by Bette Chamberlin (originally published at bettechamberlin.com on July 31, 2019)
When I was a young ballet dancer, people commented on how straight my posture was – no misappropriated curves in my spine (actually few curves altogether!), basically straight. I would hear “you have such good posture”. They thought I did and so did I.
The reality is that none of the above mentioned qualities were examples of good posture – especially outside of the studio and stage. Dancers, musicians, singers, and athletes can all develop habits while pursuing their passion and unknowingly pile on interferences. They may be in the form of stress both mental and physical and recruiting the wrong muscles for the job prohibiting the needed muscular effort elsewhere.
If interference persists, pain, ache, tightness and injury may be the result. I was surely there 17 years ago before I started my training.
We still talk about good posture as an important contributor to health and wellbeing. What is less talked about, though, are the potential pitfalls of our belief around good posture.
Do these statements ring true?
Having good posture means a straight neck and spine.
Having good posture means that you are “doing” something.
Having good posture means that you are pulling up.
Having good posture means that you are very relaxed.
If we take statements 1, 2 and 3 as inaccurate, would the contrasting #4 be accurate?
The answer is a definite NO. Very relaxed is probably collapsed or another form of compression.
So, how in the heck can we improve our posture if our potential ‘fixes’ are all counterproductive?
Most postural recommendations arise out of a sense of ‘doing’ something. The problem is that when we try to correct our posture by physically doing it, we are accessing what we already know quite well – OUR HABITS. Oh dear, we are back to square one.
Posture, or how we move ourselves throughout our lives can be tricky. Here are some common approaches. See if you can spot yourself.
Stiffening or bracing. (Vertebrae are held in place with little flexibility. Movement restricted)
Pulling down. (Vertebrae are compressing. Movement restricted).
Knowingly or unknowingly holding your breath to “keep everything together”.
Keeping your neck ‘straight’ and tall. See # 1.
Here is what I know from years of training and teaching:
Good posture comes from a belief that our thinking can be a powerful conscious tool that can modulate the tone in our body. (BTW, we are doing that anyway- but it is unconscious).
We can modulate the tone in our body by understanding oppositions and recognizing habits of tension that interfere with automatic uprightness. Look to toddlers and animals for examples of this!
Good posture includes an awareness of our pattern of breathing. Do we breath shallowly, breath in and out with unnecessary tension, or barely at all?
Bette Chamberlin (ACAT ‘03) comes from a professional ballet background dancing with American Ballet Theater, and later teaching at NYC studios and universities (NYU and Montclair State University). While suffering many years, after retirement, from poor muscular habits related to her dancing, she found the Alexander Technique which completely changed her life. It was a revelation that through gentle hands and constructive thinking in activity her pain could be greatly reduced. She has been teaching for 15 years and has helped musicians, vocalists and dancers to improve their skill set while learning to do less.www.bettechamberlin.com