I had a discussion with my students the other day about posture. This group of women are all in their 50s and 60s, and each of them (like me) remember a grandmother or other adult admonishing them for a bad posture. We talked a little about why the emphasis on a good posture. Our conversation led me to look at little into the history of posture. I found this statement from an interesting website, ThePowerofPosture.net:
"In 18th century middle-class society, proper posture was an essential ingredient in formal situations. The body positioning of strangers was shrewdly evaluated as a measurement of upbringing, physical attractiveness, trustworthiness, self-control, and dignity. Respectable people regarded erect posture as the very thing that set us apart from the animals. Likewise, collapsed posture was seen as a manifestation of immorality and stupidity, a symptom of poor character that lead to things like masturbation and other failures of self-control."
With those strong statement you can see quite a history to posture! I wonder how close do you hold the belief that our posture tells us something about the essence of the person? In my training as a physical therapist, my beliefs about posture and whether posture is an "impairment" have changed over the years. In my early career, I was trained to believe that we could "train" and ultimately "change" someone's posture. But with practice, I began to doubt whether real change in someone's posture could be sustained. I also began to wonder how much a person's posture really "resulted" in the pain that someone had. So over my years, I have come to a much broader perspective regarding the role that posture plays in our lives, Body, Mind and Spirit.
I now believe that what we really need to do is MOVE in and out of postures. It seems that no matter what posture we assume: sitting, standing, slumped or erect; if we sustain that posture for LONG periods of time there will be trouble. Joan Vernikos, in her book Sitting Kills, Moving Heals, states that it is not how much we sit during the day (8 hours +), but how long we sustain that posture without moving. She advocates integrating movement, mostly small and easy ones, throughout the day to combat the negative effects of sustained sitting.
I have seen how changing a person's posture can change their attitude. I recently represented my home yoga studio at a corporate health fair. Of course I couldn't just stand there and give out brochures and yoga schedules. I brought a tool, a dowel rod, to help people feel something new in their bodies. Feel free to try this activity:
First, sit and breath in your usual posture. Take several breaths with your eyes closed and notice sensations of your body but also your mental attitude in the moment.
Next, place the dowel rod along your spine and make sure it hits 3 places: sacrum (just above the cleft of your buttocks), mid-back where it curves backward and on your head (keep the chin level). Now take several breaths again. Again, notice the sensations in your body and in your mind.
Do you notice a difference in your mind and body between these two positions?
The majority of people at the health fair said yes, they could feel a difference in their body. The improved posture brought awareness to the breath filling lower into the body, chest or belly. But what was also amazing was the look on their faces transform. Mostly by raising the eyebrows and the corners of the mouth, that's right, into a SMILE.
Why is it so hard to maintain a "good" posture? Many Physical Therapists and others "Body Workers" focus so much on our posture are the source of all problems. I believe that if it truly was a problem of the body, then it would be an easy fix. We blame our jobs, our computers and our hand held devices on a curved spine. But I have come to view this curved spine as a protective position. We wear this curved spine like a Turtle Shell of protection. Some people even have their shoulders drawn up around their ears. So I have wondered, what are we trying to protect? Our heart as the source of love? Our throats as the center of expression? My study of the chakra system; our energetic system where the body, mind and spirit overlap; has led me to these observations. Maybe our efforts should be focused on how to allow our spirit to shine and our True Self to emerge.
Brene Brown, in her latest book Braving the Wilderness, talks about for wholehearted living you need to have a Strong Back (COURAGE), a Soft Front (LOVE AND ACCEPTANCE, even for yourself), and a Wild Heart (LIVE YOUR TRUEST SELF).
I think that advice just may be the solution to the postural dilemma.