Good Posture Should FEEL Good!

Medieval statue, female in robes with braided hairI’ve never met anyone who had a positive association with the word “posture” when they were growing up. Oh, this is a hot topic for me, and for Feldenkrais teachers in general. On my blog, I have ranted addressed the issue in posts here and here. May I share my own troubled posture history with you?

My well-meaning parents were determined that I should have “good posture,” as all proper young ladies should; or perhaps they were determined that they should not have a slumping daughter. When I remember my young self, I remember seemingly constant reminders, correction, and plain old nagging. “Stand up STRAIGHT.” “You are SLOUCHING again!” I started biting my nails. Equally determined that I should have some self-confidence, I was enrolled in elocution and “comportment” lessons, which included – yes, you guessed it – walking with a book on top of my head. Ballet lessons followed shortly thereafter, because everyone knows ballerinas have excellent posture. I became more and more self-conscious, partly because even in the third grade, I was already the tallest girl in my class. When I fell on the playground and broke the knuckles on my right hand, I had to miss my ballet recital. While in 2016 we see videos of dancers in wheelchairs and the Invictus games, attitudes were different in the mid-1960s. Nine-year-old butterflies did not wear plaster casts on their diaphanous arms — or at least this butterfly was not allowed to. That’s show-biz! Secretly, I was relieved to escape my ballet teacher, who further reinforced my attitudes about posture: it was hard, it took constant attention, and mine was terrible. While I am grateful to my parents for giving me wonderful opportunities, and for preparing me (unintentionally but inevitably) for a career in the arts, I acquired a lot of baggage at the crossroads of society, self-acceptance, and posture.

While my story may not be typical, I have learned that it is not unusual. You can probably chime in right now with your own posture story. Many people internalize shame about their posture, originating in childhood. They carry old and negative judgments and a flawed self-image far into adulthood. Listen to your interior dialogue right now. Are you self-correcting, bringing attention to your posture, and finding yourself coming up lacking?

The Feldenkrais experience of posture is absolutely liberating. No rules to follow, no grid to line up with, and no stiff standing around trying to be “correct.” It was a revelation to me that I could learn to move in any direction and in multiple planes, all while breathing and enjoying my surroundings. Simultaneously, my range of motion, balance, and strength also improved. A new, deeper self-confidence emerged, a sense of really being comfortable in my own skin. I am often asked if it is hard to “remember to stand up straight.” The honest answer is, no!  I don’t have to remember anything! I’ve learned to feel what feels good, and what will allow me to move freely. I’m living proof that “posture” is a a felt skill that can be learned, and improved at any level.

If you’d like to experience easy, effortless posture, sign up NOW for this Saturday’s workshop, “The Posture Puzzle.” Register by Wednesday to qualify for the Early Bird price. Workshop details and registration via the Green Puzzle Piece.

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Returning with a Rant About Posture

Recently, I taught a workshop at the Houston NiaMoves Studio, called “Dynamic, Beautiful Posture.”  Lots of my clients express the desire for improved posture, so it’s a topic I spend a lot of time thinking about.

Every time I teach this workshop, I am still astonished by the level of psychological pain, self-loathing, perfectionism, and defeatism that students express.  My rant:  how did we, as a culture,create such a huge cohort of disempowered people?

At the beginning of the workshop, I asked the students (all women, this time, of all sizes, shapes, and ages) to simply walk around the room a few times.  You can try this for yourself:  as you walk, is there a voice inside your head, coaching and directing you in the “right way” to walk?  For most people, the answer is “YES.”

When asked what thoughts went through their minds as they walked, a flood of comments burst forth.  “Stand up straight.”  (What does that even MEAN?) “Hold in your stomach.” “Suck it in!” “Keep that ass from flapping in the breeze!”  All agreed that they were following old directions from a past authority figure while walking — not in the present moment at all.  I asked them how that voice made them feel.

“Not good enough.”

“Unattractive.”

“Anxious.”

“Afraid I’ll do something wrong.”

You get the idea.  There’s a definite pattern here.  This group of women was not unique.  The same responses come up, time and again, and from men as well as women, whenever I work with people and their posture.

So with the stage set, here comes my rant about posture.  If you want to skip the rant (although I think it will be entertaining and enlightening), the take-away is:  Get off your own case.  Stop criticizing yourself, about posture or anything else.  For all the years of criticism, has anything REALLY changed?  No.  Oh yeah — stop criticizing other people, too — especially about their posture.

Take a few moments to sit with these statements:  “I’m not good enough.  I’m unattractive.  I’m anxious.  I feel fearful.”  What do you notice?  Give it some time, and slowly, almost imperceptibly, you will begin to EMBODY these statements.  A feeling of sadness will begin to emerge.  Your gaze is downcast, your head bends forward, along with your shoulders curving forward. Your back slumps.  Your stomach, or your head, may begin to ache a little.  Your flexor muscles contract, pulling you along in a trajectory toward fetal position, the only safe place. Notice:  all your energy, vitality, and joy are drained out of you.  You may feel hopeless:  “What’s the point?  I might as well go back to bed.”  The point is this:  every bodily position, every habitual pattern of muscular contraction, has an underlying emotional tone and thought process — even if unconscious.  If you feel this crummy about yourself, your posture is, in a way, a reflection of your emotional state and self-image.  In this condition, it is impossible to “stand up straight.”  And if you do get close, it will be with such effort and artificiality as to be uncomfortable and unsustainable.

Critiques of posture start young, and continue throughout our formative years.  They come from people who mean well and want the best for us.  However, the Law of Unintended Consequences can be clearly seen.  We fight against ourselves, even years later, to win the approval of that authority figure still in our heads.  A child internalizes the message:  “There is something about you, about your fundamental essence, that is so displeasing and offensive to me, that I cannot accept it, or you.  Unless you can meet my standard of perfection, I will not love you.” And thus begins a life-long, unproductive battle, with the self and one’s environment.  Our only defense to make us feel better about ourselves is to find someone else to correct relentlessly.

Clearly, this is a fruitless and futile path.  And yet we’ve all trod it.  There is a better way.  (It’s coming soon, my solution.  But I’m kind of on a roll with this rant, so permit me. . .)

Our notion of “good posture” arises from a cultural aesthetic preference.  Great works of art, and artistic pursuits such as ballet and yoga reflect this aesthetic preference for the ideals of symmetry and elongation.   The real-world realization is that “Ideal” means “does not actually occur in real life.”  Ideals are meant to be beacons toward which we move.  Ideals are meant to inspire healthy striving and accomplishment (H/T to Dr. Brene Brown for expressing this wonderful distinction.) The closer we get to the ideal, we find the goal posts move.  Achieve the ideal, and you’ve become a butterfly specimen in a display case:  dead, wings pinned to a board, no longer capable of flight, growth, or continued inspiration. Rather straining to achieve an ideal, embrace a metaphor:  The Cockrell Butterfly Center at the Houston Museum of Natural Science is teeming with life, wonder, and beauty.

Face it:  nobody ever died from bad posture.  The problem is not in any particular position — the problem comes from getting stuck there.

Moshe Feldenkrais, iconoclastic thinker and movement educator from the last century, said that “posture” is a static state, like a post. (Post/posture, get it?)  That is fine for photographs and statues, but people’s lives are not static.  We’ve gotta move, and do, and be, and love, and work, and play.  We can’t do that in one, “correct,” static position.  So he coined a word, “acture,” to describe a dynamic state of curiosity about the world, poised for comfort and grace in movement without wasted energy.

You don’t teach that kind of fabulous, engaged “attitude” toward life by shaming, coercing, nagging, or making people walk with a book on their head.   Comfortable “acture,” along with the happy side-effect of looking aesthetically pleasing, has to be experienced and FELT.  Classes in the Feldenkrais Method seek to create the conditions where this dynamic internal spark can be re-ignited.  With deeper experiences of the felt sense of springiness, grace, ease, and length comes a changed emotional tone, changed thinking patterns and self-talk, and the ability to be one’s own authority in matters of comfort, effectiveness, and self.

The workshop participants made a beginning at trading in their perfectionism in favor of resilience, adaptability, and a sense of their own capacity for skill, grace, and comfort in efficient and beautiful movement.  They began to experience the old adage, “What you think of me is none of my business.”  When new possibilities open up, the potential for improvement is LIMITLESS.

Where is perfectionism blocking you?  How does perfectionism affect your relationships with others?

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Comfortable, Beautiful Posture with the Feldenkrais Method(R)

Sunday afternoon at the NiaMoves Studio, it happened again.

“It” was the quiet, rapt attention of complete absorption in the present moment, shared simultaneously and individually by ten people.  The topic was posture — probably the one aspect of our beings for which we criticize and judge ourselves the most. “It” was a gentle, profound transformation, brought about by new ideas and new experiences. “It” is the reason why someone would keep coming back, again and again, after their first Feldenkrais class.

Watch the video:

It’s interesting to note that the Feldenkrais Method produces these changes without stretching, strengthening, or struggling.  Just easy, gentle movements, done with great awareness.  When you can sense yourself more fully, feel the force of gravity traveling through your bones, and easily expand your movement choices (nothing is forbidden, anything is permitted), it seems that natural, elegant, graceful carriage just EMERGES.  What a great feeling!

Here are the “take-aways” from the workshop:

Posture Myth #1:  Your spine should be straight.
How much back pain and awkwardness have resulted from this misconception?  Viewed from the side, your spine has curves that are “architecturally” necessary for proper cushioning against shocks, and for freedom of movement.  Our aesthetic of “good posture,” which we describe as “standing up straight,” is actually a spine that is long and vertical — but not straight.

Posture Myth #2:  You should have “good posture” all the time.
We looked at pictures of a professional golfer at various stages of his swing; of Lance Armstrong riding in the 2009 Tour de France; of a martial artist in “ready” position; and of an opera singer as Mimi in La Boheme, in the last scene, where she is lying in bed and dying of tuberculosis (as she floats a beautiful high B-flat!).  NONE of these pictures illustrated a traditional notion of “good posture.”  Clearly, there is a disconnect between our ideas about posture, and the realities of peak performance.  Moshe Feldenkrais actually coined a word, “acture,” (in contrast to “posture”) to reflect the active and dynamic attributes of graceful movement.

Posture Myth #3:  “Bad posture” must be corrected, or you risk long-term problems.
This is a tricky one.  I would argue that the correction and criticism about posture that many endure, unceasingly, from a young age, is anxiety producing, emotionally damaging, and does as much harm if not more so than a little slouching would ever cause.   Criticism from our parents, teachers, and other authority figures is soon incorporated so that the disapproval comes from within.  A person subject to constant criticism will not have the self-confidence and sturdy self-esteem that produces upright and strong posture.  Not gonna happen.

The Feldenkrais Method does not correct.  Rather, it provides a process of experimentation and exploration, guided by sensing, that allows one to self-regulate, adjust, and adapt to changing situational demands, and according to one’s internal, subjective experience of pleasure, comfort, and ease. There is no position that is judged to be bad, or good.  The problem is not in the position itself, but in the lack of variety in movements. It’s the getting stuck that causes the problems.  So many contraptions, braces, devices, and exercises reflect a fundamental misunderstanding of posture, movement, and dynamic living — and cause more problems than they solve.  No change in posture — or anything else — can happen without awareness and sensation of what you are doing.

How to have good posture?  Of course, I recommend you get yourself to a Feldenkrais class, and change your posture for GOOD.  In the meantime —

DO experience and sense yourself — DON’T judge
DO remain flexible — DON’T “fix” or become rigid
DO include your whole self in movement — DON’T have tunnel vision of just one body part
DO explore options — DON’T limit your choices
DO pursue sustainability — DON’T settle for a short-term solution

Good posture can be graceful, fluid, easy, sensual, and pleasurable.  Come and learn how!

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