By Michaeleen Doucleff
To see if you’re bending correctly, try a simple experiment.
“Stand up and put your hands on your waist,” says Jean Couch, who has been helping people get out of back pain for 25 years at her studio in Palo Alto, Calif.
“Now imagine I’ve dropped a feather in front of your feet and asked to pick it up,” Couch says. “Usually everybody immediately moves their heads and looks down.”
That little look down bends your spine and triggers your stomach to do a little crunch. “You’ve already started to bend incorrectly — at your waist,” Couch says. “Almost everyone in the U.S. bends at the stomach.”
In the process, our backs curve into the letter “C” — or, as Couch says, “We all look like really folded cashews.”
In other words, when we bend over in the U.S., most of us look like nuts!
But in many parts of the world, people don’t look like cashews when they bend over. Instead, you see something very different.
I first noticed this mysterious bending style back in 2014 while covering the Ebola outbreak. We were driving on a back road in the rainforest of Liberia and every now and then, we would pass women working in their gardens. The women had striking silhouettes: They were bent over with their backs nearly straight. But they weren’t squatting with a vertical back. Instead, their backs were parallel to the ground. They looked like tables.
After returning home, I started seeing this “table” bending in photos all around the world — an older woman planting rice in Madagascar, a Mayan woman bending over at a market in Guatemala and women farming grass in northern India. This bending seemed to be common in many places, except in Western societies.
“The anthropologists have noted exactly what you’re saying for years,” says Stuart McGill, at the University of Waterloo in Ontario, Canada, who has been studying the biomechanics of the spine for more than three decades.
“It’s called hip hinging,” McGill says. “And I’ve spent my career trying to prove it’s a better way of bending than what we do.” (more…)