I’m not against correcting our posture or body on principle. I wish all it took to rid ourselves of chronic pain and tension was figuring the right angle or position, and tapping our body into place. It’s such a seductive offer; that we need only arrange our body and then get on with the rest of our day.
I object to correcting our posture on practical grounds; it doesn’t work. From my perspective as an Alexander Technique teacher and a person dealing with chronic pain for several years, ‘correcting’ posture tends to tie us further into a tense knot, decreasing our ability to actually enjoy our body. In this article, I’ll offer a short but powerful exercise for connecting with a natural posture.
What Correcting Usually Means
The instinctual response to pain is to fix it or push it away. As discomfort crowds our consciousness, our brain reaches for a solution: “good” posture! Or, at least our idea of it. Usually, this means we push our shoulders back and stick our chest up. On a more subtle level, we may tighten our jaw and squeeze our throat against the discomfort and fear that’s bubbling up in relation to feeling pain. When posture carries the promise of not feeling pain or uncomfortable emotions, it’s easy to try too hard and stiffen ourselves.
I don’t mean to offer the unhelpful advice to never move your body no matter the pain. I only wish to say that when the first step of responding to pain or discomfort is to immediately try to correct ourselves, it only leads to a negative cycle of judgment, tension, and undesired results. We trade one problem, say slouching, for another, rigidly arching ourselves upward in an uncomfortable and ungrounded way.
We’ve skipped right over feeling what it’s like where we are, and flown straight to how we should be. It’s this nonstop flight that keeps us from actually finding a way of sitting or walking or simply being in our bodies that feels comfortable or ‘at home’. By dictating an idealized sitting position, we almost inevitably inflict an inhumane expectation on our body that just does not jibe with our actual structure. Sitting upright with comfort and ease and vitality is totally possible – it’s how we were designed. But we don’t get there by muscling ourselves up, “sitting up straight,” or yanking ourselves out of a slouch.
Connect with Your Self First
The first step needs to be connecting with ourselves. This need not be a big deal or require the services of a psychotherapist. Simply pause before changing your body and feel how you are – in your body, heart, and mind. You are touching in to your current experience. It may feel unpleasant like dipping into a cold pool or even overwhelming. Strangely, this is a good thing. You’re beginning to relate with your body not as a contraption that needs to be ordered, but as a physical and emotional self that has a natural organization and its own way of responding to life (often independent of our wishes).
How to Do It
Here’s a take-home exercise on how to connect, not correct:
When you find yourself out of sorts, imbalanced, slouching, or if pain is present, take a moment or two to notice what you’re experiencing on a visceral level, which includes bodily sensations, thoughts, and emotions. It may help you to actually breathe in once or twice, with the intention that you are breathing in the full experience. After a moment or two, feel free to make whatever change you wish: roll out your shoulders, connect your sit bones to the chair. Notice if it feels different having listened to your felt experience first.
Widening Our Experience of Posture
Posture may seem to be a wholly mechanical exercise but alas, that is only part of the picture of ourselves. Think of how stage fright or performance anxiety has a strong physiological effect. Our bodies and minds are deeply connected.
Take the example of training a horse. The trainer has an agenda but unfortunately for him, so does the horse. A wise trainer coaxes and works with the horse, allowing the horse to have some room to play out its energy while still being taken through the proper procedures. A horse that’s bridled or reined in too tightly will bolt.
In working with students (and myself), I often find that we hold the reins too tightly in our well-intentioned effort to change body patterns and improve well-being. Over time though, students see that immediately correcting themselves – trying to fix their posture in an instant – is another habit just like slouching.
Posture isn’t about scolding and stiffening ourselves, any more than training a horse is like programming a computer. Gentleness and curiosity are required to make any long-lasting improvements in how you sit and stand. You could try right now: breathing in your experience exactly as you feel it for a breath or two before trying to change it.
Originally posted at The American Center for the Alexander Technique – http://www.acatnyc.org/main/2015/04/24/good-posture-means-connecting-not-correcting/