If you look at a strong tree in the forest you can perceive that it has a particular design and structure. The roots of the tree guarantee a strong and stable foundation and the tree stalk a “solid” support base to the tree branches. The design given by nature is wonderful and simple, the great stability of a tree is explained by a wide and strong base with a stalk that represents a sort of strong and flexible pillar to sustain and maintain it, even in rough conditions, such as, in heavy wind and under storms. In the heart of the Amazon forest there is a tree called Samauma, it is the tallest tree in that forest. This tree has wide and strong roots that look like a human foot even with its toes, what gives great stability to the tree. In addition, this tree has an imposing size (up to 70 meters) and at times more than 30m on its trunk base, what would take more than 30 people to stand around it holding hands. Why am I talking about trees if the main topic is posture and not biology or botanic? It has a very logical answer, nature again give us examples, that can be observed, studied and applied to improve real life. If we make an analogy between the human anatomical structure and a tree we can learn valuable lessons and perhaps elucidate some missing points in why human had developed such a poor and lazy modern posture. A tree has a wide and stable foundation with its roots, followed by a solid base made by its trunk base and then it has the continuation of the trunk containing all the layers, such as, heartwood, sapwood and etc, which can be understood as the “core” of a tree, and finally the tree has the crown with all the branches and leaves. Analogically comparing to the human body, our feet could be understood as our base of support, similarly to the tree roots. Our legs can be seen as the trunk base and the spine and its surrounding muscles up to the neck as the tree trunk and its continuation. Lastly, we have our limbs and head what can be compared or visualized as the tree crown.
What could I learn from the tree structure in order to apply in a practical sense to human posture? For example, in a tree the roots need to absorb nutrients and stabilize the trunk in case of a strong wind. Similarly, in the human body that, our feet should be working properly in a biomechanic sense, which means, it has to have a good proprioception with all structures and soft tissues playing that roles adequately, which is to absorb impacts while we move and stabilize our spine or help to create and/or support an efficient posture while we stand. In addition, and maybe the most important analogy to be made is the tree trunk, which in a tree serves to stabilize its crown. In the human body, we have the spine and “core” muscles that play the role of the tree trunk for the human body. If you observe a tree, in most of the species of tall trees it has a vertical trunk. It happens due to a simple fact that when an object (or subject) is balanced on its own structure vertically, as well as when this object/subject has a wide and strong base it has a higher probability to stay still and stable while spending less energy to sustain that structure. However, differently from a tree, our “trunk” or better said, our spine has the “core” muscles what are not present in a tree. It makes a huge difference because a tree has its shape and normally cannot be changed, nevertheless, our posture (spine and core muscles) can be worked on to adjust and adapted to improve efficiency and decrease waist of energy. Think with me, if our heads are projected forward in a kyphotic posture, our back postural muscles need to work much harder and will be over activated and overloaded to keep our head from moving more forwards. Nevertheless, if our heads are centered on the spine, such as, in a tall tree (which the tree crown is usually under the trunk) our muscles will be less required and at the end of a long day or journey of work, the upper back as well as neck muscles will not be as required and tense as if they have been exposed to an extra unnecessary work, done by improper posture.
Finally, the last point that I would like to make is about the flexibility of a tree. When the storm comes, trees that are stronger but have enough given or flexibility, such as, a bamboo, are the ones that survive and keep standing in the forest. In our body is no different, it doesn't matter how muscly, strong and hypertrophied my muscles are, they also need an optimum level of flexibility. The flexibility it is not only from the muscles, but also from the fascia, which is a sort of coverage of connective tissue that surround, stabilize and protect our muscles. Flexibility (and mobility) needs to be worked in the human body as importantly as strength and posture. In conclusion, a good professional is the one that understands that we are individuals that need more than a low body fat percentage to be considered healthy. It is important to take care of our metabolism and fat percentage, nevertheless, it is also crucial to work on our posture and all aspects involved on that, considering the individual differences and applying professional experience and science to help our clients to achieve a better posture with a more neutral spine and a stronger, stable as well as more flexible core muscles.
Ivo Cortes Artiaga – Accredited Exercise Physiologist & Scientist - Personal Trainer