Don’t Sit Up Straight!
This may seem like an odd statement from someone whose last blog post was encouraging you to improve your posture.
However, if you got even as far as the second paragraph you would have read 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 that I want to write about today.
Many studies have shown the value of having an upright posture, what you might think of as sitting or standing up straight.
This simple idea, however, can cause a multitude of problems, as I alluded to last time, because of how most of us interpret it. 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 learn to sit in a naturally upright way, however, it is easy to breathe.
#3 You’re Causing Tension and Pain
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 would be. 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. 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 my last 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.
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.
This time simply think to yourself, “I am free to be my full height.”
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, have been finding this thought helpful recently, especially when we think these words to ourselves with as little attachment as possible to any desired outcome. It’s also one of the “Thoughts for the Day” in my EASY Self-Care Program which is running at the moment. The wording is important. As you explore the idea, be sure to think the words exactly as written – “I am free to be my full height.” It’s a whisper of possibility to yourself.
I’d love to hear how you respond to it, too. Please let me know in the comments below.
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Beautiful and clearly articulated idea for finding our ease in sittting and standing – thank you also for the beautiful image. Perfect, trees are as tall as they are, they just are, not trying to stand up taller!
Thanks so much, Laura. And yes, I love that image, and it was chosen for exactly that reason. 🙂
I am incredibly grateful to have found this article. The longest time, I was worried there was something wrong with my lungs. Whenever I tried to breathe normally/deeply while sitting up straight, I would get pain in my chest and rib area. Your article makes a lot of sense and assuaged my worries! Thank you for this!