Although there's a lot of new information about how posture effects comfort, health, and appearance, there's not much enthusiasm. Perhaps this is because it's not so easy to change old patterns. No matter how much yoga, Pilates, dance or body-centered therapy you do, sustaining your alignment still seems like an elusive goal. You want to look good, you want to feel good but your good intentions go into a slump the minute you sit down. After helping hundreds of people grapple with the posture conundrum, I've developed a simple approach that makes sense and works.
As a form of nonverbal communication, your posture is a powerful statement. It not only influences how others see you, it influences how you see yourself. Studies done by power pose researcher Dana R. Carney and biofeedback expert Erik Peper show that slouching invites feelings of helplessness, vulnerability & negativity; while sitting upright increases self-confidence and optimism. Just changing the way you sit can change your mood from a downer to an upper. Check it out for yourself:
As you alternate between a slumping and upright position, notice the difference posture makes on your state of mind. Close your eyes, let your torso collapse, and sit back on your tailbone. Then open your eyes and look at the world from this perspective. How do you feel about the work you're doing today? How do you feel about yourself? How do you feel about your success? The future? Now, close your eyes again, sit up straight, and push your chest out a bit. See how this new perspective changes your point of view.
Learning a few basics and engaging some body awareness will get your posture working for you instead of against you. Beginning with the old adage "form follows function", it's important to see posture as something active rather than passive. If you've spent years and years hunched at a desk, slouched in the couch, or, more recently, curled around your smart phone, your body has this passive position on autopilot. Without even thinking, this is where you end up before you even sit down. It's locked in your muscle memory at an unconscious level. In order to change the form, you'll need to wake up the function.
Like any familiar holding pattern, the way you sit feels like "home". Up until now, you may have thought your alignment didn't really matter beyond a stiff neck, achy back, or eyestrain. Knowing the powerful effect that posture has on your state of mind and aspirations for success is a great incentive to revisit the issue. But, rather than direct the show from your mind, let your body lead the way. Follow these four simple steps to get your posture working for you:
#1 Set up. Give your body a comfortable, sustainable alternative to the slouch at the beginning of any task. Adjust your chair so your hip is slightly higher than your knee. Sit squarely on your base, forward of your tailbone with your feet on the floor. The stability of the structure depends on its foundation.
#2 Align the spine. Every time you sit, take a moment to get settled and explore your range of motion from full-on flexion (slumping) to extension (slightly arching). Find the mid-point where the front and back feel balanced and you feel tall. Tighten your core muscles and hold this posture for two minutes. The security of the structure depends on its alignment.
#3 Stay active. Keep your base (hip joints and feet) engaged as you use your hands, eyes, and intellect. Support your mental activity with your aware body. Whenever you re-slump, just adjust the base, do a little range of motion, and find the upright again. The integrity of the structure depends on balance and rebalance.
#4 Occupy inner space. Notice how sitting up distributes the weight evenly on your base giving you more heart, lung & gut space. Could this be where compassion, inspiration and intuition live? Feel how your eyes & shoulders are more relaxed and breathing is easier. Notice how the upright supports it all- your creativity, your goals and your vision. If the structure collapses, no one can live there.
Be patient. It took a long time to perfect the old configuration: it might take a bit of time to rewire your muscle memory for good posture. Once you get your new habit going, it'll reinforce itself. An aligned posture is a positive feedback loop- it feels good physically and emotionally. It generates positive feelings for yourself & the day ahead. It affirms that you're empowered, secure, open to creativity, and ready for opportunity. Now, your posture is working for you not against you.