Posture: Getting it Straight, Part 2

A Feldenkrais perspective…

In Part 1, I presented the idea of straightening out our thinking about posture–from a model of static, effortful straightness to one that allows for free and effortless movement and responsiveness.   The key words here are thinking and model (as in a conceptual model).

So let’s try an experiment: stand up straight, pull your shoulders back, pull your belly in, lift your chest and chin toward chest (please don’t hurt yourself doing this!).  OK, now maintain this position for the next 10 minutes.  In the meantime, move around the house or office as if you were doing everyday things, playing tennis, practicing your golf swing, or any type of familiar activity for you.

What did you notice about how long you were able to maintain this position while doing other activities?  If you are like most, you slipped back into your normal, habitual posture pretty quickly.

And what about the quality of your movement? If you maintained that position as instructed, you probably noticed that your movement wasn’t very comfortable or fluid; it probably wasn’t very efficient either—lots more effort involved than actually required.

From a Feldenkrais perspective, “good” posture is first and foremost, dynamic—it is not a fixed stance or position.  Rather, it is the ability to respond to the ever-changing environment, needs and opportunities that we face daily as human beings, with flexibility, efficiency, and ease—and with a level of effort that is appropriate to the situation.   But how do we achieve “good” posture?

Earlier, I stated that posture has something to do with thinking, with the mental models that we each hold about how we should stand, sit, move, and so forth. Perhaps you were given images or instructions by your parents, or by a role model, or your peers growing up.  We can pick up these images anywhere.

If you are a parent, you might remember marveling at the naturally perfect posture that your young child spontaneously developed, without any instructions.  Infants haven’t yet been given mental models or external ideals to achieve.  No instructions about how to crawl, stand, sit and walk.  As infants we learn to do these things through direct experience and experimentation with gravity and with objects in the world.

As we grow older, the external models or instructions accumulate, often undercutting our nervous system’s natural ability to learn and adapt.  Instead of a dynamic, responsive state of uprightness, we force ourselves, often unconsciously, into rigid positions that over time become our habitual “posture.”

From a Feldenkrais perspective, the key to improving posture is to cut through our habitual (i.e., unconscious) patterns with awareness.  Through slow and gentle movement sequences taught either in classes or in one-on-one sessions accompanied by a gentle touch, we become much more aware of our movements, the level of effort that we exert, and subsequently, to the external models that we have been operating from that actually form our posture and movement repertoire.  Feldenkrais practitioners don’t provide external models or show someone how to stand, sit or walk.  Instead, they help individuals to unlearn and relearn what it really means to move easily and without effort.

As this new awareness seeps in (called learning), our habitual patterns begin to dissolve—along with many of the byproducts of these patterns, such as reduced mobility, chronic pain, and overuse/repetitive stress symptoms, and our body naturally begins to align and balance itself in new ways.  “Good” posture emerges as a byproduct of this fluid awareness in movement, rather than something to be achieved through effortful striving toward external ideals.