Much to be said for “walking tall”

Posture is an area in life in which a person has – under the right conditions – a fair amount of agency. A person can choose – provided they notice what’s going on – to be hunched over or they can choose to walk tall.

The topic of posture has been of interest for me ever since I spent about a year taking weekly lessons in the Alexander Technique and the Feldenkrais Method.

What I did not learn in the particular Alexander Technique lessons that I took, however, was how to actually apply a specified set of verbal commands, in such a way that I would have been able to monitor how well I was consciously applying the principles on which the technique is based.

The instructor provided good instruction when working with his students, but he did not have a strong grasp of the English language. He had tried to teach his students how to apply the Alexander Technique commands on their own in their daily lives, but this had not worked out well.

As a result, the instructor stopped trying to teach students how to manage their own movement in space using the verbal commands. The commands are important, because if a student learns to apply them on their own, they can get the benefit of the Alexander Technique for the rest of their lives.

As a result of the lessons, my body did go through many beneficial changes, and for many years I had a very good posture. However, over time I began to slouch again, as I had done before taking the lessons.

During the first several decades after taking the lessons, nonetheless, the sense of standing tall helped me in the volunteer work I was doing in those years. I gave many presentations and attended many meetings. I believe I was more convincing as a person who stands tall, than I would have been if I were hunched over, and giving the appearance of fighting a losing battle with gravity.

I look forward to learning the Alexander Technique “commands,” one way or another in the future, so that I can get the full benefit of what this system of body work has to offer. However, for now, I just do a series of exercises – directed toward the maintenance of a “neutral” head position – that I learned online.

Tucking in the chin as an exercise to counter the “head forward” tendency

I have recently gained much from reading the instructions in an online document entitled: Cervical Exercise: The Backbone of Spine Treatment.

The link in the previous paragraph opens a PDF file from the North American Spine Society. The above-noted PDF refers to the act of standing straight by adopting a “neutral” head position:

(Figure 1): Make an effort to “walk tall” (chest up, shoulders back) and with your head positioned in “neutral.” This means your ears are aligned directly over your shoulders when viewed from the side. Allowing your head to fall into a forward position is a bad habit worth breaking because it so often contributes to neck pain and prolongs recovery. It initially requires an effort to consistently draw your head backward but, over time, this neutral position will become your new habit.

I’ve left out the “Figure 1” – if you wish to see it, you can find that in the PDF at the link above.

Letting go of what the body has been holding in place

The year’s worth of Alexander Technique and Feldenkrais lessons cost me a fair amount of money, a half-century ago. Even aside from the fact I did not get a complete version of the Alexander Technique, the lessons which I’ve described provided really good value for money.

Among the things I learned – which otherwise would not have occurred to me – was that when I was growing up, I had apparently responded to some chronically stressful circumstances by routinely tensing my body in order to “hold in” certain painful emotions.

The most obvious instance of this was in connection with my rib cage. My rib cage was very strongly compressed – meaning I had a remarkably thin chest. The chest was in a sense collapsed in on itself. It was a matter, I would say, of “arrested development.” My chest was remarkably constricted.

I knew my chest had been very thin because during that year of AT lessons and Feldenkrais classes, my rib cage began to perceptively, noticeably, open up. My chest began to expand. My lungs began to fill with air.

As this occurred, some powerful emotions were released. The Alexander Technique doesn’t concern itself with dealing with such a release of emotions. Some help in that regard may have been helpful. As it was, I managed on my own.

On an emotional level, the metaphor that came to mind, at that time, was that I was running at full speed into a brick way. Full speed, as fast as a person can run. CRASH! The feeling that a person would have, at the point of such an impact when hitting a brick wall at full speed – that was what I was experiencing, as my rib cage was opening up.

Eventually, everything sorted itself out, and I was fine. For many years, I walked tall, stood tall, and even sat tall. There were also times when I could slouch as a way to relax and totally let go. This was a skill I had learned, as well, in the course of the lessons: how to totally let go and slouch, every once in a while. There were times when it was perfectly fine to just let go of straightness.

During the past few decades, I’ve tended to experience the “head forward” position that the Alexander Technique seeks to counter. Recently, I’ve had a pain affecting my neck, which in turn has prompted me to think, once again, about my posture.

Chin tuck exercise

The chin tuck exercise, as described very precisely at the PDF at the above-noted link from the North American Spine Society, has been very helpful for me.

I had earlier come across similar instructions at other websites dealing with posture, but they were not nearly as precise as the ones I refer to at this post.

From previous online instructions, I had learned to move my head back into a “head up” position by thinking in terms of a movement involving where my head was positioned in relation to my shoulders. I found that way of moving my head into the “head up” position took a lot of effort, and so I did not engage in this exercise very often.

However, when I learned of the procedure where you tuck in your chin, that changed everything. Now, I can do the exercise at any time, anywhere. When I do the exercise when I’m walking, I immediately begin to breathe more deeply. As well, through performing the exercise, I’m strengthening the muscles that need to be strong, in order for the head to stand tall. I’m very pleased I came across the link which I’ve featured at this post.

The Back Story on Spine Care (2023)

I found additional useful information in a book from the Stratford Public Library.: The Back Story on Spine Care: A Surgeon’s Insights on Relieving Pain and Advocating for the Right Treatment to Get Your Life Back (2023).

On p. 236-37 we have some interesting information from Dr. Drew Bednar about the neck and the plank exercise:

It’s been rare in my practice experience for me to see patients with just a sore neck. Virtually all the neck cases I see have widespread deterioration and neurological problems. So I can’t propose as much tried-and-true prevention and management as I can for the low back patient, but the principles are the same and maybe a bit easier to understand through explanation.

Your head’s as heavy as a bowling ball, around 10 pounds (or 5 kilograms). It’s not balanced directly atop your shoulders but offset to the front a bit. That’s why if we relax our neck muscles, the head falls forward. The muscles on the back of your neck are contracting all the time to prevent that, and the combination of pressure front and back puts a lot of load on the very small discs in the neck, which are only about a half inch in diameter.

So once again, posture posture posture. It just makes good common and biomechanical sense. And that’s a big issue in today’s world where we’re peering down at screens of various sorts all day. Or reading, if you’re me. So my best advice to the patient with a sore neck is to pay attention to all that. Elevate monitors and screens so you look forward (or even upwards a bit), not down. Keyboards, monitors and laptops can be supported on a thick book or any of a number of small platform devices commonly found at office supply stores.


thening the neck I honestly know little about. I’ve never followed that literature much. For my patients, I suggest two simple things.

If planking, hold the neck straight and look down at the floor to keep your neck and back all in alignment and on one straight plane. For me, that’s really hard. Shortly into my plank, my head is usually sagging downwards and I find myself staring at my belly; because my neck doesn’t bother me or hurt regularly, I never pay attention to it.

For post-op neck patients, I often teach a simple isometric exercise, again an activity that doesn’t involve a lot of bending and twisting. Standing or sitting erect and holding the head up straight, clasp your hands together behind the back of the head. Don’t thrust the head backwards because that tends to roll the head upwards and doesn’t work the support muscles well. Instead, imagine pulling the head forward with your hands and resist with the neck muscles while maintaining a level gaze. Hold the position for two or three seconds, relax, and repeat for a total of 10 or 12 reps. Ideally at least once every day if you’re healthy and doing this for prevention, but I do bug my post-op patients to do it four times (meals and bedtime) until they’re comfortable.

And that’s as much on neck prevention as I can offer. Simple, but effective.

The value of good information

Working on this post has prompted me to think about two things in life that appear to matter hugely. One, the value of good information. Two, the value of good instructions.

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