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How is your posture? 7 min read
A guide to falling in love with your spine and back
Back pain sucks. It destroys my work, relationships and happiness. What I realized though, is that all of these also impact my perception of back pain. Once I understood this, I was able to transform my posture, pain and overall health.
Today I will share this journey with you and how to implement the framework I shared earlier using inner work, habits and data, for a sane approach towards back pain.
TLDR: Back pain has to do with how you are feeling (what you are carrying metaphorically) and how strong your core muscles are. You need pain killers if it is structural, but if the doctors can’t find a reason for your pain, then rejoice - you can do something about it with mental training and lifestyle changes. The key to a better back through lifestyle and your posture is a way to assess whether the exercises and therapy you are doing are working or not.
We’ll cover a lot of that, and below I share plenty of resources as well as my core muscle morning routine for a better spine.
But first, here is something to lift you up.
Life is about standing up for yourself, not in an aggressive way but lifting up straight and still. Life is about your posture. Oh by the way, how have you been keeping yours these days? Is your spine long and stretched out by an invisible string that pulls it into the heavens? Are your knees relaxed and is your blood running down to your toes like waterfalls? Are your bare feet firmly fixed into the force of the earth? Are your lungs expanded enough to breathe in the mystery of life?
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“Straighten Your Back!”
My grandmother always yelled at me as I slouched in my seat doing my homework.
She would get me to stand against the wall and would push my shoulders back so that they pop my scapulas in their natural place in alignment with the straight slab of concrete. In more dire times she would put a book on my head and ask me to balance it as I sat in the chair.
I loathed her for how much love she had for my back.
It was a time in my life where I did not have plenty of confidence. Hormones were starting to become a thing and I was not sure what to do with them. Confusing morning erections were one private aspect of that. A more pronounced arrival for my hormones however, were the growth of my adolescent man-boobs.
That -alongside the treacherous, fun-shaming, non-correct, and unrefined years of teenage boyhood in middle school- have caused me to fold.
I mean that literally.
During my teenage years, I folded my shoulders over my chest to hide these appalling man-breasts. Folding my torso that way made me smaller and thereby safer.
Fast forward ten years.
I am 25 and just moved to San Francisco. I was done with medical school, a long eight year journey of sacrifice, which left me with a depression and feeling even smaller than when I entered.
By that time, my hormones had normalized, I exercised regularly and I had improved my diet, so when I graduated from college, I had no man boobs anymore.
However, my shoulders still drooped like a bra to cover my imaginary growths, and I soon started feeling it in my lower back. It was a dull achey pain that would come in my lumbar vertebrae.
As I grew more confident in my body image and in my career, I no longer felt the need to hide, and yet this back pain was becoming a literal pain in butt that was limiting my functionality.
That long standing pain suddenly started to be interrupted by sharp and stabbing acute back attacks.
I was befuddled and scared. I was only 25 years old. Why was this happening to me?
I thought back pain was reserved for my aunt and aunties who seem to have that top of mind whenever I ask them how they are.
Seek paths not silver bullets
As a doctor, I have been trained in the physical realm. I started by resorting to Western medicine as I was acutely aware of what it offers.
I started with pain killers and then started investigating. During attacks, I had to inject by self with them.
Many X-rays and doctor visits later, I was relieved to be “normal” as doctors told me. However, I was even more stressed now that the doctors did not know where my pain was coming from.
So I started reading and finding ways to solve this for myself. I love learning the shit out of something and so that led me to an obsessive rabbit hole of back pain.
Over 10 years I have: Gone to therapy, read John Sarno’s Healing back pain:A Mind Body Connection, Foundations, Becoming a Supple Leopard, went to a chiropractor, started a core exercise morning routine, injected myself with pain medications, bought posture wearable sensors, took up yoga and tried digital therapeutics for back pain and posture.
You do not need to do all of this to have a supple back. Today I live a pain free life, and just do things as they are needed in a relaxed fashion.
What you need to do is reach to the core of the issue (whether that is your actual core musculature or the core mental loops/issues that you are struggling with).
Here are the fundamentals I have learned
Disclaimer: Before I started take care of my own back, I went to multiple doctors and made sure that there was no diagnosable condition. Then, I worked with a chiropractor and an acupuncturist for 2 years.
When the pain subsided, I was ready to implement my own system for long term gains. The following is what keeps me away from doctors and having to spend more money on external care.
Back pain is usually related to my mood, my strive for achievement, and how much care I put into myself.
Structurally, bad posture and inflammation is due to weak core muscles. Alternating arms, planks and pushups go a long way in maintaining back integrity. Body weight core exercises are excellent to repair this. (see links for specific exercises)
Core muscles are related to the leg muscles. The more I do lunges and squats, the stronger I can build my core (and further relieve back pain).Walking and swimming are extremely helpful if available.
Posture is a shape that we have adopted due to certain thoughts and beliefs that run our lives. It is the only datapoint that is dependable to assess whether what we are doing is working.
These principles allow me to choose from a menu of activities based on my energy level at any given day, as well as how much time and money I want to spend.
If you are interested in having 1-on-1 support on your health journey to achieve your ambitions without sacrificing your health please send me an email or fill the form here.
Start falling in love with your back
So today I have no single back routine. Somedays I do a lot of body weight exercises, others I stretch gently, or do Qi Gong (my favorite for posture), or get therapy, or talk to a friend, or go for a walk.
In times of abundance I go to a chiropractor, or a masseuse, or an acupuncturist. In dire times I go to my rich friends places and use one of those 100 kW massage guns everyone is buying. These things are so popular, we must be in a lot of pain!
So my point is this: Back pain, when cared for, becomes a healthy relationship rather than something you are trying to fix. It is like taking your back on a date to keep the relationship alive and kicking.
While the lifestyle measures I mentioned above are not a quick fix, it is a very effective training for yourself that will pay back for the rest of your life.
Your back, your wallet, your family and your coworkers will all thank you for it.
You will start healing your back, but more importantly, you will heal your whole being on an emotional, physical and even spiritual level.
That is the true nirvana of this back journey my friend: When your posture can carry the depths of who you truly are.
See you next Sunday,
Omar Shaker, MD