Good posture is bad posture. There is a misunderstanding about what is good posture. Let’s take the shoulders for instance and sitting up straight. Many of us have learned that good posture means pulling your shoulders back and keeping them back. It has been demanded by many well meaning parents “sit up straight and pull your shoulders back”. Also many well meaning dance teachers, yoga teachers, Pilates teachers, school teachers, and others also suggest getting those shoulders back. When you see gymnasts they usually end their routine with the classic shoulders back stance. It is often a look we associate with pride or strength.
Actually much of the chronic pain out there is a result of doing something the body was never meant to do. Holding the shoulders back is one of those things. Ask your body.
Those of us who have followed this advice got our shoulders back for a very short period of time, usually until we stop thinking about it. Then bang we are right back to the original habitual position. The body is pretty intelligent if we know how to ask. When we stop thinking about doing something that is extra work the body will often relax and say “well that is just enough of that”. Although, the body can be fooled and some of us have done it for so long we are chronically holding our shoulders back, and for many of of us it is the cause of the pains we feel in our shoulders and neck.
Well if they aren’t supposed to be back, where are they supposed to be? And how can we change our posture?
Let’s propose that the ultimate best posture is the one that gets us the most vital capacity and aliveness (breath, blood and nerve flow, strength, presence, etc.). As a first approximation let’s simply observe our breathing. We can evaluate and test which of a couple different but similar postures gives us the best, fullest, easiest breath. We can use this rule of thumb in all situations. If we take in a light easy breath in one posture then compare that with the light easy breath of another posture, the posture that allows the best breath is the one that is most likely to serve us best. Simple, right. It works.
With this simple tool alone we can easily evaluate all those “good ideas and assumptions out there” that we and others have about what is best for us. We can experiment and test our theories. Of course if we can’t tell the difference between two postures, then we either have to increase our sensitivity or alter the experiment a bit so that it gives us the good data we want.
Again let’s take shoulders. Sitting up relatively straight or standing, feel where your shoulders are. Move them forward and backward without changing the chest and ribs, and then let them rest. Breathe easily. Now pull the shoulders gently backward as far as they go. You will probably feel them also rise a bit if you haven’t changed the ribcage conformation. Let them rest back forward. Then gently move the shoulders forward. Again you will most likely feel them also rise if the chest stays constant. Return them to the middle where the shoulders are at their lowest point. This is the point of rest. This is the point of ease. This is where an intelligent body would return the shoulders in between being used for some useful action or function.
The shoulder girdle is designed to be in a hollow low energy place between front and back. The yoke of yoga is resting on your ribcage. From this middle rest positioning we get our greatest strength, capability, ease, and power. And here we look and are most relaxed, comfortable, embodied, and present.
If there is a slumping at this point then clearly what needs some rethinking and alteration is most likely the structure, state, and balance of the thorax itself (the ribs, ribcage, the spine, the heart, and the lungs) or perhaps the support underneath.
This simple breath tool works on all areas of the body and body positions. It even works when exercising strenuously. Corollary tests are which posture gives me the greatest strength, or which one gives me the easiest range of motion in all directions of a joint. You can think about it and make up your own tests to tell what is the best posture for you, your body, your situation now. Let me know what you find out.