It is almost amusing how something so crucial to a good quality of life as posture is so poorly understood and time after time, people spend loads of mental and physical effort in propping themselves up to sit/stand straight. Here’s what I understood about posture: You may appear to be sitting or standing straight when you have good posture but you cannot achieve good posture by sitting or standing straight.
Most of us do the following when we’re asked to fix our posture. We pull ourselves up, lengthen our spine, push our shoulders down and keep the chest open. But all this results in a position that merely looks like good posture.
POSTURE IS NOT A POSITION
Considering that so few of us have actually understood posture deeply, we subscribe to this faulty view that there is one golden position which is “good posture”. This image of posture, i.e, sitting or standing straight, has been very deeply ingrained in our minds at school, at home and by the media. Unfortunately, trying to straighten yourself forcefully in this manner is rather pointless and painful. If a straight figure was the only definition of posture, then dancers, yogis, photographers and many other categories of persons would have nothing to gain from good posture!
Thinking of posture as a position brings rigidity. We interfere with the dynamic nature of posture and impose one position on our body. No wonder all our attempts at improving our posture end up in back and shoulder aches.
SO WHAT IS POSTURE?
In reality, good posture is a mix of three things: relaxation, space and alignment.
In my opinion, however, relaxation is where it all starts. Once you let go unnecessary tension, what you’re left with is good posture. Space and alignment are manifestations of the same.
YOU CAN FIND GOOD POSTURE WITHIN ANY POSITION!!
HOW CAN I FIX MY POSTURE?
True and deep relaxation needs work too!! And that work is dedicated effort towards developing a solid mind-body connection.
Here’s a few things that go a long way in developing good posture:
Having a good mind map of your body. Also includes understanding what parts of your body are working to what extent as you do a certain task.
Mastering the skill of identifying tension and tightness in the body as you move through a certain task.
Developing the skill of inducing relaxation through directed thinking.
(There maybe million other ways to work on your posture. This method however, I have experienced in my own body and can vouch for its efficacy)
Let me explain point ‘c’ a little better.
People often don’t know what to do when I ask them to think about relaxing a certain muscle/part of their body. It is a rather strange idea, I admit. But I learned from practising the Alexander Technique that relaxation is a really simple (not necessarily easy) thing to get started on.
TRY THESE SIMPLE STEPS:
Become aware of the muscle you want to relax and direct your attention to it.
Request/command/will it with your thoughts to release.
Don’t force it, just bring in the thought of relaxing a part of your body and allow the body to take over from there. Observe what changes in response to your thinking.
Don’t let the simplicity of this stop you from experiencing the elegance of this effective technique. The only reason this won’t work for you is that you’re mentally resisting the idea too much.
In any case, the internet is full of body scan meditations where you’re asked to observe a certain part of your body and let go of tension there. Many of us have tried these and loved how we felt later. This is pretty much the same.
Some other pointers you may find beneficial:
ALLOW GRAVITY TO DO ITS JOB
Merely allowing your body to give into gravity makes a lot of difference to your posture. Instead of using all this excess energy to hold yourself up in a certain position, just drop your weight and allow your body to sink into the chair while sitting, into the floor while standing and into the bed while sleeping and see how much better that feels. This would ensure that your body weight is well supported and you can unclench a lot of parts of your body that were previously tight.
DON’T FORGET THAT THE ENTIRE BODY IS ONE UNIT.
Tightness anywhere in your body will affect your posture. Try this simple exercise.
Stand up and bring your attention to your feet. Take a minute to allow your body to gather itself in this position. Notice if they are carrying any tension. Now ask the feet to relax and spread out on the floor. You can think of the feet widening on to the floor and your toes getting longer. Also think of your muscles in the ankles softening and the joint loosening up. Do not actively do anything. Just think and observe what happens in response to your thinking.
Merely bringing your attention to relaxing your feet will most likely alter the way your entire body aligns. You will feel a difference in how you stand. This change in alignment is felt quite deeply when you bring in other parts of your legs into the realm of your observation.
DEDICATE TIME TO DEVELOPING A BASIC BODY MAP.
This is very important because it helps us identify what we’re doing wrong when we are within a certain position and how to fix it. It allows for directed thinking. Let’s take sitting for instance.
The sit bones are designed to handle the weight of your body when you are in a seated position. Placing the weight of your body by directly sitting on the sit bones is the best way to sit for the health of your spine. However, when most of us sit at a desk or on a chair, especially when we are slouching, we are off of the sit bones and place the weight of our entire body on the tailbone. The tailbone cannot handle this stress and the pressure is transferred to the rest of the spine, resulting in back ache.
Making a minor adjustment, i.e, shifting the weight of your body back onto the sit bones will automatically fix the alignment of your head and neck. There is no need to do anything else apart from roll your hip and move the weight back onto the sit bones and allow the rest of the body to align itself naturally in response. (Watch the video.)
(If you don’t know where the sit bones are, these are the bones you feel deep in the muscles of your buttocks when you sit. If you can’t feel them when you sit, you can try to feel for them with your hands. If even that doesn’t work, then just look at this picture for reference and visualise them the next time you sit. )
Posture is a rather exhaustive subject and I haven’t even skimmed the surface yet. I haven’t for instance, touched upon the profound connection between breathing and posture but I intend to do so in subsequent posts. Until then, I hope you’ve found this article insightful. Leave your comments and share!!