Many of us would love to have better posture without having to think about it or “make” it happen. Who has the time or mental energy to be on constant alert about whether or not we are slouching or standing all hunched over?
Some people think that in order to attain better posture they must constantly remember to “correct” themselves. This kind of approach will leave us exhausted, sore from over-working, and frustrated because there’s no way we can sustain this kind of monitoring.
Authentically good posture doesn’t require constant effort. Instead of making what we perceive to be postural “corrections,” the method I suggest is to engage in a focused practice of muscle engagement in a personalized program to imprint healthy patterns in the body tissues (muscles and fascia). In this kind of practice, we gradually cultivate and internalize:
1. improved body mechanics
2. better positional relationships between body parts
3. better body-part-positioning relative to gravity
If we commit to this kind of daily practice, the default resting position of the body will start to improve. Ultimately, the point of structurally-targeted exercise is to reach a state in which the body is aligned without any effort at all. Doesn’t that sound appealing?
Influenced by cultural normative reactions to pain and desire for quick-fixes, some people are drawn to bolster their environments with expensive chairs, ergonomically-angled computer screens and special shoe inserts. Of course making sensible, optimal choices in our environment is important—but these external factors only play a partial role in standing and sitting with more structural integrity and ease.
These technologies are crutches that may offer some relief, but relying on them solely will keep us dependent, internally lacking, and alienated from the opportunity for body balance and autonomy.
There is power in realizing the potential of our internal technologies. Our bodies, even weathered from life, are innately brilliant systems of mechanics and life force that have so much potential for functional balance and intrinsic support. Though many of us do not experience embodiment like this 24/7, because we naturally get thrown “off” from tension, stress, neglect and misuse, let’s remember that moving towards this harmonious state is accessible with proper body, mind and heart conditioning.
From this point of view, we don’t give up and give in to orthotics (for example) without robust participation. We stimulate our internal arch support regularly in effective, accessible exercises; we condition our legs, pelvis and spine to be available for full-body shifts initiated by changes in the feet. I’m not saying to throw away your orthotics immediately—we can accept assistance from technology and simultaneously implement active, organic solutions.
Several wonderful yoga, bodywork, therapeutic exercise, and conscious movement methodologies exist in the world to guide us and inform us. Structural Integration (aka Rolfing), Yoga for Structural Balance, Iyengar Yoga, Feldenkrais Method and the Alexander Technique are a few examples of intelligent platforms.
As we participate appropriately in our structural evolution, we can more and more relax into our bones. We can get grounded and celebrate our weightiness. The result is not only an experience of effortless ascension, but also of radiant expansion.
I invite you to get started and see for yourself!
Here are 10 guidelines for cultivating better posture, organically and for longevity.
1. Forget about forcing the old-fashioned book-on-the-head type of posture. This approach is out-dated, contrived, and superficial.
2. Get to know yourself well, with compassion. Any kind of self-work requires self-study. How do we know what we are working towards unless we start to observe and understand ourselves and our patterns? In the context of self-intimacy, our efforts are geared more accurately.
3. Open what’s tight. Often it’s tightness in the abdomen that’s pulling the chest down, or tightness in the buttocks that’s thrusting the pelvis forward, or a tight chest that’s tugging the shoulders forward. Shortened, stiff muscles and fascia can pull the body parts out of their neutral, happy placement. We need to create suppleness in the most restricted tissues, a process that requires training; just random stretching may not be strategic or specific enough to break us free where we need liberation.
4. Strengthen what’s weak. We need to focus on what needs strengthening relative to the rest of the body. Sometimes we are slumping because we lack tone in certain muscles. It’s not simply that we need strength to stand up straight. More accurately, we need more strength in the right places to maintain balanced tone and texture in the whole web of muscles and fascia. This balanced web, with an even distribution of muscular tension around bones and joints, offers us a state in which we can relax while standing up.
5. When you are not doing a focused, targeted self-care practice, relax! We “open” and “strengthen” in the context of a formal practice, and the better resulting patterns are naturally reinforced in everyday
movement. Unconscious, extraneous tension and misguided over-correction habits are detrimental. In the absence of extraneous muscle activity, dormant muscles have a chance to wake up and express themselves.
6. Cultivate the sensitivity to notice subtle changes. Noticing these small shifts in body position and movement facility is as important as the shifts themselves. Observing and experiencing a change is the seed moment of deeper transformation—suddenly a new imprint is in body and consciousness; it will be easier to return to that place and progress.
7. Focus on the way your body is moving differently instead of obsessing over aesthetics or your appearance in a static position. People typically want visual results. But often what comes first, and what’s even more important, are dynamic results. The body starts “moving” differently. If we want the aesthetics, I suggest we focus on function. Proper function gives way to grace, elegance and ease. We need to get beyond a
two-dimensional focus on culture-created standards of beauty. Would you choose seemingly picture-perfect posture if underneath the surface the body is a functional mess?
8. If you notice yourself fatiguing into an old, familiar pattern and you also feel that you have the facility to change positions, do it gently. There’s a fine line between gentle adjustments and counter-productive imposed effort.
9. Be patient. True, lasting transformation in posture is a gradual process.
10. Appreciate your uniqueness. No human body is perfectly symmetrical, and certainly real live humans do not look like any kind of text book anatomical “ideal” (nor should we). Achieving perfection is not the goal. This is about evoking your personal potential, not about trying to look like someone else or any ideal. Your best isn’t going to look like anyone else’s best. And you’re beautiful, whether you are at your best or on the way there (like the rest of us).
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Assistant Ed: Dejah Beauchamp
Ed: Brianna Bemel