Don’t sit up straight!
This may seem like an odd statement for me to make as a teacher of the Alexander Technique – a method known to help people with their posture.
However, if you have read anything I’ve written about posture before it should not come as a surprise.
In a previous blog post I explained it like this:
To be clear, the kind of posture I am interested in is not stiff or held, the way so many people unfortunately think of “good posture.” It’s not about “standing up straight.” That can cause as many problems as it solves.
It is this idea that I want to revisit today.
Many studies have shown the value of having an upright posture, what you might think of as sitting or standing up straight.
Trying to sit or stand up straight, however, can cause a multitude of problems, because of how most of us try and make it happen. On top of that, it’s simply not true. We are not straight, and our spine certainly isn’t straight – even when we’re at our most upright, it has beautiful gentle, flexible curves.
Here are three key reasons why you should NOT try to sit, or stand, up straight.
#1 You’re Making Yourself Shorter!
When you try to sit, or stand, up straight, you most likely hold yourself stiffly into position. You are not even being as tall as you could be, believe it or not. Tight muscles are contracted muscles, so by tightening to sit or stand “up straight” you are actually making yourself shorter than you really are, albeit not as short as if you were slumping or slouching. You are likely to be over-arching your back – perhaps overcompensating for not slumping. Of course, if it’s over-arched, you cannot possibly be as upright, or as tall, as you could be.
#2 You’re Restricting Your Breath
Sit up straight now. Notice what happens to your breath. Do you feel like you can breathe freely or deeply? If you’re like most people, you’ll notice that you’re holding your breath, or that it is more difficult to breathe. When we can sit in a naturally upright way, however, it is easy to breathe.
#3 You’re Causing Tension, Pain and Stress
When you sit up straight you are rigid and stiff. You are using excess tension to hold yourself up, instead of simply being upright naturally, the way a young child often is. That tension can be uncomfortable, and over time can turn into pain in your neck, shoulders, back or hips and lead to all sorts of problems. You are also putting stress on yourself, literally! Being upright does NOT have to be this way.
I do not want to discourage you from the merits of being upright. If you check out this blog, I site many reasons why having an upright posture is important.
Instead, I suggest a different means for getting there. When we learn to connect with our body’s innate intelligence, we discover a natural posture that is upright yet relaxed, balanced and fluid. Rather than contributing to our stress, this posture helps us feel calmer and more confident.
We can learn to get out of our own way and let go of the tension that masks our natural poise.
One simple way I teach my clients to start addressing this, is to change the way they think about posture and what it means to be upright.
First try to sit up straight right now. Notice how that feels.
Now let that go and try this instead:
Without looking up, bring a gentle awareness to the space above your head. Think to yourself, “I am free to notice the space above me.”
This is just a thought – nothing more. There is nothing you must do to make anything happen. Simply see if you notice a change, and if so, whether it is helpful.
We all respond in our own way to different words, so you may not have the same response as others. Having said that, there are ways of expressing ideas that tend to be more helpful than others.
I, and many of my clients, find this idea helpful, especially when approached with as little attachment as possible to any desired outcome. It’s a gentle, indirect way to remind the body that it can take up more space. It’s also an example of one of the “Thoughts for the Day” I have posted in my Facebook group, the BodyIntelligence Community, recently.
I’d love to hear how you respond to it, too. Please let me know in the comments below.
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