Rethinking Posture

One of my class members today mentioned her bad posture in passing.  I didn’t have enough time to talk about it in the way I wanted during the class, so I’m writing about it now instead,

What do you think about your posture?

Often people tell me they have “bad posture” in lessons. I usually find its something we’ve been told by someone else. It’s a thought imposed from outside, rather than something you feel on the inside.

Perhaps you’ve been that told how you stand or sit is wrong.  “Push your shoulders down”, “sit up straight”, “hold your head up” , “pull your chin in”.  You course correct by following those suggestions. But organising those individual parts requires conscious control. It usually ends up being tiring, or causing discomfort of its own. It usually slides as soon as you stop thinking about it, as they aren’t positions that feel natural.

It’s rare that people tell me that they sense for themselves they have bad posture. They rather tell me of pain or tiredness in the back, shoulders, arms or in other places. 

So what is posture? 

For most of us it’s about a pleasing ratio of distance between the head, shoulders, and breastbone.  A physical position that suggests openness and self-worth. An idea of verticality.

But there are problems with this:

  • Posture is static. And no-one alive is static. Unless you’re dead, you’re always moving.
  • The idea of posture also doesn’t take our anatomy into consideration.  
  • You don’t want a fixed relationship between the head, sternum and shoulders. There are a lot of joints there for a reason. It’s an area that’s supposed to be mobile. 
  • It’s the very reason for many people’s discomfort. We force a fixed position on something that is supposed to move. 

If you lean down to pick a ball off the floor you need a certain distance between the head, shoulders and sternum. This is different to the position you’ll need if you’re looking up to the ceiling to check a lightbulb. You need your ribs and spine to be mobile enough to allow easy change of this relationship between parts. But don’t just take my word for it:

Try it out yourself: 

  • Fix a distance between your head and sternum and take a hand towards the floor and back a few times. As if you had a stick between your chin and your sternum that had to stay in place. Repeat the movement a few times to get used to the idea. 
  • Do the same with taking an arm upwards, as if you needed to look at the light on the ceiling.
  • Take your hand towards the floor, but this time unfix yourself. Allow or soften your chest to encourage movement. Allow the distance to get smaller or larger between your head and breastbone.  
  • Try this looking and reaching upwards too.
  • What did you discover? Which is easier? 

Solutions for Posture

Shift your thinking. Conceptualise posture as something that’s about mobility instead. How can you be ready to move, in any direction without preparation. It’s rather preparedness for action that is important than an artificial idea of what you should or shouldn’t be.

Sense and feel for yourself. Ease of posture can only be maintained if it’s unconscious

Look for skeletal support. Find the positions in which our skeleton does the work of holding us up, and the muscles do as little as possible. 

This means thinking from below- finding the base of support. Looking for what supports you from the floor or the chair you’re sat on.

Your torso, neck, head, shoulders and arms need support from your spine and sitting bones. (They’re bottom bones of the pelvis.) If you’re sitting right now, slide one hand under your buttocks and find them. They’re often closer to the middle than we imagine.

So the first step is to find and feel the sitting bones. Then, sense whether you’re on them, or behind them. If we’re looking for the skeletal path, we need to be on them. 

Slowly roll your pelvis (so you can distinguish what helps what) backwards and return. Repeat this movement, and sense when you’re no longer on your sitting-bones. You’ll usually find your back rounds and your neck shortens. As you roll forwards on top of the sitting bones, notice if you get a little taller. Or there’s more freedom of movement in the neck. This is a range of movement – there’s not just one place of perfection. So look for what areas in the movement do your shoulders feel lighter, or more able to roll back.  Where is too far forwards? You may feel some tension in the back, pulling in the bottom of the shoulder blades, or pulling on the collar bones. 

In January in my weekly classes we’ll be looking at Pelvic connections. Last week we were thinking from the feet up, connecting the legs into the pelvis. 

This week we’ll be more directly working with the pelvis. – so useful if you have hip, back or leg issues, or simply want to experience more comfort of movement. 

January MU Feldenkrais for Musicians: we’ll be looking at solutions for common areas of discomfort, and finding greater ease.

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