When we fall in love with natural posture, it’s because we have found, within ourselves, the human “home-base” of skeletal alignment that allows us to finally—deeply and wholly—relax.
What a relief! This is especially true when we’ve been struggling for years to hold ourselves up with muscle tension, knowing that if we relaxed that tension, we’d collapse and slouch. Sound familiar?
Up until now, we just didn’t know, as few people do, that if we aligned our bones in their intended relationship with each other, per the natural human design, our muscles would be free of all that unnecessary tension. We know it now, though, and with the zealotry of any new convert, we now want to share this information with everyone we know, most especially friends and family members who struggle with chronic pain or obviously poor posture. A frequent lament I hear from people who have benefited from learning natural posture is this: “I wish I could get my husband/wife/friend/co-worker to show interest in this,” or “My sister told me to never mention the words ‘posture’ or ‘alignment’ ever again!”
There are many reasons why some people are resistant to any mention of posture, alignment or changing the way they inhabit their bodies. Let’s take a look at what some of these are and what each one means in terms of what we might say, or when it might be best to say nothing at all.
1. Posture can be a dirty word.
In some people’s minds, the word “posture” conjures up images of our mothers nagging us to sit or stand up straight. If we could have a show of hands right now, we’d see that nearly all of us had the same mother when it came to being told to sit up straight. It turns out our mothers were mostly mistaken about truly good posture (sorry, Mom!)
WHAT TO SAY:
You might say how happy you are to have learned a way to sit and stand that is easy and relaxed. You can offer to demonstrate some nifty new tips you learned that have helped you to sit comfortably for long periods of time without slouching or struggling to pull yourself.
2. Previous attempts at “good posture” proved to be too difficult, stressful or painful.
Trying to maintain “good posture” is always doomed if we don’t realize our cultural standard of good posture is wrong in the first place. We have to be able to demonstrate that the current standard of “chest up/shoulders back” can be as problematic as slouching.
WHAT TO SAY:
You can share how much more comfortable you feel since finding out about a much more relaxed way to sit and stand. You might mention that our current cultural standard of “good” posture is an over-correction that requires a lot of tension to maintain. Lifting up the chest pulls the body forward of the vertical axis, shortening and tightening the back (you can see it in the wrinkled shirt in the image), thus shortening the spine that runs through the back.
3. Doctors or healthcare practitioners have already diagnosed one’s posture challenges as a “condition.”
Some people have gone to doctors and a host of other health practitioners and are still in pain. They may have been told they have a herniated disc or degenerative disc disease or spondylolisthesis or some other scary-sounding condition and might even need surgery. It’s going to be difficult for these people to believe you could possibly know about an approach to their problems that all these other health professionals didn’t know about.
The truth is that the training received by doctors and other health professionals is based on the old, mistaken (“tense dog”) standard of how the body is designed to work. Doctors do many great things, but this is one area where their expertise is sorely lacking. In reality, healthy toddlers throughout the the world set the actual standard when they discover, through a process of trial and error, how to align their bones along the vertical axis of gravity while learning how to sit, stand and walk. Toddlers are the real gurus for how to conform to the actual human design that is governed, like everything else, by basic scientific principles of physics.
WHAT TO SAY:
It can be helpful to explain that babies are acting on instinct when they move through infancy into toddler-hood. They teach themselves how to inhabit their bodies through a self-directed process that conforms to the natural laws of physics. Once a child is standing and walking, his or her skeleton provides the underlying framework of support that allows for the muscles attached to the bones to be relaxed, yet elastic enough to work as intended. Their joints are free of compression, the spine (and nervous system) is an open channel for neural efficiency, and the tubes, valves and organs of all the systems of the body—circulation, respiration, digestion, etc.—can function without being compressed or distorted. It’s not hard to understand how the health of millions of people will change drastically when these principles are finally understood.
4. The masses preach exercise as the solution to poor posture.
Many people have worked out at the gym, practiced yoga, done Pilates, taken up jogging and followed the familiar instructions to stand up straight by lifting the chest up and pulling the shoulders back, and they still struggle with tension, stiffness and poor posture. Being addicted to stretching and feeling one has to stretch almost every day to relieve tightness in muscles, is not uncommon for people who are physically active. Such people find it hard to believe they could gain greater flexibility and freedom from stiffness by stopping stretching altogether and aligning their bones. It can seem hard to believe that something as simple as how we sit, stand, bend and walk could bring us such relief. This is, however, exactly how it works.
When we finally grasp the truth of structural alignment, we might feel disappointment at the realization that much of what we have been doing in the name of trying to be fit and healthy has been “wrong.” In fact, when done with misaligned bones, working out and exercising entrench unhelpful habits into our musculature. When we first come to understand this, it’s easy to feel cheated and misled for having invested so much time and energy in physical activities we were told were necessary for good overall health and fitness. Exercise does offer a number of benefits as long as structural alignment is maintained throughout.
WHAT TO SAY:
Throughout the world, small women who successfully carry enormously heavy loads on their heads with ease, demonstrate authentic strength that is not just in the surface muscles of the body, such as is the case with body builders, but rather bone deep strength that comes from an interplay of aligned bones and elastic muscles. Such women have never lost what they first discovered as toddlers. Ditto for people who age into their 70s, 80s and beyond with elongated spines, easy flexibility and enduring vitality. Exercise routines that strengthen and stretch targeted muscles are a fairly recent phenomenon in the several hundred thousand years of human existence. Think about this: those places in the world where women carry heavy loads on their heads and people age ease-fully, are places that do not have gyms and exercise classes.
5. One may feel judged or defensive.
Most of us feel criticized, judged or defensive when we think someone is telling us that there is something wrong with us. Matters are made worse if they suggest they know “the way” to fix us, whether it’s pain in the body or in the mind.
One powerful example of how the body/mind connection works is that emotions have a way of living in our muscle fibers, where they might have been planted when we were very young—when we were terrified by a thunderstorm, humiliated by a mistake we made, or devastated by hot anger directed at us. We held our breath and tightened our muscles, and some of these feelings became trapped in the defenses we developed for surviving in a challenging world. Maybe we protected ourselves by lifting up our chest like a shield and holding it up with deep-set, chronic tension. Maybe we’ve been pretending to be strong ever since. Or maybe our defense was to collapse the chest and slink away as best we could. Either way, our bones were no longer aligned in a way that could provide us with the support we needed to feel genuinely safe and strong.
WHAT TO SAY:
Making changes to ones’ structural alignment can stir things up a bit for some people. They may not be aware of long-held emotional patterns and defenses embedded in their musculature. Letting go of these may not be an option for some people, so it’s important that anything you say is about you and your own experience. If the following is true for you, you might say something like, “I’m amazed at how hard it’s been for me to start letting go of the tension I experience in my body. I’m having to work at it all the time, but it’s really paying off. I’m not only feeling less tense in my body, my mind is becoming calmer, too.” If you sense that saying something like this is not being received well, it’s best to back off and change the subject. In the end, each of us must decide for ourselves what is best for us, and we don’t know what that means for someone else.
The bottom line to all of this is that nothing can inspire interest in natural posture more clearly than the example you demonstrate through your own transformation. Those close to you will see it for themselves as you gradually change your own body and mind through changing the way you sit, stand, bend, reach, sleep and, literally, walk your talk.
I expand greatly on all these ideas in my latest book, Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment (Inner Traditions/Healing Arts Press, 2013) and at my website: https://naturalposturesolutions.com
Kathleen Porter is a posture and movement coach. She is the author of Natural Posture for Pain-Free Living: The Practice of Mindful Alignment (Inner Traditions, 2006 & 2013) and Healthy Posture for Babies and Children (July 2017). She has traveled the world researching and observing populations who live in naturally aligned bodies and who move, work and age with ease. She is the creator of UpRightNOW, an online program she is developing for adults and children alike, and her company Natural Posture Solutions manufactures several small posture aids.
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