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Kesh Patel talks Posture

Tom Godwin: May I first of all thank you for giving up time in your busy day to take part in this interview, it is great to have you on!  

TG:  For anyone who has not heard of you, why don’t you tell us a little about your background in the world of fitness?

KP:  My interest in fitness began while studying for my first degree; but it wasn’t until my second degree that I took my first steps in the industry as a fitness instructor and personal trainer. Several years (and many courses) later, I found myself in a Fitness Management role, and it was from here that my career took an exponential leap. Like many fitness professionals I made the decision to work for myself, and set up a private rehab/performance clinic and a training education company, both of which ran successfully for many years. During this time I was also fortunate to work as a lead tutor for a sports therapy college, as well as presenting/lecturing nationally for other health and fitness training providers. I had the opportunity to return to full time employment in 2009 for a leading training provider, where I now work in the area of Research and Development.

My personal and academic interests firmly lie in the areas of play culture, movement re-education, learning, and natural health and fitness, and when I’m not working, I enjoy practicing (and promoting the virtues of) the skills of La Methode Naturelle, barefoot running, yoga, climbing, gymnastics, Ginastica Natural, and general monkeying around!

TG:  I recently read your books on corrective exercise and posture (look out for a review coming up), what got you into this subject area?

KP: You know, I’ve always had a fascination with efficiency, especially when it relates to human (and other animal) movement. I was also inspired in the early days by the likes of Paul Chek and Gary Gray – who were using a strong movement-based approach with their clients; so when I started working with clients, I took every opportunity to use these principles and methods. At the time, I had a busy lecturing schedule within sports therapy, and realised there were knowledge gaps in my students, particularly in the context of rehabilitative exercise. These students, who had a vast knowledge of anatomy and therapeutic techniques, were not confident in exercise progression. Therefore, I decided to fill the gap with the Corrective Exercise book.
The momentum for the Postural Training book arose from working with rehab and fitness clients over many years. It also represents a different approach to postural training – one that was client-centric. Clients would come to me and say ‘I have this constant ache in my neck’, or ‘my low back hurts when I lift’. As well as addressing the specific problems they presented with, I would also show them how these problematic body parts connected to other body parts. By working on a problem area, and then rewiring the communication lines to adjacent or connected body parts, it was possible to effect a long-lasting change. Because I saw this as a re-education process (and inspired by the Feldenkrais Method) I used to refer to these sessions as ‘lessons’ – and this is what can be found in the book.

I mentioned the Feldenkrais Method. For many years I have been interested in somatic education, especially the work of Moshe Feldenkrais, and this has influenced my work significantly. Whenever I worked with clients, I would use Feldenkrais thinking combined with traditional exercises – an approach that produced significant changes to posture. As fitness professionals our knowledge of visual anatomy is often very good, but our knowledge of kinaesthetic anatomy is limited. We have forgotten what it feels like to sense and move. Thomas Hanna called this sensory motor amnesia. When you reduce the level of pain, or improve athletic performance in a client, by showing them how to integrate and use other body parts more efficiently – and in an environment that encourages physical and physiological learning – you are setting the stage for long-lasting change.
When you look at the lineage of somatic education, it’s one that is both fascinating and relevant, yet is often understated or disregarded in the industry today. Just because a way of thinking or set of methods is not seen to belong within certain industry norms and standards does not mean that it isn’t relevant or useful to that industry. With the Posture book, I wanted to show how alternative schools of thought could fit into a traditional fitness model, and hopefully stimulate a paradigm shift in the way we think about posture.

TG:  Why is posture so important in everyday life?

KP:  This is really a question regarding efficiency. If I can answer the question as to the importance of optimal posture, then I think the phrase ‘optimal posture is the beginning and end of efficient movement’ stands true in this respect. When we align our body segments optimally, we are better prepared for (and potentially more efficient at) the task at hand, whether it’s bending to pick up a child, getting into a car, or just walking up the stairs.
When I talk about alignment, I’m not alluding to the image of a straight or neutral spine. In many cases, this position may be optimal, however, it’s important to understand that our bodies are constantly reacting to our environment, and our ability to re-align or re-configure our limbs in the most efficient way, at any given instance, is the key to postural control in everyday life.

In addition, we should also consider the terminology we use when talking about posture. I’ve always preferred to use the term ‘optimal configuration’ rather than posture, as this provokes an awareness of how we are aligning ourselves, and is also a more dynamic term. Posture often brings up strong images of being static, and this is certainly not the case – we are always moving, and by therefore by default, we are always adjusting our posture. The term posture means so many different things to different people, and nowadays it’s meaning has become somewhat diluted.

TG:  What are the biggest causes of postural deviations?

KP: This is a great question, and one I’d like to answer by first revising what ‘good’ posture is. Let’s consider that to have ‘good’ posture, it is necessary to have a good configuration of the body segments, as well as coordinated control of the muscles that support and move these segments. It would then be easy to understand that ‘poor’ posture would occur when these control mechanisms do not work optimally. Furthermore, it’s important to consider that any number of stressors can affect postural control, and in such cases we will often seek alternative ways of moving, usually using an over-excited muscular contraction. Such an excitation (usually of a voluntarily controllable group of muscles!) makes fine motor control impossible. So we then enter a continual cycle where daily movement objectives are achieved by higher than normal energy expenditure, rather than economy of effort.

As an example, consider a child that is encouraged to walk before they have completed their crawling ‘training’. They will stand up and walk with unnecessary tension, which then becomes associated with a sense of effort and a particular body alignment. It’s entirely reasonable to assume that such a pattern will remain ingrained into adult life. This is an important concept because whether it’s a child or adult, faulty posture can arise if the end goal to be achieved is beyond the current means of the individual. While the objectives of many fitness programmes today are admirable, consider how many exercise programmes take people beyond their means – and that also goes for many postural correction programmes!

TG:  Can posture be corrected by yourself, if so what is your approach?

KP:  Absolutely, and it’s a simple process. In all cases, I would favour an approach that focuses on body awareness and movement. The following steps summarise some of the key points:
1.    Become aware of your posture by having it observed by an experienced professional. This should include a static and dynamic observation, as well as observations of breathing.
2.    Begin to introduce exercises and movements that further raise postural awareness – begin to notice how you bend, push, pull, twist. The Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method can offer some useful insight here.
3.    As you begin to notice how you control your posture, start to challenge it further. Include exercises that challenge balance, alignment, spatial awareness, and ground reaction force.  Formats such as T’ai Chi, yoga, Pilates are excellent choices. A number of gym-based exercises can also be used – just remember to inject more awareness into the exercises.
4.    Look for familiarity of exercises in activities of daily living, and integrate these new patterns as much as possible. It is important to continually provide new contexts for movements. For example, once you can squat comfortably with minimal effort, provide a different context for squatting by using it to pick up a box,  a child, or shopping bag – give your body the opportunity and flexibility to explore the parameters of a particular movement pattern (generalised motor pattern)
5.    Make use of feedback and feed forward. Feedback is an important learning tool particularly during complex movements. However, it is also important every now and then to perform activities that engage feed forward mechanisms (anticipatory postural adjustments). For example, going for a walk in the woods, or a barefoot run, or simply playing with your kids in the park, will take the body out of a controlled environment and allow it to gain finer control of posture.
6.    Be patient, and make improvements in posture part of your daily life. As you gain better control, the more unconscious these new patterns will become, and the less you’ll need to think about them.

TG:  What are your top ten tips to improving your posture?

KP:  That’s a tough one, as there are so many things to consider – but in no particular order….
1.    Practice relaxed breathing on a daily basis, whether this is meditation, yoga, or simply taking a 5 minute time-out
2.    Walk around in bare feet as much as you can and where possible on uneven surfaces.
3.    Ensure joint stability and mobility are objectives in your exercise programme
4.    Always look for ways to minimise effort of movement – don’t be afraid to repeat a movement in a different way
5.    Explore new movements and activities as often as possible
6.    Re-cultivate fundamental movement patterns based on balance, gait, climbing, throwing, lifting, carrying and combat.
7.    Approach all movement with a sense of wonder, exploration and play
8.    Get at least 30 minutes of natural daylight (and fresh air) every day
9.    Pandiculate regularly throughout the day (look it up!)
10.    Eat well, play well, rest well

TG:  If I play a sport what role does posture play there and how can improving my alignment effect my game?

KP:  When the motivation for playing sport shifts to one that focuses on improving efficiency of performance (as opposed to solely winning) then improvements in posture and alignment can be tremendous. These may include quicker adaptations to unpredictable demands, a reduced risk of injury, and may even contribute to a reduction in total energy expenditure during sport.
A key factor for athletes – both recreational and elite – is how to improve efficiency and economy of effort. Therefore it makes sense that a body that is optimally aligned, and is able to control alignment well when demands increase, is probably going to exhibit greater efficiency. Almost every sport seen today has been expertly dissected to reveal that proper posture and alignment play a pivotal role in improving performance – the growing challenge for fitness professionals is getting this information across in an accessible way to those who play sport.

TG:  What is next for you Kesh, anymore books in the pipeline?

KP:  That’s a good question – you know, as I find myself approaching my 40th year, I can honestly say that I’m in the best physical, mental and spiritual shape of my life – so really, I’m just looking forward to what the next decade brings, and for the meantime will continue to do what I do well, and contribute to the industry when/where I can.
As well as further adventures in the world of posture, I will continue to pursue my long-time personal interests in physical education and play culture – and if another book comes out of that, I’ll be sure to be in touch!
Thank you for taking the time to listen to me today!

TG:  Thanks for giving up some of you time to share with us, it has been awesome!

This entry was posted on Wednesday, May 9th, 2012 at 5:33 am and is filed under Interviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. Both comments and pings are currently closed.