Friday, 27 March 2009

Dear Esmeralda..........What's all this about MBTs? They look ugly and they are expensive....can they really improve my posture and health? luv Quasi

Dear Quasimodo,

MBTs ugly? Huh! you are a fine one to talk!

They are expensive however - you might find yourself lighter by some £175 if you decide to buy a pair, so there is quite a lot to consider before making that commitment.

MBT stands for Masai Barefoot Technology: the concept is that the Masai do not suffer from postural related problems, because the use of tarmac is a bit scarce in the Sahara, and so the ground they walk on is uneven. This means that their feet and bodies are constantly challenged to adapt to staying upright. Hence they are stronger and their nervous systems are programmed to adapt instantaneously to changes beneath their feet.

This is in marked contrast to our Western roads and floors: they are largely flat, and we get completely caught out when we come across a pothole in the road or a badly placed paving slab.

MBTs have a rolling sole - the soles are cut away at the heels and the toes. This makes the wearer's body adapt to a roll with every step: all the muscles have to respond to this, which strengthens them. It also makes the nervous system improve it's balance mechanism by constantly challenging it. The act of walking is the practice of controlled falling (think about the process of walking just on two legs - you take one leg forward, while remaining balanced on the other leg, moving your centre of gravity forward at the same time. Look here. No wonder it takes us a year or more to learn how to do it! Quadrupeds have it so much easier.). The shape of the MBT sole makes the wearer work harder to control that fall.

Here is my experience with MBTs, Quasimodo. (No, move away a bit, if you don't mind.) As you know, I have been working on my posture for many years. About six years ago I consulted an osteopath, as I believed that the tightness, and flatness in the back of my rib cage could be helped by some manipulation. The first thing that he did was take a good look at the way I was standing, and he described it as something along the lines of "a ready to go "type. My body leant slightly forward, and I was flexed (bent forward) at the hips, and knees. My head was forward of my shoulders. even my arms were flexed at the elbow in their resting position. Was this "ready to go" body a reflection, he wondered of a "ready to go" nature? (Probably, Yes!) But crucially he observed that my weight was not distributed evenly over my feet - more of my weight was on the balls of my feet than my heels. This observation was of more help to me than the manipulation as it gave me some information that would influence my behaviour.

So for a couple of years I tried to adapt my gait so that I was walking through my heels: when I was standing, I stood more over the arches of my feet. And that did improve my thoracic posture to a degree. But then I was introduced to MBTs: I thought they would help a bit, and I was attracted by the "news" at the time that they eliminated cellulite. (What a sucker! - they don't, not mine anyway!) . They exceeded all expectations in changing my posture: my Pilates teacher noticed that my rib were softer and rounder. My thoracic problems diminished (I still feel a bit vulnerable though: maybe in time they will improve some more.). Based on my experience and that of several of my clients, I am very happy to recommend them (but for people in pain see below). They do suit all postural types - people who take their weight mainly into their heels find they can't do that as the heels are cut away, and so, once again, the weight of the body is taken over the centre of the foot in standing, and the foot rolls all the way through from heel to toe in walking.

My first pair were very ugly. No, as you say Quasimodo, nothing wrong with that, and if you were to go ahead I would choose this model.........but they do make more attractive versions these days! Here's a link to the company's website

Now, Quasimodo, your question was, would they help you? And you say your "ready to go" type posture is like mine used to be?
Well, you clearly take your weight on the front of your feet. Your hips are in flexion. Your elbows are always bent - it's all that bell-ringing. I'd urge caution: MBTs aren't that easy to jump around the clock tower on. To be honest, my dear Captain Phoebus doesn't like me wearing them to dance in.
I understand at the moment that you are attending the hospital where they are making assessments of your spinal problems. I would advise you, and anyone else looking in, to consult their health practitioner under these circumstances. As with exercise, if your problem is "old and cold" or defined as chronic, ie bearable but often or always there, (ie not requiring medical attention) then it's something to consider: but if you have acute pain, then consult the medical profession, not blogs!

If you were to go ahead and buy them, make sure you get a proper fitting, as they are a big investment. The approved stockists will offer you a short training session, so you can get used to using them correctly. You can pick them up on e-bay cheaply - that's why I wear a pair of white and pink ones! Not my favourite colour choice, and clearly not that of the vendor, as she flogged them to me for £56: they would have cost her well over a hundred, and she never wore them.

Anyway Quasimodo, get you back to the Belltower. I do hope this helps you decide whether MBTs are worth the investment.

Best regards,
Esmeralda xx

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