Posture: Getting it Straight, Part 1

A Feldenkrais perspective…

How many times have you been told to stand up straight?  Don’t slouch.  Pull in your gut.  Lift your chin.   Most of us have grown up hearing some version of these instructions.

Although we have an idea that good posture has something to do with standing (or sitting) up straight, very few people actually understand what good posture is from a functional perspective.   What does “good” posture allow us to do—or to do better than “bad” posture, and what actually is “good” posture?

This two part blog is devoted to getting straight our beliefs and assumptions about good posture, and how to “do it.”

Let’s start with a brief retrospective: The Riddle of the Sphinx dates back to about 2,500 years ago.  It is said that the Sphinx guarded the entrance to the Greek city of Thebes, and would only grant entry to one who correctly answered the riddle, “Which creature in the morning goes upon four legs, at mid-day upon two, and in the evening upon three?”   The correct answer (given by Oedipus, the story goes) was “Man—who crawls on all fours as a baby, walks on two feet as an adult, and then walks with a cane in old age.”

This riddle describes the postural changes of man.  It suggests that to grow old is to become crippled.   Many today also associate growing older with a long list of physical ailments including stiffness, tightness, difficulty moving, and chronic pain.  This is a long-held assumption to be sure, but one that isn’t necessarily true.

And then there is the Brace Position, the classic posture long promoted by the military, characterized by a ramrod straight spine, pulling back the shoulders, sticking out the chest, sucking in the gut, arms held by the sides.  Although it was abandoned some 40 years or so ago by the military, this ramrod straight stance still remains for many the most enduring model of “good” posture.

As the military research showed (and Feldenkrais practitioners see every day), a ramrod straight posture is actually the culprit of all sorts of chronic and painful conditions. This flattened, straight and rigidly held spine creates tension and pain in the neck, jaw, upper and lower back, as it goes against the natural curvature of the spine which is so fundamental to good function and musculoskeletal health.

When we are not “fighting with gravity,” our skeleton is able to support us effortlessly, we have full range of motion, our breathing can be full and deep, and our overall health and well-being is naturally supported.

So with all of these benefits, why is it that good posture is so elusive for so many? In the next part of this blog, we’ll explore some of the common pitfalls that hinder our attempts at good posture. We’ll also look at some specific actions that we can take to achieve a truly functional and dynamic posture.

Kathy James is a Certified Feldenkrais Practitioner, in private practice in Petaluma.

This post originally appeared in under Alternative Health.