by Witold Fitz-Simon
It’s Monday morning! (It's not, it's Thursday, but just imagine.) Hopefully, you’ve had a relaxing and restorative weekend, and you’ve arrived back at work refreshed and ready to meet the week. Those first few moments of the day can be great, can’t they? So much spring in your step before the weight of the day presses down on you.
But that weight of the day can sometimes feel like a real thing like someone is sneaking rocks into your pockets when you’re not looking, and by the end of the day your shoulders are hunched, your back is stooped and your neck aches. If only that freshness and lightness that comes after a good weekend (or, even better, a long vacation) could last!
Well, it can. And I’m going to tell you how.
Last week, I broached the idea that your body is a finely tuned, highly responsive organism that just needs a little direction about what to do to be graceful, easy and free. In this post, we’re going to look how to give yourself that direction in a clear and simple way that will support your body’s ability to unwind all those bad postural rocks you keep piling on it.
Clarity is the key to all this. You can think of the process of achieving good posture as someone quietly reciting poetry in the middle of a crowded room filled with people shouting at the top of their lungs complaining about their jobs. The poetry is in there, but you’re never going to be able to hear it as long as everyone is yelling. The good posture is in you, but you’re never going to find it until you let go of all the things that you’re doing to pull yourself out of a state of dynamic poise.
There are three simple parts to this process of calming all the yelling and finding the inner poetry that will allow you to stand tall, with stability and adaptability.
1. Let go of what you don’t want to happen
An understanding of what your habits are is important. In the last post, we looked at how you can start to get to know how you approach being upright on your feet and how you can let go of what isn’t working for you. In a moment I’m going to show you how to take that to the next level.
2. Be clear about what you do want to happen
There is a very simple organization to the way the different parts of the body work together when you are standing with ease. Understanding that relationship and being familiar with it in your own body will enable you to find that ease quickly and repeatedly.
3. Let it happen
“Let” is the most important thing about the approach to being upright on your feet. Pushing and pulling yourself into shape will only interfere with all sorts of postural reflexes and mechanisms that are far more complex and subtle than you can ever be with your muscles.
Building Better Posture From the Ground Up
The best way to start letting go of all the unfortunate things you’re doing to yourself is to get off your feet and onto your back. Changing your relationship to gravity by lying down on the floor with support under your head and your knees up will allow your muscles to let go and your torso and spine to decompress.
Take a few minutes like this and observe how you are gripping, contracting and compressing yourself. Notice the ways in which you might be holding yourself away from the floor, or pressing yourself down into the floor. You can take this as an extension of the practice we looked at in the last post of getting to know yourself and your habits.
As you hang out here, allow whatever you observe to let go. The process of release may take a little time, so be patient. You may even notice things that are holding on that won’t let go at all. That’s okay. Leave them be and maybe they’ll get the message later.
Your New Blueprint for Better Posture
Lying down on your back will also put you in the perfect position to get to know the best relationship for the different parts of your body that will support you most effectively when you’re upright. It’s a very simple relationship that can be summed up in a few words:
- A free neck that allows
- Your head to release away from the top of your spine
- So that your whole torso can expand
- And your limbs can release away from your body
It is really that simple.
Lying down on your back with a support under your head will allow your neck to get really free, more so than when you are standing up. On your back, your neck muscles can relax because they don’t have to hold your head up. When you’re on your feet, they need a little more tone. A “free” neck doesn’t mean a slack neck. It just means your muscles have the right amount of tone to support your head but are soft and dynamic enough to allow it to balance properly on the top of your spine rather than holding it there immobile and pulling it down into your body.
With your neck free so that your head can ease away from your body, and your arms and legs free to do the same, you won’t be constricting your torso so your spine can freely lengthen and your back can widen.
As you lie with your knees up, take some time to consider this relationship of your different parts. Notice how, as you settle into it and the grips and pulls in your body start to ease up, this coordination can start to establish itself.
It might take some time for this arrangement of your body to make sense to you, possibly even several sessions, but it will be worth it. This simple relationship of parts to the whole is something you can apply to anything you do to create a more efficient use of your frame.
Taking it Upright
After a while of lying on your back (even for just a minute or two) take your time to come to your feet.
Once you’re up, the first thing you might do is give yourself a moment just to enjoy standing and any release you’ve given yourself.
Then consider the ideas you were playing with on the floor:
A free neck that allows your head to release up away from the top of your spine so that your whole torso can expand and your arms and legs can release away from you.
There’s a lot of passive language in that description, the idea being that the relationship of your various parts can happen by letting go of things that are doing the opposite. Take a few minutes to play with letting go of whatever you notice as it comes up.
If the whole list seems like a lot to track, just follow what’s happening to your head and neck. That’s the best place to start.
Practice is Perfect
This is a simple practice that you can spend any amount of time doing. It could be 5 minutes or 20 minutes, or whatever time is available to you. You could do it only once or twice, or regularly once or twice a week, as much as it is useful to you. It’s not something you can do incorrectly or something that you have to get right according to some standard you aren’t sure of. Anything you learn from it is something you didn’t know before you did it and will be helpful in the long run. I hope you’ll give it a try.
A version of this post originally appeared at witoldfitzsimon.com
WITOLD FITZ-SIMON has been a student of the Alexander Technique since 2007. He is certified to teach the Technique as a graduate of the American Center for the Alexander Technique’s 1,600-hour, three-year training program. A student of yoga since 1993 and a teacher of yoga since 2000, Witold combines his extensive knowledge of the body and its use into intelligent and practical instruction designed to help his students free themselves of ineffective and damaging habits of body, mind and being. He can be found at witoldfitzsimon.com