Many of us will know the story, or at least part of the story of Atlas. Greek mythology tells the story of the Titanomachy; the great war waged between the old generation of Greek titans and the Olympian gods lead by Zeus. As the myth goes; after defeat on Mount Othrys, the titan Atlas was condemned to hold up the weight of the skies for all eternity as punishment, and finally fulfilled this when Perseus used the head of Medusa to turn him to stone while holding the sky – supposedly forming the north African mountain range to which he lends his name.
Now, despite the potential fictitious nature of many myths, stories and legends; there is always an underlying lesson to be learned, concept to be understood or otherwise useful piece of understanding to be gained which we can apply to our own lives, and while I will save most of my thoughts on the philosophical debates & spiritual lessons of the greek myths for another day; there is a profound, and very real physical effect caused by holding the weight of the world on your shoulders everyday – today more than ever.
The phrase ‘holding the weight of the world’ is of course often meant metaphorically, typically referring to a state of stress & responsibility. Perhaps this is the perception of other people’s judgements of us and expectations to act a certain way, perhaps it is the perceived responsibility to reach a certain level of attainment or performance, and maybe our perception of the consequences of our actions, good or bad. Often times the terrain in a person’s mind can be discovered without even a word of conversation. The postures we hold, the way we move (or don’t move) and what we focus on, especially when we think nobody can see us, will tell the truth far more than what comes out of our mouths.
This reflective body language is inbuilt into our systems since the very start of our existence, the same way wild animals take on different postures in different social situations, such as a young wolf backing down when confronted by the alpha male of the pack. It just goes to show how our belief systems, schemas and perceptions of the world around us influence our physiology so dramatically that our bodies simply bend to the will of our psyche. You will find many incidences of tight & rigid minds who will not tolerate another person’s point of view; whose rigidity and stuck mindset is mirrored by locked up joints, tight muscles and connective tissues and pain whenever they move outside their body’s comfort zone! You can see the effects of people’s addiction to TV and smartphone-delivered entertainment, as their head gets drawn closer and closer towards their phone until they develop the giraffe-like ‘text neck’ that causes so many headaches, shoulder & neck problems; and you can see what happens when the story of atlas becomes our own prophecy, the physical effects of holding up the weight of our world all day, every day.
Now while we could discuss the psychological elements of this topic for a long time, that goes far too deep to discuss on a text blog without scheduling out a whole week to writing about it. However, there are a few things that are incredibly important to discuss with regards to how our bodies react to supporting ‘extra load’ over time, so let’s get into it.
Firstly, let us appreciate that life is a contact sport, most of us are not in a position to completely cheat gravity and we all have that metaphorical (yet evidently quite literal) weight of stress on our bodies. However, that does not mean we have to just sit there and let life happen TO us. I would like to share information about the effects of the weights of OUR WORLD on us, how to know when we’re exposed to too much of it than is sustainable for us and how to go about preventing, reversing or balancing such stresses.
The mechanical load of gravity, stress, text-neck, and weights in the gym takes a toll on our bodies. It tightens our muscles, compresses our joints and pulls us forward towards the floor. The information age has pushed us behind desks as we exchange our time for money to survive by holding Skype meetings, writing emails and updating spreadsheets as opposed to working on our feet, using our physical attributes. This leads our bodies to degenerate as we eat lower quality food – a result of overpopulation and mass commercialisation of the agricultural industry, yet our quest for social desirability leads us to take off to the gym for a bout of ‘high intensity exercise’ to end the day feeling like we’re moving towards our summer ‘beach-body’ goal. When you connect the dots you see why we’re not reaching the destinations we want to with our health.
Consider the posture created by mobile phones, seated jobs, poorly designed exercise programmes and chronic stress: it is very easy to see how our bodies struggle to take it. Tension headaches, spinal disc herniations, sciatica, muscle, connective tissue & joint pains – the list goes on.
Research has shown how the effect of mobile phones can cause big problems for your body. Besides the issues with addiction, light, sleep and eyesight which are all very scary and worthy of discussion in their own right, studies have shown that for every inch the head migrates forward, this adds the weight of the head again to the muscles of the back of the neck. When you factor in that typically the head weighs between 6-10% of bodyweight, you are looking at between 40-60lbs of load on those muscles ALL DAY, EVERY DAY for a 200lbs person with a head migrated 3” forward (which is not an uncommon sight if you walk down the highstreet. Does anyone even use real shops anymore?).
In addition, once the forward shearing angle of the upper back and neck reaches 22°, the damage to the ligaments of the spine may be irreversible, cementing this person’s fate as the modern day atlas!
The first bone in your spinal column (C1) is aptly named the Atlas vertebrae, as it holds the weight of the head. With forward migration of the head, or if a person’s bodyweight is displaced more than about 5% from one leg to the other (i.e. a 200lb man with more than 105lbs supported by his right leg), it is likely that this vertebrae can slip slightly out of place, known in the medical community as a ‘subluxation’. This, as all information going to and from the brain travels through this joint, means that every movement you make below your face will not happen equally on both sides, again leading to joint degeneration, muscles that don’t grow equally on both sides of the body, repetitive strain and injury, and a whole host of symptoms that can be hard to trace to the cause and that you don’t want to deal with!
I think this information, as scary as it is and while we may not want to hear it; highlight the importance of effective exercise programme design, an understanding of how to take care of our spines and enough maturity to know when we need to dial our hard exercise back and replace it with more restorative methods of movement for a few weeks, so that we can keep training hard for years to come!
There are certainly things we can do to reverse this effect. Exercise programmes can be written based on a thorough assessment of body function, including flexibility work, strengthening of muscles and therapy to normalise tension in the body – classes can be taken to reduce mental stress without creating too much physical stress along with it, and workplaces are more cooperative in discussing ways to accommodate your physical health in the office, now that they understand more about how much sick pay their employees make from sitting in front of a computer all day! However, there is one tool I hold as one of the most valuable tools in my toolbox as a therapist and coach for people dealing with these kinds of issues, and it is called the ELDOA.
ELDOA is a French acronym which, when translated essentially means creating of space in the joints with stretching! It is a system of 1 minute exercises developed by Osteopath Dr. Guy Voyer, D.O. which literally opens up the joint space, reversing the effects of gravity on your body. There is an exercise for pretty much every joint you would need it for – hips, shoulders, ribcage, jaw and most effectively in my opinion – EVERY JOINT IN YOUR SPINE. Yes, that’s right – we can target a specific joint in your spine and create more space for the disc, nerve and blood supply. In fact, X-Rays have shown dramatic changes in the space between vertebrae, simply through consistent practice of the ELDOA over time. This means reduced likelihood of needing surgery for the symptomatic client, and in the asymptomatic client moving closer towards poor posture, back pain and the complications that go with it – a longer life for your gym membership and exercise career, meaning you can keep exercising intelligently to crush your goals! Here is a visual of what happens to the discs in your spine with the ELDOA method:
Here is an X-Ray of an ELDOA practitioner’s client – showing a big increase in the gap between the last vertebra of the lower back (L5) and the top of the sacrum, S1 (top of the tailbone) along with the caption “What happens if you practice ELDOA”. It is this space that gives all the benefits, allowing more movement, more space for the disc to hydrate, more room for the nerve and blood supply & more!
ELDOA is becoming more prevalent in the exercise and healthcare industry, but it still relatively unknown in general. I believe this is something everybody needs to consider experiencing, especially if anything I have shared above has resonated with you. Do feel free to contact me in order to get in touch with a professional in your area who can help with these things!