Friday, February 06, 2009

How to fix your posture all at once!

Photo courtesy of Natashavora
Is leaning or being 'out of posture' a sign of too much tension or too little tension? Are you doing too much on one side of the body or too little on the other to cause this postural imbalance?
Could be either, but when we start trying to fix posture we often go for adding tension. “Pull those shoulders back! Tuck in that chin! Suck in that gut!” etc... But what if we try this way to fix a posture that is already out of whack because of too much tension? We end up locking both sides of the body down, like a vice. Let's figure out, instead, how to relax the tense muscles that are creating the postural problem.
Now, we can go through the whole body trying to fix part after part, but as we concentrate on one structure the previous one tends to go back to its habitual posture. As an example, take a rope and throw it on the ground. If you want to straighten it out, you can crawl along, bending each little length of the rope but you'll see that every time you unkink the rope in one place it bends or kinks in another place. You can't straighten a rope a little at a time just like you can't jump a chasm in two bounds. But what if you just walk away, holding one end. The rope will straighten out and mostly unkink on its own. How can we use this sort of phenomenon to get into shizentai (natural, relaxed, upright posture)?
  • Stand with your feet and legs working as I described in my previous post on good posture.
  • Now, visualize a rope hanging downward from your center of balance with a huge, heavy weight on it. Any time you tilt out of vertical, the weight pulls your center downward and rights your torso like the keel of a boat.
  • Once you've got that feeling of a really heavy center, visualize a giant helium balloon pulling upward from the crown of your head, making your head so light that it puts an upward traction on your neck. It's almost as if the giant weight below you is suspended from the giant balloon above you with your body in the middle being drawn both directions vertically.
  • If you are able to imagine these external forces vividly enough, you can trick your body into relaxing the muscles that would resist those imaginary external forces. As the muscles give up fighting against vertical, you relax and release into shizentai.
  • When you can maintain these visualizations standing still, begin learning to maintain these visualizations while moving, as in your kata.
How does this work? That is the subject of another book or five, and in no way can be easily condensed to a blog post, but you might want to check out the following excellent book on ideokinesis for a good introductory explanation of this trick and numerous other techniques for improving posture and motion.

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  1. This is great advice and I do similar visualizations that are improving my posture without much tension. However, it's easy to feel like my posture is relaxed and centered, but actually be out of alignment without realizing it.

    Since the skeleton does not hold itself up, some amount of tension is required. In some cases, what seems like an overly tense reaction is needed for a little while. At least that's true in my case.

  2. Oh, I agree completely, Anon, You can't use this trick to completely eliminate muscle tone, leaving the skeleton magically floating on its own. This trick will, however eliminate a lot of excess tension, which tends to be a lot of the problem in a lot of cases.

    I appreciate your advice about feeling centered but being out of whack.

  3. Yiquan is full of visualizations for these effects.

  4. :-) You are making a great point here. The conventional way of fixing things is by adding tension - which can make things even worse.

    And the solution you offer is very interesting. I'm gonna try it.

    Here's something I came across recently. A guy asked:
    Why is 'good posture' uncomfortable?
    I slouch a lot, although I know I shouldn't, and the result is frequent lower back pain. So I pose the question, why isn't good posture more comfortable? I would always sit properly if it were, but slouching on a sofa is just really relaxing. Is there a comfortable way to sit properly? Or a better way to slouch?

    He is having exactly the problem that conventional wisdom creates.

    The truth is, good posture is very comfortable. But you'l have to think about it in a new way.


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