Do you think your posture is poor? Have you tried a course of posture exercises to correct it? Most people would say they feel their posture could be better but why does it become poor and what is the best way to improve it?
Modern living means we probably are not as active as previous generations. We spend long hours sitting at desks, in cars or when relaxing, slumping in front of the TV. In these situations you are not using your muscles as nature originally intended. Parts of your body get overworked such as your neck and shoulders whilst others will get weaker, invariably the lower back. Poor posture has been recognized as a factor in health for many years resulting in the development of posture exercises to correct it.
However, this approach may be misguided as the focus on specific muscles for improving posture could affect your body's natural support reflexes.
Your body has built-in postural reflexes to coordinate muscular activity for support and movement. If your posture has deteriorated it is likely these reflexes are not being allowed to work properly. Stress may be causing you to stiffen your neck and tighten your shoulders. These actions will override your natural mechanisms for balance and movement. Constant inappropriate use of these muscles will eventually corrupt how you move. It becomes a catch-22 problem. The more you move in a poor way, the better you get at moving this way until it feels right.
Whilst I appreciate the popularity of exercises to improve posture, including core stability routines, I believe they result in unnecessary tension in the body. Should we have to work core muscles individually to get our body to stand tall? Did nature intend this as the best way to stand?
In my role as a teacher of The Alexander Technique I see many people who suffer as a result of poor posture. I also see just as many who are suffering as a result of their attempts to correct it! Adding a little extra tension in order to stand properly will not improve your posture - it just adds to the strain on your muscles and joints. Rather than trying to stand and sit in a way you feel is correct, you can learn how to remove the unnecessary stress in your body and allow your postural reflexes to work as nature intended.
So forget about posture and learn about Poise.
Poise is a lost skill from our youth. When you have poise you use far less effort and your body will support itself with ease allowing you to move, breathe and function more freely. Poise is evident in top athletes and performers. Think of Muhammad Ali or Fred Astaire in their prime and that gives you a great example of freedom in movement. I doubt if they used exercises to improve their posture!
Poise can only be regained by first taking out the tension in your body and appreciating the push you get from the ground. When you are on top of the world and walk with a spring in your step, you are poised. When you can sit at your desk and feel no tension in your neck, shoulders and back – you are poised. Trying to improve your posture by trying harder will take you further away from your natural poised state. So don’t try – let whatever is beneath you push up and think of letting go to sit, stand and walk taller and you will be on your way to a return to poise.
Roy Palmer is a teacher of The Alexander Technique and has studied performance enhancement in sport for the last 10 years. In 2001 he published a book called 'The Performance Paradox: Challenging the conventional methods of sports training and exercise' and is currently working on a new project about The Zone. More information about how to improve your posture can be found by clicking Posture