6 Myths About Good Posture, Busted

Have  you noticed how much we talk about posture round here? What we actually mean is good biomechanical alignment, but posture is an easier catch-all term.

One of my favourite things to do, when I've got the time - say, at retreats, or workshops, or teacher trainings, is to take photos of people from the side and SHOW them what their alignment is really like. 

Like I said in my plumb line post, most of us get a shock when we see how we really stand. Part of this is because when we are looking at ourselves in the mirror, we are often doing things to look our best - sucking in our tummies, popping our chests forward, you get the idea.

As a result, we have no idea of how we actually stand and move.

We only know how we look when we are presenting our best self. Not our unconscious-of-how-we-move self. 

See exhibit A, below.

I took these photos at one of our retreats, and got permission to use them as long as I blanked people's faces out - which kinda makes them look like criminals, ha! But the only thing they are guilty of is having not-perfect posture. And we are ALL (and I do mean all) guilty of that.

The vertical blue lines are plumb lines - see here for which body parts you actually want to be bisected by those lines. Hint: even though the camera angles might be a bit off, it's not ideal to have most of your mass FORWARD of that line, as in the top pic.

Doesn't everyone look more comfortable in the bottom pic?

Amazing, right? Yes, before you point it out, we know they still aren't perfect, but we are aiming for progress, always. Not perfection. OK? Ok.

You can achieve similar change almost instantly by cueing people well into Mountain Pose, but the changes don't last until people have released some of the muscle tension that is holding them in poor postural patterns, and acquired the motor skills to stand and move in this new way. As a rule that initially takes a few days of  high-frequency repetition, and lasting change requires months of practice. These pics were taken five days apart, once people were starting to get into their new habits.

Which brings me to the myth-busting -

Full post on those myths here.

MYTH 1 If you want to correct poor posture, straighten up.

Well, I think it's safe to say, judging from the 'before' pic, that most of us have an unclear idea of what 'straight' is. And some of us flatten the curves of our spines in order to straighten up. Since those curves are designed to bear our weight, that's an undesirable thing to do.

MYTH 2 Keeping your chin up and chest out constitutes great posture.

See Exhibit A, with all those folks too far forward of the plumb line.

MYTH 3 Good posture requires mental and physical effort.

Initially, this is true, only because it takes a while for your muscles and nervous system to get used to the new arrangement. But again, Exhibit B (the after pic). People look MORE relaxed, because they aren't having to fight gravity so hard to stay upright. Funny how this happens when you start using your skeleton as it was intended.

MYTH 4 It is too late to change my posture.

Nope. You see the age range above? People  in their 20's all the way up to people in their 60's. And people in their 80's and 90's have done it too.

MYTH 5 You should always breathe through the belly.

Ah, this old chestnut. I will rant, er, I mean blog about this at some length soon, BUT. For now, let me tell you a tale of a student of mine. Amazing fit woman. Back pain. Bad back pain. One of the main reasons for it, her therapists tell her, is that she is a habitual belly breather, having learned to do this as a child in order to help her calm down. If your diaphragm isn't getting enough work, all sorts of muscle chains don't work quite right. And your diaphragm gets more work if you breath primarily to expand and release your ribcage.

MYTH 6 Good posture derives from being fit and active.

This is a horse-before-cart premise. Have you seen the posture cyclists sometimes end up with? It's the same with all fitness activities. You have to do the work to get well-aligned BEFORE you start loading your body, otherwise you might end up sore. See cautionary tale above.