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 into detail about the muscles used, the chest is raised in such a manner as to squeeze the back muscles down and together, thus causing a certain amount of force on the spine. In this picture, the girl is standing with more contact on her heels and her upper torso is leaning back compressing her back muscles. Notice how tense her neck is. This is because if she let her head go in line with her torso, she would fall backwards.
Not only can this constant force result in damage to the spine, the muscles used are not designed to do this work. Therefore they strain and resist the stretches that are forced on them. The consequences of standing up straight in this manner repetitively are liable to be strained back muscles and possible spinal damage.
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 a certain amount of effort to stand straight, and so it continues.
Position and Parts
It is a position in the sense that to move at all or move from this 'holding' will require extra effort. All the relative parts are stacked up but to move will require extra muscular activity. You are effectively immobile and very often.......but why not try this for yourself and find out?
After a few minutes or so what do you feel? What happens? ...............
The dictionary definition of posture relates closely to most peoples' understanding. We think in body parts and of the positioning of those parts. Due to pulling and tightening muscle in order to pull up, we feel the effort involved and we believe that this is necessary to attain good posture. Furthermore we interpret this 'good posture' as being beneficial when in fact the muscular squeezing and tugging results in injury.
Is there another way of having a similar uprightness without the tension and potential harm to the spine?
In fact there is no particular way to be or to change. If we allow ourselves to function as we are designed to function, then there is no need to do anything at all.
One Whole System
Human Beings function as an entire system. We don't have body parts that work independently from our thoughts for example. We operate in continually adapting patterns of coordinated physical and mental activity. Therefore our well-being involves both our mental and physical states. This viewpoint is not new yet how many of us actually live like this, or consider the wider implications of it? How do you live like this?
See for yourself how our system functions as a whole.
Try this Test
Think back to a particularly negative experience you've had and keep
your thoughts on the subject for a full minute. Then note your physical state, how you are breathing, sitting etc.
Secondly, think of a particularly wonderful experience or situation and stay there for a while in your mind. Again, notice any physical changes. Then compare the two. Did you notice any difference?
Each time, your thoughts were re-organizing your nervous system, muscular patterns and so forth, without you DOING it. They were happening to you.
More Examples of Psycho-Physical-Unity
You have probably already experienced those times on holiday, when you feel great,
without any worries and in harmony with the world. You are in fact allowing your system to function as it is designed to function, holistically, without any separation between body and mind. Compare this to a stressful day at work when you have a tension headache or maybe your shoulder and neck are painful. You are now experiencing what it is like to live without psycho-physical unity.
The Meaning of It All
What do these experiences tell us? Of course each individual have their own reasons but if I were to give a general reply to this question, it would be that when we are simply relaxing and just 'being', our system functions as one unit without tension, effort or practice. This is why we feel good at such moments. It is the default state! In fact David Gorman's Anatomy in Wholeness work explains how we are suspended in an elastic suit of muscles that keeps us in a continual state of lightness, elasticity and mobility. However this state of lightness is available to us only if we let go of certain ideas we have about having to 'pull' ourselves upright and find the correct 'position' to stand, sit or walk in.
The aches and pains of tension after a busy day at work also tell us something. It is our system telling us that we are not in the most constructive and natural state possible. This doesn't mean our system is not operating well, on the contrary, it is these alarm calls that wake us up to the fact that something is not right in our lives at that moment and that we have a choice to do something about it.
How we go about understanding the alarm calls accurately and how it is possible to deal with the issues behind them is what LearningMethods is all about.
Implications of It All
If the default state is this wonderful effortless state, then there is no need to suffer aches, pains and injure ourselves by straining and holding. We can be in this wonderful state all the time. Climbing stairs would no longer require pushing and heaving ourselves upwards, we could simply glide up the stairs as this little boy is doing in the picture. Lifting heavy objects wouldn't require masses of muscular strength if our whole muscular structure was lifting the object and not just our arms. If learnt at any age, there would be less physical wear and tear from putting untold forces on body parts such as the spine, thus preventing slipped discs, alleviating scoliosis, or tendonitis and other injuries. Living in harmony with ourselves has a direct effect on our health and well-being and it isn't that difficult.
I started this article with the question, 'Is there another way of having a similar 'uprightness' without the tension and potential harm to the spine and joints? My reply is a resounding yes, for all the reasons I have given but I would like to urge you to try for yourself. It is too easy, as well as risky to take someone's word for it.