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Vital Use of Your Arms

By Pati Holman, GCFP

Do you notice that you are lifting your arms overhead less and less as the years progress? Recent scientific studies show an increase in the number of rotator capsule tears in the general population with each decade of age. How many of these problems are the result of ineffectual use of the arms or lack of use of the arms in dynamic movement?

Recent archeological discoveries of the Orrorin bones gathered in 2000 (Martin Pickford and Brigitte Senut-Chad, Africa) can be used to support the importance of using our arms in organically functional ways such as reaching overhead, grasping with arms extended, pulling, or the function of the arms that requires us to bring them “away” from the sides of our torsos. The familiar progression of Homo sapiens from quadruped to biped is being seriously reexamined with the discovery of Orrorin’s femur bone. This femur shows that Orrorin, dated at six to seven million years old, had the ability to walk on two legs! This is remarkable in that a) it’s the first evidence of bipedalism since the discovery of Lucy, our oldest hominid relative, discovered in the mid 1970’s, and b) that Orrorin was a tree dweller… having used the arms overhead extensively. Unlike Lucy, it is believed Orrorin didn’t walk predominantly on the forest floor, but lived in the trees and used its arms for hanging, swinging, food gathering, etc. When the climate changed around six to seven million years ago with the resultant deforestation, the Orrorin hominid dropped from the trees onto the Savannah, a more plains-like environment, where uprightness was key to survival.

How does that affect you and me? Why is it that we become more likely to have tissue damage as we age in the location of the rotator cuff? One explanation would be the familiar use-it-or-lose-it phenomenon.

The discovery of Orrorin bones validates that we had extensive functional overhead use of the arms long ago and that in our current modern day (only a fraction of a second in geological time), we are witnessing/experiencing structural degradation from lack of functional use.

The key to maintaining vital use of the arms is to use them as nature intended. It is recommended that you use the arms in weight bearing to exercise your evolutionary inheritance. Activities such as rock climbing or tree climbing, learning a martial art, yoga inversions using the arms for support, lifting weights, or gardening on all fours are all excellent activities. But remember, these activites can be troublesome if you don’t sense and feel an integrated use of the arms. The Feldenkrais® teacher is expert at giving you the tools for integrated action. In Awareness Through Movement® classes, you practice variations of differentiated and undifferentiated arm movements in relationship to the head, in relation to the ribs, in relation to the pelvis and in relation to the feet, the purpose of which is to give you a sense that when the arm acts, so does the spine and pelvis, and that weight shift occurs in your feet as a result. Fully integrated use of the arms is effortless and distributed throughout the entire self. Shoulders frozen from injury or trauma, shoulder or elbow tendonitis due to overuse or poor use, and muscular pain from either of these can be undone simply and without effort. Students in my classes with shoulder tendonitis and chronic rotator cuff problems gain a greater sense of the relationships between the scapula and the spine, the head and the pelvis. This takes away the unnecessary effort in the shoulder musculature and soft tissues. Healing results from integrated use of the arms with the entire self.

Visit your local Feldenkrais teacher to begin the process of healthy, vital living.

Patricia Holman has a private practice in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Here website is at

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