Very often people think of posture in terms of how you ‘hold yourself’ upright. Many is the time when you hear people say ‘straighten up, don’t slouch’. But what does that actually mean and what are the physical consequences of the action? This is the definition of posture according to the Concise Oxford Dictionary: Relative position of parts especially of body The two words that stand out for me are position and parts. Let’s consider first of all how most people view posture.
The Idea of Holding Yourself Up
The reaction to somebody telling you to stand (or sit) straight is to use certain muscles in order to come to a more vertical alignment. The effort and energy used to achieve this is substantial particularly when you think of the number of times you repeat this action during the day. Without going in to detail about the muscles used, the chest is raised in such a manner as to squeeze the back muscles down and together, thus causing forces on the spine. Notice too in this picture how the girl's support is pitched backwards so that she is standing more on her heels. To walk forwards she will have to pull herself over her feet before attempting to move.
Not only can this constant pressure result in damage to the spine, the muscles used are not designed to do this work. Therefore they strain to resist the stretches that are forced on them. The consequences of standing up straight in this repetitive manner are liable to cause back problems and spinal injury…
The Circle of Belief
Working against the natural functioning of these muscles gives us the feeling of effort – which it is! The idea of standing straight becomes an idea of doing something, of pulling the muscles in a certain direction so as to achieve a more upward, vertical position. Funnily enough, the idea of ‘pulling up’ is in reality squeezing and pushing some muscles down! Furthermore, the effort involved re-establishes our idea that we need to strength our muscles to stand straight. "It is tiring after a while. If I 'relax' I slump which is not good..." and so the circle of belief goes on.
Position and Parts
Standing like this is a position in the sense that to move at all or move from this ‘holding’ will require extra energy. All the relative parts are stacked up and you are effectively stiff like a statue. In order to make any motion you struggle against your own muscular constraints.
So the dictionary definition of posture relates closely to most peoples understanding. We think in body parts and of the positioning of those parts. Our ideas are re-enforced from the effort we feel when holding ourselves up and we strive to attain this beneficial ‘good posture’ when in fact we are heading towards pain and physical trauma.
Perhaps the most important point to learn is that we have a whole physical response to how we stand and to how we think we should stand. Therefore questioning our ideas about posture is the first step towards learning how to stand without harming ourselves. ‘Good posture’ then has a whole new meaning.