Are you fighting gravity? Well stop it.
Ever since Newton watched the apple drop, gravity has been getting a bad rap.
From Newton’s insight – masses attract each other, and larger masses pull smaller masses toward them – we’ve created a tragedy. In upright cultures like our own, we have, after all, a duty to resist the downward pull. The plot is David and Goliath, human beings agains universal law. Spoiler alert: Goliath wins.
Wrinkles? Blame gravity. Drooping butt? That’s gravity again. And a stooped posture that gets worse as years go by? We all know who to blame. Here’s the fight against gravity at its most melodramatic:
We are forever struggling against the downward pull of the earth. . . . In the end, when there is no more life in our bodies to hold us upright, we are laid to rest in the bosom of that earth which has been so steadily exerting its claim upon us. Gravitation has won its final victory. (Arthur Devan, in Exercise Without Exercises, 1944)
But is gravity really our enemy?
Does it, for example, really cause wrinkles? In fact, sagging skin is mostly the result of sun exposure and fat loss, especially around the eyes. As the New York Times headline has it: In the case of the falling face, gravity is acquitted.
Does it act on our bodies in other harmful ways? According to science on the internet, yes it does.
Here’s writer Kathleen Mulvany on Sciencing: “Gravity . . . compresses the spine, contributes to poor blood circulation and can decrease your flexibility. The gravitational pull also affects your organs, causing them to shift downward, away from their proper position. Gravity is often blamed for the way excess weight accumulates around the midsection.”
Guilty as charged, as long as you’re looking at modern posture.
Yes, when you sit in a C-shape, and stand with your pelvis forward and chest up, your spine is compressed. Weight goes down through your vital organs, distorting them. Instead of bones bearing weight, stiff tense muscles hold you upright.
And yes, living out of line with gravity disconnects your body’s natural system for abdominal strength.
But this is hardly the fault of gravity. If we place our bones in the way people in most pre-industrial societies did, and as children do before the age of three, gravity ceases to be an enemy. Our bones carry our weight and our spine remains long, with no disc compression. Blood circulation is healthy, as is digestion, and our organs are not pulled out of alignment.
Our problem with gravity is not that we are oppressed by it, but that we ignore it.
We pay attention to gravity when we design physical structures from bridges to high rises. But when it comes to our own structure, we act as though somehow physics doesn’t apply.
In fact, we need gravity. We evolved in gravity and we can’t live without it. That’s why zero gravity, and its dire effects on humans, is one of the most intractable problems of prolonged space travel.
In space, astronauts lose one per cent of their bone mass per month. By contrast, normal people in a healthy environment lose an average of three percent a decade. In zero gravity, fluids that would normally be in our legs float upwards, causing vision and cognitive problems, some of which persist after the astronauts return to earth.
Here on earth, gravity can be a friendly force. You are pulled towards the earth, yes, but the earth pushes up into you. The insight is Newton’s again: the third law of motion. For every action, there is an equal and opposite reaction.
Fling a tennis ball full force on the floor and it will bound back up. Drop it and the bounce will be smaller. If you stop holding yourself up, you can release your weight down through the front of your spine where the vertebral bodies are thick and stackable. That downward action rebounds up the back of your legs and spine. Eventually, as you align with gravity, you’ll feel the lift.
Our old instructions for good posture, “tuck your butt under, pull your belly in, lift your chest, roll your shoulders back, and keep your chin up,” wage war against gravity.
Instead, bring your pelvis back in line with your heels, not the front of your feet. Relax your buttocks, relax your chest, lengthen the back of your neck. This is the beginning of peace.
Gravity was never our enemy, just a neutral force that we can live in harmony with or struggle against.