Friday, September 26, 2008

Getting Good at Posture

How many times have we all heard about maintaining good posture? First from our parents, then from our teachers, and now from our ergonomic consultants. Indeed, a whole industry has developed around how to position our desks, chairs, and computer monitors to keep our bodies in as neutral and supported a configuration as possible. But how many of us have had our environment expertly rearranged, only to find ourselves slouched against the armrest of our new chair, one foot tucked underneath the other leg, firmly grasping the phone between our ear and shoulder, and reaching for the keyboard at the same time?

When you stand or sit up straight, pull your shoulders back, square your hips, you are affecting a position with the large muscle groups of your body, your voluntary muscles. But you're not really changing your posture. Now I'm not saying it's a bad idea to put yourself in that position; in fact the shape, tone, and tension of your spine has a lot to do with how you experience life, so standing tall is certainly a good thing. The fact is posture is important, but it's also important to understand that posture is inherently dynamic. If you have to think about maintaining your posture, it's simply not sustainable. So it's not that you need to train yourself to maintain good posture, it's that your posture is a reflection of what you are maintaining.

We can train ourselves to form habits around proper posture, but to me Good Posture is one that is self-responsive and appropriate to the situation. If you are outside with the sun shining, on your day off, and ready to enjoy yourself, I would expect that your shoulders would be back, chin and chest lifted. If you have just received sad and terrible news, good posture would be the opposite. If you are carrying a heavy bag, good posture would have your body distort to accommodate the load. If you put the bag down, and your body was still distorted, even to a lesser degree, that would be a problem with posture.

Your posture, when you're not thinking about it, is primarily determined by the smaller and mostly involuntary muscles along your spine, called paraspinal muscles. They tell the real story of what stress you're maintaining in your body, whether you cognitively know it or not. They also determine how responsive you and your body can be to external stresses or changes in the environment around you. And what controls these paraspinal muscles is your nervous system, particularly the parts that have to do with automatic and unconscious response to stress, and that have to do with your emotions. So changing your posture at this root level is all about changing your nervous system's ability to respond to stress and experience emotion.

This is where Network Care comes in. By teaching your brain and nervous system how to pay better attention to the stress being maintained in your body, each entrainment gives you a new and/or refined ability to assess the tension in your spine and release what's appropriate. You start to more automatically move into and out of that slouch against your chair's armrest. You start to notice that your shoulders relax as soon as you step out into the sunshine. You start to develop Good Posture, and it's effortless.