Good posture is often wrongly portrayed as a military stance – shoulders back, chest extended, knees locked, head thrown back. The reverse, which is shoulders forward, chest collapsed and head drooping forward is the opposite; also not good posture. Either of these forms of standing, sitting or working out can cause strain, pain, discomfort and injury. The downward pull of the later causes compression of all the joints and ligaments and forces groups of muscles to work too hard to stabilize our core. When stiffening in order to “stand up straight” there is over stabilizing, our breathing is shallow, and our ability to release our muscles in movement is seriously hampered.
So then, what is the starting point for good posture?
Ideally, all of the parts of the body work most efficiently when the spine lengthens and muscles contract and release during movement. The root of the lengthening starts at the top of the spine where the head rests. Given that the head weighs 12-15 pounds, it is key that this heavy, bony structure is balancing and poised on top of the spine and not pressing down, compressing the top of the spine - as well as the rest of the spine. Using ourselves with a lengthened spine supports our body as a whole.
To prevent compression, let the muscles of the neck be free and not engage muscularly during your workouts. Try being aware of your neck muscles the next time you are lifting weights, biking, doing Pilates, yoga or any other activity that requires effort. If you find that you are tightening your neck, pause for a moment to ease, and then proceed letting your free neck allow the head to balance on top of your spine rather than pull down. The muscles needed to move you through your exercises will kick in and not compete with your neck. This may take practice as our habits are deeply ingrained, but awareness of inefficient habits such as too much tension lets us move towards efficiency and strength. A series of Alexander Technique lessons facilitates this process in a subtle yet profound way.