"Why should I care about my posture?" That's something I asked myself repeatedly 16 years ago when I was studying to be an actor in drama school. One of our required courses was about the Alexander Technique. I sat in that class and thought it was a complete waste of time. I couldn't care less about posture. I didn't see how it was relevant to me, or how it could help me as an actor. Wasn't posture just about sitting 'straight'? As actors we moved around the stage, so again, irrelevant to moi !!!
Little did I know then, just how disconnected I was from my body. It was only after taking private Alexander Technique lessons that I began to realize that the only time I ever paid attention to a particular body part was when it hurt. Like most people I didn't think about my body until it was alerting me with pain. I never really thought about my toes until I stubbed them against a hard surface. And my fingers? Only when I had a cut that prevented me from typing. And my neck, shoulders and back? Only when they were screaming at me with some serious pain.
The reason most people don't think about these things is because we are creatures of habit, and our habit is to do. There are many things that we want to do, and we continue to do until the pain alerts us, and only then do we stop. Instead, we should think about the way we carry out activities and consider that perhaps something that we are doing is bringing forth this pain. The Alexander Technique first makes us aware of the many habits that we have that interfere with our body's optimal functioning. It then teaches us how to stop repeating the same things over and over again, that lead to pain and discomfort.
The Misconception of Standing ‘Straight’
During my drama training, I kept receiving feedback about my posture. A recurring critique had to do with me not being grounded into the floor, moving around awkwardly, being disconnected, ... blah blah blah. I always thought that that's just the way that I was and that there wasn't anything that I could do about it. However, when I tried to 'correct' my posture by standing up 'straight' I was again given feedback that now I was arching my back. I mean really, I just couldn't win!
I would later find out that there was a way to improve my posture and overall appearance on stage. First, I had to get rid of some old thinking. How many of us were told to “Stand up straight!” and “Don’t slouch!” as children? These commands were often given by well-meaning adults who were concerned when we were sitting or standing awkwardly or slouching. However, these terms are misleading because whenever someone hears the phrase, "Sit up straight!" it triggers a reaction that isn't 'straight' at all. What actually happens when we attempt to sit or stand 'straight' is that we arch our backs and strain our bodies into what looks like a military position. If you look at yourself in a mirror when you attempt to stand or sit up straight, you will see that you are in fact lifting your chest up, pulling your shoulders back, tightening your neck, while also creating an arch in your lower back. This is harmful for the body because it constricts breathing, shrinks the spine and causes excessive tension. Instead, if you want to try and understand what 'straight' is in relation to the spine, think of sitting or standing upright. Imagine that your head is a hot air balloon being lifted up to the sky and your spine is the string that follows. That is what 'up' feels like. And the more up you go, the more upright your body will become.
This all might sound nice and dandy, but can we really change our posture? The answer to that question is yes. For starters, just becoming aware of what not to do, opens the possibility of recognizing those things and choosing not to engage in them. We can start by thinking about the hot air balloon metaphor when we feel ourselves slouching in our chair. It doesn't mean that we won't slouch or arch our backs ever again, it just means that we may do it less and less, and eventually give our back a break.
We should care about our posture for a number of reasons, most notably for our health. Our posture is the manifestation of our thoughts, actions, and reactions. It is not just what the world sees, it is what we embody. By being more mindful of how we engage in everyday activities, paying attention to how we sit, walk, talk, and what we think about, we decide if those choices lift us up or bring us down.