How to Stand

"As years go by, standing becomes a compressive-to-the-body act.  You may think (as I did) that standing is uncomfortable only because of scoliosis, or a hip surgery, etc, but that discomfort is perpetuated and accentuated by compression.” -SH

Standing and Side-Shifting

Is standing a torment for you? Fatigue, pain, tension? Here is a cure:

Stand. Shift weight to one leg, rest there for ten seconds at least, focus completely on letting the other leg go limp and relax 100% (the “relaxation response” as I call it). Then reverse to the other leg. This is primal – vitally important. It is the foundation of healthy walking. You have to slow down your “readiness to move and go” attitude that is built into the standing posture of almost every person in America. Talk to your mind: “calm down. Be present. Everything else can wait”. Sadly, most of us never activate the relaxation response  - this disability came from being forced to walk – big adult pulling our little hand “helpfully” - before we could shift weight side to side. Hence we can never learn how to stand with relaxed legs, using minimal effort.


As years go by, standing becomes a compressive-to-the-body act.  You may think (as I did) that standing is uncomfortable only because of scoliosis, or a hip surgery, etc. But that discomfort is perpetuated and accentuated by compression – this is indisputable, and easily demonstrated. This simple practice of side shifting in standing eventually restores our ability to stand on two legs restfully.  It is not shifting weight “athletically” like a dancer. Somatically, that is worthless - in this kind of learning. Go very slowly; spend 10 seconds, each leg. Breathe. Relax the non-weight bearing leg and grow tall on the standing leg. It is a very slow rhythm at first. That’s because it takes time at first to activate this relaxation response. Don’t go any faster than your ability to activate that response: relax the other leg fully. At first it is deliberate, but soon the reflex kicks in, the moment of taking weight on the other leg is a signal for the other side to let go. It is more a matter of reconnecting to that ancient reflex, as it is learning something new.

As you get quicker to activate and de-activate that relaxation reflex, you can shift weight more quickly. When you are doing it properly, it has a restful feeling, and it looks like there is some special magic to the movement, even to the casual onlooker. If you are not relaxing the non-weight bearing leg, it looks just like a normal stressful, rushed or semi-athletic movement. Nothing special. This practice can take months to learn. This is the main preparation for functional walking, and should be done before taking it into walking.

As you shift weight to the new leg, hold onto a bookcase or doorframe, to avoid undue anxiety about falling. You may think you don’t need it, but do it anyway. It will speed your learning. Side-shifting in standing is primal, simple, easy. But to re-integrate what we lost – and do it correctly – takes a bit of self-mentoring and patience. 

Take one item at a time, and practice until it is easy and automatic:

  • At the exact instant the foot takes weight, allow (do not think: “relax”) that foot to soften and widen; inhibit by awareness the tendency to grip the toes and tighten the arches. That means go slow, breath, be mindful. Be aware (without trying to relax or do anything with it voluntarily) of what you are doing to the foot (at the exact instant foot is weighted) – inhibit the tendency, don’t try to relax. If you layer a “relaxation command” on top of unconscious habits of tensing, you complicate matters. Plus it achieves only a temporary effect. This is a very deep and powerful somatic truth: simply inhibit the unnecessary action using awareness. It is not a matter of doing more or relaxing voluntarily, it is non-doing.
  • The knee of only the standing leg should slightly bend also at that exact instant. This takes time, especially to build the muscle strength and precision of usage to slightly bend knees without collapsing. The non-weight bearing leg might or might not have a bent knee – it is irrelevant. Nothing should be done voluntarily there. If you bend both knees, it is like doing deep knee bends, and nothing is learned, somatically speaking. Slightly soften and bend only the knee of the leg that is starting to take weight.
  • Again, the non-weight bearing leg can give up all responsibility to support you or help you balance and completely relax. “The relaxation response”.  This is most important, by far. If you cannot do this, hang on to a bookshelf. As well, you will want to make your ankles more competent using somatic approaches as I have described in another page. Your other leg will never relax as long as your brain is unconvinced about your stability with the other leg. We can never fool the low brain. At least: write your name with your big toes before getting up.
  • The hip of the non-weight bearing leg can relax and drop slightly downward. If this does not happen, you are tensing to hold it up. Even a little bit of relaxation here is good. Almost nobody relaxes the non-weight bearing hip entirely, especially while walking, except certain Polynesian women.
  • Position torso over knee and foot to maximize your height and minimize shearing. That means you do not go to the far end range of side shifting, collapsing down.
  • Imagine, feel that you are growing taller as you stand on one leg.
  • Relax and breathe - abdominal breathing - at that moment of shifting weight. Just notice if you chest-breathe, or tighten up the belly and stop the breath. Just by noticing - let it go, and let the breath sensation flow deep into the pelvis. You may be surprised to see this is almost impossible; it is extremely stress-laden to stand on one leg, when your whole life your balance strategy in standing was two legs. Again, it will help in the beginning to hold onto a bookshelf – not so much to keep you from falling but to help you more quickly learn to fully relax the non-weight bearing leg.
  • Sense your talus, keeping foot entirely relaxed, balance happens here. Imagine, sense, and allow this. Roman soldiers were taught this! It’s an ancient practice.


Once you have learned these basics of Standing Side Shifting, then add enhancements:

  • Wide angle vision, soft focus.
  • Stand on both leg, place hand on hips, and press hands towards floor. This will  help you feel supported from the hips down. Grounded. Then release upper body weight deliberately into the hips.
  • Side shift faster, and try doing it to music with a slow beat. Be sure the relaxation response is there.
  • Turn the body slightly one-way, turn the head wherever you like. Look around. Create some variety as you shift your weight from side to side.
  • Check often that your non-weight bearing leg is relaxing fully as you shift away from it and are standing on the other foot. This is the most important aspect of all this, by far. The relaxation response is the most important thing to learn here.
  • As you shift weight lean slightly forward, and allow the non-weight bearing leg to land under you without any effort (“empty leg”).


Congratulations – you have just reproduced what a healthy young child does, who learns to walk in a natural way, by experimentation, without adult interference or expectation.

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin