deficit in training has been equivalent to the current paradigm in training, that being that all answers are found in loading.  While this has been useful, and I was certainly bound by it for a time, there is real evidence that its limitations are being seen through.

The major limitation in load-based training is that we are either isolating muscle groups, or even in multi-joint exercises, we are bound by the limitations of moving the implement.

Two exceptions would be Olympic lifting and Kettle Bell training, however these are disciplines in their own right, and we are still limited to the sagittal plane of movement in Olympic lifting.

Kettle Bell training will continue to expand in its influence and is an important bridge to other forms of sophisticated training.

There are many inter-connecting reasons for injuries at elite level.  One of the major ones is hyper-specialisation.  This is also necessary if I am going to get so good, that I can dominate the best of the best.

One of the most basic functions of our organismic intelligence is still not understood well or acknowledged enough in our training science.  That is; we balance the forces of living via homeostasis.  What this means is that no matter what is happening, the tendency of the organism is to return to balance.

Our training and indeed economic cycles have the convoluted view that more is possible without less.  The experienced people who have been around a long time and have been successful, have an intuitive sense of this, but it is important that the understanding is fostered via actual practices.

This clarity then allows undulating programs where adaptation can evolve globally.  I’m excited to say that I am seeing evidence of this beginning to happen in an emergent, pioneering way.  Social media is playing a big role in this, as pioneers share their versions of ‘what works.’

How do you think we go about changing attitudes from harder, faster stronger mentaility to a more embodied view?

The only real way that change like this emerges, is to be the living embodiment of the change.  In other words, through your own conduct.  As you know Josh, you have been experimenting with ways of eating, moving and relating based on your highest understanding.

Our conduct is always receiving feedback.  Maturity therefore becomes the capacity to stay open to the feedback, while continuing to use discernment to the changes.

Luckily you and I are also standing on the shoulders of giants, who have largely illuminated the path for us to walk.  Embodiment, therefore is your walk line once the path is clear.  When you are confused, there is a mixed evidence between your talk line and walk line.

Thanks mate



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