How to correct bad posture

Have you ever had that experience of seeing yourself in a photo or video and being shocked or embarrassed at your posture? Perhaps you noticed your neck jutting forward, your back all hunched, or that you appear shorter than you imagined yourself.

Maybe someone else kindly (or not so kindly) has told you that your posture is "bad" and now you're feeling self-conscious about it.

Or perhaps you're like me and pain or discomfort has driven you to explore solutions. I used to be a computer nerd - coding for hours every day. Despite the fact that I was physically fit and I trained in martial arts and Yoga, I was still spending hours a day sitting in a lopsided hunched position. Afterwards I would feel painful, crunchy and stiff. Eventually I ended up in severe chronic pain.

Since then, I've done a lot of exploration and learning which has resulted in me not worrying about my posture anymore. The alignment of my body has changed drastically and with no need for me to keep thinking about "pulling my shoulders back" or "tucking my chin in".

I would like to share some of my learnings which can help you improve your posture too.

Think of your posture as a mode

I recently watched the LEGO movie with my daughter. In it there's some characters who are known as master builders and they are able to quickly re-build objects and turn them into something new. They can rebuild a motorcycle and turn it into a jet plane within a matter of seconds. Pretty cool!

Your posture is somewhat similar. Depending on what you're trying to achieve you'll have different mode. If you're sitting at your desk you will be in desk sitting mode - with your posture organized in a particular way. If you're going for a run, you're in running mode. If you're kissing someone, you'll be in kissing mode and so-on.

Posture itself is kind of a static idea. Common postural advice is to stand straight and tall with your shoulders back and your feet hip-width apart. This tends to create rigidity and tightness which is not helpful for movement.

But if you think of yourself as a lego motorbike that could instantly be reorganized into another mode, it allows for more fluidity.

It's actually more closely aligned with reality too. Our bodies are systems. They're not just individual parts independent of each other. You can't just "pull back your shoulders" and not affect every other part of yourself at the same time. Likewise if you pull a piece of lego out of your structure, it needs to go back somewhere else to rebuild. The whole structure changed by moving 1 piece.

Your brain controls your mode

Who's in charge of your mode? Your brain is!

My youngest daughter is currently 9 months old. Over the last few weeks I have watched her learn how to stand up and balance by herself for nearly a minute. It has made it obvious just how many moving parts she has to learn to control in order to balance herself vertically. She has to consider the positioning of her head, knee's, hips, spine, eyes, feet, pelvis and on and on...

I can't speak to her thoughts, she may be consciously thinking about those things. However it looks to me as though some of it at least is already on autopilot. And if not now, then at least in the very near future, standing will become effortless and something she doesn't need to think about.

For you and me who are much older, our brains long ago mastered the art of standing up and walking around. They took responsibility for our body position so that we didn't have to devote so much conscious effort to making it happen. Imagine if you wanted to walk down the road and you had to consciously think of every single micromovement you took to move your body there. It would be exhausting.

You may notice that your mode changes in response to everything else that is happening in your life too. If you are having a day with some tough emotions, perhaps you can tell that your posture is different. If you're feeling afraid of something you may find yourself tucked more into a protective shape.

This is your brain automatically adjusting the way you stand and move to suit what is appropriate for the moment.

Your brain runs on habits

The blessing of having our brains control all this stuff for us also is a curse.

Another word for autopilot that I used before is habit. Our brains are highly habitual.

The curse of habits is that we can end up doing things that no longer serve us. If we spend hours a day sitting at a computer and doing lots of mental work our brain starts to think that this is the way things are. It builds habits and routines that support us in doing that. Perhaps we crane our necks forward for hours a day. Then when it comes to stopping work and being out in the world, our brains continue running those processes. It keeps us in computer mode when instead we should be in park walking mode.

If we spend enough time in one particular mode, other modes start to wither away. We forget about them and they get less available to us. If we are in driving mode for many hours a day, when it comes to party mode, it can feel a little foreign and uncomfortable. We might bring some of our driving mode into the party mode because we've forgotten what party mode is like.

All this stuff is happening at a deep level in our brain. It's not in our conscious mind. We can't tell that we're doing it. I mean sure, we might become aware of a few details of how we're stuck in one mode and can't access another. But the vast majority of it is inaccessible. We might notice that we're hunched forward because that's what we're filtering for. But what about...

  • The changes in your abdominal tension?
  • The weight distribution under your feet?
  • The position of your eyes relative to the horizon?
  • Your breathing pattern?
  • The movement in your hip joints?
  • The mobility of your shoulder blades?
  • Your emotional and thinking states?

These are aspects of posture that most people don't ever consider - yet they're just as much a part of the mode which includes a hunched back.

This is why following advice such as "pull back your shoulders" doesn't work. It's only focussing on one small part of the posture. All the rest of it, which is buried deep in our subconscious somewhere goes unchanged. And if nothing else changes there's no hope of maintaining the so-called good posture.

So what are we to do then?

Feed your brain different information to get different organization

I've got a carnivorous plant on my window sill. Yesterday it caught and digested about 12 house flies and countless fruitflies. The flies are food which allows the plant to grow more.

Your brain is similar. Except, instead of trapping and digesting flies, it traps and digests sensory information. Sensory information helps your brain learn and grow.

This is our access point to change our posture. It's the way in. There's no point standing outside the cockpit shouting at the pilot to change course. Nope, we've gotta sneak in there ourselves, push some buttons and fiddle with some dials.

This process is the core of what I teach. It's about building the skills of using your awareness and your senses to feed your brain more information. When you learn this, your posture will automatically change and you won't have to constantly think to maintain it.

For example if you give your brain a bunch of new information about your hip joint, you'll discover that not only does your hip joint function much better, but so does the rest of you. Your brain may learn that it can trust your hip to put force through it in a more direct way. This translates to standing up more vertically balanced over your hip. Voila! Sneak into the cockpit, change some dials. Autopilot changes course.

Become more adaptable - learn different organizations

Endgame with all this is to access different modes with ease. Work mode is great. It helps you sit down for a long time. Problem is when you get stuck there. You also wanna find running mode, cooking mode and sexy mode with as much ease.

If you feed yourself lots of good quality sensory information, you'll begin to develop other modes. These modes give you a freedom and ease. They will reduce pain and help you stand up straighter, effortlessly.

One of the best ways to start this without any training is to play. Play is a state that is built-in and is exactly what allows us to change from mode to mode. Watch children. Play with children. Let children remind you of your innate ability to reorganize yourself into different modes. You know this already.

What I have shared here is a high-level view of how to correct bad posture. I hope that it gives you a broad understanding of how you can improve your posture. To dive into the nitty-gritty and find out exactly how to do this, check out other articles on my site.