How to improve your posture

I just took a quick look on the internet to see what the world wide web thinks about posture and how to improve it. What I found was pretty unhelpful in my opinion. Turns out that even though we have managed to invent cell-phone-radiation-blocking-underwear and robotic pets for the lonely, we still haven't figured out how to move or stand with good posture.

Why the heck do people slouch? Why doesn't the advice of stand up straight and tall with your shoulders back ever last for more than 30 seconds before going back to slouching? How come kids have near perfect posture and they never have to "tighten their core"...

Oh my...

Lets unpack this a bit shall we?

Do You Think Of Posture As Something Something You Have to Hold?

If I tell you to sit up straight and pull your shoulders back (common postural advice) what do you do?

My guess is that you probably push out your chest, arch your back a little more and squeeze between your shoulder blades. You may have some variation on this, but that's a typical pattern I see in people who are trying to "sit up straight".

One thing I notice is that this advice creates the idea of "holding a fixed position". As though there were some perfect position to do life from. The trouble is, life is dynamic. What about washing your car, making the bed or picking up your dogs sh.... uhhh toys off the lawn?

I also notice that it actually takes effort to hold in this position. It's hard to hold your shoulders back like that after a while. Stiffening the chest and puffing it out means you need to hold all your ribs in a fixed relationship to each other - that's hard work! Arching your back in this way is tiring for your muscles after any length of time.

This is likely one reason why most people give up after a minute or so and go back to their less-than-perfect but oh-so-sweet slouchy goodness.

Try thinking of posture more like circus balancing

Have you ever seen those circus people who manage to ride a bike in circles with 10 people balancing on top of it? Then riiight at the very top there is 1 person doing a handstand.

Well, that's kinda how I think about posture. Imagine your head is the person at the top doing the handstand. And all the people underneath are like the bones that are stacked up supporting the head.

In order to have "good collective posture", all the people in this group have to constantly and delicately adjust their body position. This allows the weight from above to transfer efficiently down into the ground. This is a constantly shifting situation. Everything is moving... all the time... This balancing is a process that is organized by these people's nervous systems. There is so much happening that it would be far too difficult to control it on a conscious level.

I believe this is what happens in our bodies.

Our brain is constantly making these small adjustments to our muscular tensions in order to keep our head balanced upon our spines. We are balancing our way through life. Nothing is stable. We're just constantly adjusting to it the best that we can.

Now lets take this circus example a little further. Imagine that if one person stubbed their toe that morning then they wouldn't be able to stand on that foot in an efficient way. This means the weight of the entire group is now being transferred less efficiently than normal. There is a weak link in the chain. Everyone else in the group has to compensate for this persons injury.

You could also imagine that if the lower half of the group ate a bad curry the night before and were buckled over at the hip, you'd start to see some serious alignment issues. This group now has "bad collective posture"... Maybe they can still stay upright, but it's going to be a lot more effort for everyone involved.

In addition, if you looked at this stack of people and saw they were leaning to one side, you might think that to correct their alignment they'd just need to lean the other way. But this is the equivalent of saying "pull back your shoulders". The trouble is, the ones at the top don't have efficient support from the ones beneath. They're going to have to use muscular effort to pull everything into some kind of visual alignment. But the truth is, it's already crooked from the bottom up.

There's a few points I can draw from this unusual analogy.

  • The whole body is connected. An injury in your big toe affects the holding position up at your head. How has your history of your body affected your current "bad posture"?
  • Our brains arrange all this stuff for us automatically. Most of it is hidden away in the depths of our motor cortex.
  • These patterns of "bad posture" have become so habitual that they feel normal to us.

The solution to all of these things is more AWARENESS

Lets say you injured your knee and that has been affecting your posture since you were 25 years old. It's now a HABIT.

Or maybe you experienced some trauma as a child. Now you're keeping your sternum held in a certain way to stop you from feeling the emotional pain. Maybe it's been so long that moving this way feels completely normal to you. Boom. HABIT.

Perhaps you liked the way a friend of yours walked when you were a teenager (I'm guilty of this one!) and so you copied them. Eventually it became a HABIT - your new normal.

Maybe your teacher yelled at you at school and you learned to make yourself appear smaller by shortening your spine. Say it one more time...HABIT.

In all of these cases, we could try straightening our backs, pulling back our shoulders and tightening our cores... Butttt I think you get the picture now that it's probably not going to work.

What we need is a more powerful and intelligent tool - your awareness!

It is possible to re-write our postural habits

Feldenkrais is a methodology that helps us explore ourselves. It reveals our habits which have become so entrenched we can't even see them anymore.

Once we have this awareness we can begin to update and change our way of moving.

Our nervous systems are powerful. If you give your brain enough information about your movement and postural imbalances, it will begin to normalize and re-balance your posture automatically. You don't have to correct it yourself any more - isn't that a relief?!

As an example, I have discovered that my right eye is extremely dominant. That is my habit. When I gently remind my left eye that it can help out too, my posture immediately improves. I get taller, my hips are more mobile, my back gets longer and the list goes on.

I have written a free guide which takes you through some actual ways to begin re-writing and re-setting some of these postural habits. If you're interested in trying out a simple awareness practice to help improve your posture, you can get a copy here. It will give you a taste of the way in which the feldenkrais method can improve your posture without you having to hold yourself in a certain way anymore.

There are also many many other feldenkrais lessons which will help to improve your awareness of your habits. Each of these lessons acts as not only diagnosis, but also the medicine. The more you learn about your imbalances, the more balanced you become.

As time goes on I'll be adding more content to this site which can help you learn how to improve your posture in this way.

In the mean time, you might want to try some of that radiation-blocking-underwear and see if that helps your posture