The Blunt Truth About Posture

Are you ready for this?

It has taken me 35 years to come to these conclusions. I’ve been reluctant to put it into words, until now. It is a little bit harsh.  I suppose I just came to the conclusion that truth is better than polite denial. Plus I am retired now and now afraid of losing clients.

Here we go. Stand back.

If you think good posture means to stiffen your spine, be vigilant and never relent, suck up your gut, lift your chest and push your chin back, pull your shoulders back while slightly lifting them, tucking your tail under while constantly grabbing up the pelvic floor, unconsciously, while at the same time your low ribs are being thrust forward – don’t worry, you are not alone. That is the usual understanding and practice, and most people have it. That is a pretty good description of British Military posture, which is probably where those ideas came from. Most people don’t have that full collection, but just certain pieces of it. That’s bad enough.

 

The problem is that all this is not just harmful and wrong, and does not work (after some time stiffening and efforting like that you get tired of it, or even worse, your muscles lock down into that configuration, and then you really have problems), and is damaging, but it is really warps our personality beyond recognition. It cuts your intelligence in half. It cuts your intuition in half. It destroys most any chance you have to be really spiritual. It is an insult to your brain. You are teaching your brain to be really really stupid. It means you can never relax, not like a child. It means you put a crimp on your life force and can never tune into our own energy.

It means you are being very lazy, and not very intelligent, to accept such simplistic self-abusive nonsense and that you continue to embody such a preposterous collection of ideas does not bode well for your future prospects. It means you are neurotic, maybe borderline psychotic, obsessive and narcissistic and self-abusive and also tending to abuse others. You’re narcissistic because you do these things constantly worrying about what others think about you. If you are in a position of institutional power, you’ll be very abusive to others. It means you can never feel or express real love or compassion, since you are so compulsively stiffening your chest – that blocks out all natural heart feelings. You think Nature made a mistake giving us a thoracic spinal curve (chest caved in slightly –allowing the heart and lungs to be nicely suspended from this arc) and you constantly stiffen and lift the chest.  It means you are constantly living in the past, and can never really “be” in the present moment, since your brain (remember MOST of the brain is about posture and movement) is preoccupied with carrying forward, from the past, such a heavy, kali-yuga stone age collection of burdensome, pain-inducing, ineffective ideas and practices about good posture. You will never know relaxed, rejuvenative breathing with a belly so tight. Cowardice and laziness will be like your second nature; you’ll always have to struggle against those two things (thinking that is the way life is) since you are always tucking your tail under, even while doing heavy lifting! (When the butt should stick out to counterbalance).

You are going to have a tendency to be dogmatic, in your professional thinking, in your academic understandings, in how you treat your friends and in how to understand your own Religion. That’s because you have trained your brain to be that way; remember - most ALL of your brain is about posture and movement. When you train your own brain, to unquestioningly accept, for a lifetime, unscientific, unproven, ineffective and repetitive habits of posture and movement, that attitude will definitely show up in every single other aspect of your life as well. Just because everyone is doing the same kind of thing does not give you a free pass.

Your digestion will be troubled, and your low-level anxiety will always be there as well, since your belly is too tight, and does not know how to coordinate with the antagonistic low back muscles (as Nature intended). Your life will alternate between shameful guilt and failure feelings, and will-power driven feelings of ego gratification and “success”. That’s because your posture is always in that same mode; no safe middle ground. You’ll never know a life of steady, balanced self-acceptance and all-around progress, because you have your own brain by a stranglehold. That is true no matter how many workshops, or how much therapy you get, or how much meditation you do. You have to also work with movement and posture! That concept is almost like a credo to the Feldenkrais community.

If you take British Military Posture (even a hint of it) into meditation for heaven’s sake, do you know what will happen? I do. Meditation for some people is where you sit down and practice, with an iron will, all your harmful postural habits, thinking this will give you “God Consciousness”. I have seen it numerous times – a person with extraordinary will-power and determination, who vigilantly pursues rigidly erect stiff and unskillful meditation posture for 30 years or more. Just a little of the kind of knowledge found here would have saved them. What do you expect you’d find? You find discouragement, spiritual skepticism, dogmatic mindset, you see them considering the body as evil and the enemy (self-abuse) and a ready ability to abuse others in a similar way (usually verbally), wanting to give up, and even borderline psychosis. They can be pretty nasty people.  It is like clenching your fist to “find God” and NEVER relax it or you are “bad” (as in slumping) , but at the same time you MUST relax to “find God.”. And they are angry and judgmental at anyone else who is not making that same kind of insane effort. If that is not crazy making, I do not know what is. Such a person, after 30 or 40 years of that, is pretty much beyond help. I see them coming and I don’t want them in my practice. They are too far-gone, after four decades!  I tell all my meditation-clients to feel their own back muscles along their spine, as they sit in meditation posture. Often, they are like ROCK.  I have them feel mine in erect sitting, meditation posture – soft like jelly. I tell them – you are meditating while clenching your back full strength, this is never going to work. “You’ve got to get smarter and use more skill, and less will power for good posture, as Moshe Feldenkrais often said.” It does NOT MEAN that you slump or that you do not “sit up straight” or that you relax “postural vigilance” but it DOES MEAN that you get a little smarter about what you are doing. All this applies mostly to chair sitting since floor sitting has built in safeguards (see elsewhere on the website for more on this).

Finally, it means you will tend to become dependent on others – medical or alternative practitioners – for pain relief, for getting the bones back into alignment, for “corrective exercises” etc. That’s because YOU gave up thinking intelligently about posture and movement decades ago. So now you take it for granted that others have to do such thinking for you. Of course you are going to depend on those who (you think) know more about your condition than you do. The problem is, what they know is mostly about observing and treating symptoms for what goes wrong when we don’t understand natural movement and posture. Ruthy Alon, a senior Feldenkrais Trainer and founder of Bones for Life once said (I heard this directly): “If I ever found myself lying on a table, depending on the skill and effort of another person to fix what is wrong me, while I just passively lie there, I would get up immediately and RUN FOR MY LIFE.” And she was not joking.

 

All that is true for you, in exact proportion to the extent to which you have taken seriously wrong ideas of “good posture.” I had that entire collection of wrong ideas and habits up until age 44 when I entered my Feldenkrais Training. That is why I can speak with such passion and understanding; I have been there, done that, and now I have moved on. And I have had 25 years experience helping clients this way. Most people do not have the full collection of bad habits, as I did, but they still cling to certain cherished ideas of what good posture is – like keep pulling the shoulders up and back (never works, never has worked, instead we need to pull the shoulders down and back to engage the upper rib cage).

It is time to move away from these old fashioned British-Military, Victorian ideas about what is good posture! The best thing that can be said about that kind of posture is that it will make you a good soldier, ready and willing to kill people. Already you are killing yourself in numerous ways, and it is no big jump to killing others. It is no accident that the British Military, about 80 or 90 years ago,  prevented F.M. Alexander from teaching his brand of easy, tall, elegant and effortless posture to the troops. He actually tried to do this and was successful.  They found out that such troops did not want to fight! They all had a heart!

If the brain is mostly about posture, do you THINK it might be a good idea to renovate those ideas before spending so much time and effort in trying to fix ourselves with new diets, many books and studies, therapy, exercise, meditation, support groups, etc.? Do you THINK? 


Our brain – according to neurologists – is mostly about movement, balancing in gravity, proprioception, breathing, and coordination, responding to a changing environment, etc. or in other words dynamic and adaptive posture is pretty much what the brain is designed for. The truth is, is that authentic human posture is meant to be spontaneous, adaptive, mostly automatic, in the moment, creative, supple, appropriate to each changing moment (never the same). There is always a healthy dose of self-confidence and joy, even exuberance, in human posture, which is authentic, not contrived. The eyes are free to look around and not be glued to looking down (as most folks do, the older they get, the more this is true).  In standing this begins with the feet and ankles, specifically the sub-talar joint. Shoes with arch supports or heel cushions will subvert this, and freeze your sub-talar joint (which has more proprioceptive nerve endings than the entire bottom of the foot). Even the Roman soldiers were smarter than us; they were taught to run, walk, march and fight IN FLAT SANDALS and from the sub-talar joint. If you don’t understand this, please read this entire website and also the book BORN TO RUN. Why have you never heard of this before? . You should ask that question. In chair sitting, functional posture begins with the right height chair, with a flat, firm bottom, and sensing the sitting bones, while “untucking” the tailbone, while keeping a sense of a dynamic tailbone/pelvis with coordination to the low back (meaning no lumbar support Such subtlety and adaptability is rarely to be seen, except in an innocent young child at play. Alas, that will soon be gone, as the adults in his/her life teach the child their adult ideas of good posture (sit up straight! And as Moshe Feldenkrais often said – there is NOTHING WORSE you could tell a growing child). When you do see functional posture and movement, you see a person who is extremely intelligent in other aspects of his life as well. Albert Einstein once said “I never put anything on paper unless I feel it in my body first.” There is a lot of common sense, and human and postural wisdom hidden in those words; I’d recommend you ponder that for a few weeks. It contains the secret to manifesting your own genius.  

 Practically any part of my website will give you many alternatives to the usual concept of posture. And such ideas are holographic, meaning when you play with one such idea, about 40 related helpful postural memories and ideas automatically come into play. We all have memories of good posture and movement, and not only from early childhood. We have a genetic or soul memory (perhaps) of being functional in our movements and posture. All our ancestors were survivors. They could NOT have survived if they had the same kind of nonsense posture ideas that we have. So we can tap into that genetic memory.

 

The key concept to remember is that we have to struggle and work and be independent and ignore popular culture ideas about posture to acquire sensible posture. Forget popular media, where most people have an over-tight belly, a drawn up pelvis floor and many other wrong ideas. Don’t expect anyone to teach you these things, unless you find an experienced Feldenkrais teacher with many years successful clinical practice (there are other folks, too, who are getting smarter about all this), and who is not interested in pandering to your bad habits (tight abs, stiff chest, ramrod spine etc.). I have built this website specifically as a resource for people who are waking up out of the “good posture” trance, where either you have it and feel good, or you don’t have it and feel guilty. There is a continual avalanche and mountains of wrong information dogmatically enforced and harmful advice out there from people and institutions who should know better about posture and movement, and tight abs, and sit up straight with vigilant will power (instead of skill, as I teach here) and harmful bucket seats and lumbar supports etc. As well, there are so many professions and corporations and individuals that are making lots of money based on a culture with all these wrong ideas. As Moshe Feldenkrais often pointed out, when you teach kids to tuck their tail, stiffen to sit up straight, and tighten their chests, etc., it is a way to exert top-down control, and prevent the child from expressing his native personal power. You create a slave-like mentality and a personality fit only for working in a factory doing menial labor. It is sadly true that there are people in this world who prefer that most of us remain in a slave-like mental state. Wrong ideas of posture are a PRIMARY tool to accomplish that. This is, in truth, very revolutionary, as much so as any other kind of extreme political posturing – but SO FEW people understand this. Most Feldenkrais Practitioners do, that is about it.  Moshe Feldenkrais said: “Western education takes away the pelvis.”  When you stiffen to sit up straight, while tucking under the sit bones and tailbone, you have no postural foundation, just stiff muscles that will soon be overworked.  

It is no accident that your have been taught to “lift while bending your knees; protect the back” which is not just inelegant but very harmful. That perpetuates tucking the tail under while you bend your knees to lift. They should tell you stick out the butt behind for counterbalance, keep the spine long, don’t tuck under the tailbone. Yes use the knees but also stick out the butt! Grab the buttocks and pull them back strongly! It is SO important. Give up your self-consciousness if you want to get rid of back pain.” They don’t tell you this because a) they don’t know it, b) women in western culture and men too, have come to accept that women must always be “modest” and not just keep knees together in sitting (destroying lumbar curve) but never stick out the butt while bending down (the natural thing to do, all native cultures do like that, and all cultures with long flowing clothing do like that also, and there is no sigma, just a square draped form). The price western women pay for short skirts and slacks and not wearing long flowing clothing: a life of cowardice where the tailbone is always tucked under, since to stick out the butt with the usual western dress looks too rude or suggestive. When you continually practice body language for cowardice, you become like that; people will treat you like an object or a victim, whether you like it or not. You are putting out that body language.

 

The sad truth is that, still today, a large percentage of people in western culture would think that such ideas as I express here are too  complicated, too extreme, too much work, and very strange. To my way of thinking, that just shows how far from Nature we have travelled in this modern world. But it is true that there is complication, and an overwhelming amount of information. It would not be that way if we had the correct ideas built into our understanding and our habits. But when we have a stupendous collection of unnatural ideas and habits, it takes deep understanding, humility, patience, a global perspective, wise mentors, and much study and gentle practice to return to what is natural. So yes, it will appear to be complicated. The entire Feldenkrais Work is designed to keep you moving ahead on such a journey. I’d recommend that you get involved as soon as you can – take ATM classes, get regular private FI sessions etc. Yes, read books on Feldenkrais too, but that won’t help you nearly as much as doing the work of ATM and getting private sessions.

© Copyright 2015 Steve Hamlin  www.mybodycanlearn.com