Stand tall. Walk tall. And for prolonged sitting, keep changing your position.

In the course of my life, I’ve learned the basics of good posture.

I am, that is, a graduate of Posture 101.

Many people have been my teachers, over the years.

State of near-collapse

Early in my life, before I found my way, I was severely stooped over, my youthfulness notwithstanding.

My ribcage was collapsing in on itself, and my chest was noteworthy for its acutely compact size. The muscles at the back of my neck were tight, and my head was positioned strongly forward.

In the mid-1970s, I inherited my father’s Volkswagen Beetle, and drove it to the ground. The floorboard rusted through. If I looked down, through the holes in the floorboard, I could see the road below me. Rust was eating the car, until its final spin to the junkyard.

When I was driving the car, my body was typically so bent over, that, sometimes, my head was barely visible above the dashboard.

My hands would be hanging on to the steering wheel, but my arms and body were sagging, barely able to resist the forces of gravity.

This was my way of posturing myself for the road, in the mid-1970s, driving the streets of downtown Toronto.

Fast-forward about a year, now toward the late-1970s, still in Toronto. My ribcage had expanded tremendously. In a sense, it had popped back into position – into the configuration that nature had intended for my ribcage to possess. I now stood with my chest out, facing the world as nature had intended me to face it. My neck was free of tension.

I stood tall and walked tall, with a smooth, easy gait.

When I sat down, I positioned myself in such a way that I was sitting toward the front of the seat, and my back was very straight. Always, very straight. Whereas, by way of comparison, a year earlier, I would have just barely been able to keep myself from falling off the chair, and sprawling across the floor – outdone, once again, by the forces of gravity.

Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais Method

What had occurred, was that I had spent a year taking regular lessons featuring a combination of principles associated with the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method.

As you may know, these are two body-movement techniques that seek to free the body of tension, and seek to ensure that a person moves in a way that promotes well-being, and a sense of ease.

For several decades thereafter, my posture remained quite good.

In my volunteer work, I was for many years involved with what people like to call community self-organizing. Part of the work involved presentations at national and international meetings.

The fact that I stood tall, literally and also figuratively, in my organizing work in those years, contributed to the success of my efforts. I would not have achieved anywhere near the same level of success, had I retained the bent-forward, near-collapsed posture that I possessed in my younger years.

Over the years, however, as I read more about the Alexander Technique, I realized there was one thing I had not yet learned.

There are, in the Alexander Technique, a set of specified directions – a form of body-oriented self-talk, so to speak – that a student of the technique is supposed to learn. The student is taught to apply these directions, in the course of her or his daily activities.

Although my teacher was effective in other ways he did not teach me these directions. In future, if I get more training in the Alexander Technique, I will seek to master this aspect, of the technique.

Strength training

In recent years, a forward-leaning stoop began to make its presence known, by way of my body language, once again.

Fortunately, I’ve been able to get back to a pretty good posture as a result of strengthening a balanced range of muscles using multi-joint exercises such as the deadlift, squat, and pull-up. That’s an approach to posture, that has more recently worked for me.

For some years I’ve been involved with strength training. In such a form of training, a person’s focus is on building strength. That’s in distinction to body building, where the focus is on building muscle mass. Body building appeals to many people, but in my case the exercises that I do, and the way I organize them, is about building strength, period.

In recent years, I’ve learned several multi-joint exercises such as the hex-bar deadlift, as I’ve outlined at a recent post:

I much appreciate learning about the work of Stuart McGill (“Dr. Spine”) of Waterloo

It’s been my experience that learning to correctly do the hex-bar deadlift has helped me more, with regard to good posture, than any of the other exercises that I’ve learned, over the years.

Good posture, as a result of lifting weights or using machines, is not a guarantee. In fact, focusing solely on building up particular sets of muscles, such as the arms and chest, while ignoring other ones, such as the upper back, is a great recipe for a forward-leaning (and thus unbalanced) posture.

Sitting

A related topic, as it pertains to posture, concerns the optimal position to adopt when sitting at a computer screen. I’ve been very impressed by the comments of Stuart McGill of Waterloo University, in the book referred to at the above-noted previous post.

McGill comments (p. 196 of the above-noted text) that, based on his overview of the relevant research, “Good posture for prolonged sitting is a variable one that migrates the internal loads among the tissues.”

The text includes photos of a subject at a computer desk, in the following (illustrative) positions:

  1. Person is leaning back in her chair, with the computer keyboard in front of her on a desk
  2. Person is leaning back, feet up on the table, with the keyboard on her lap
  3. Person is sitting cross-legged on her chair, facing the screen, with the keyboard on the desk in front of her
  4. Person is leaning forward, legs crossed at the knee, with the keyboard on the desk

‘Ideal’ sitting posture widely recommended in ergonomic guides is good for not more than 10 minutes

McGill also notes (p. 195 in previously-noted text) that what is described as an “ideal” posture, in most ergonomics guides, features a person sitting upright facing a computer screen. According to McGill, the so-called ideal sitting posture, (90-degree angles at the hips, knees, and elbows) is not, in reality, ideal, if you are sitting for more than 10 minutes at a time.

Instead, he says, the ideal sitting posture for prolonged sitting is one that involves a variety of postures. And: after 50 minutes of sitting, it’s imperative to get up and take a break, no matter what. McGill outlines some exercises to perform, during such breaks, to get you through a day of sitting at your desk.

I’ve been reading research for many years, regarding the benefits and drawbacks of variable-height desks and related topics, such as: (a) What are the health effects of prolonged sitting? and (b) What are the health effects of prolonged standing?

The best overview of the relevant research, regarding these topics, that I’ve come across to date, is the work that Stuart McGill describes, in the above-noted text. I am really pleased that I came across his work a month or two ago.

 

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