Quality Movement is Better than “Proper” Posture
If you’ve been following along in this series, you’ve picked up on the fact that “proper posture” is not the answer to pain-free or quality movement. (Want Quality Movement? Learn the Less is More Rule)
Still, you might be thinking this is just crazy, contrarian talk…
It’s all well and fine to move with more efficiency and co-ordination a.k.a “effortless effort” and “the absence of resistance”, but come on…. Surely fixing one’s posture is critical to a pain-free, healthy back, isn’t it?
If you’re still struggling with this and haven’t clicked the link to the great article my colleague Todd Hargrove wrote reviewing the science that shows there is no link between posture and back pain, here it is again.
If you’re interested in exploring a better way to relieve pain, maintain, develop and enhance the quality of your movements and invest in your future well-being then this post is for you!
The Presence of Reversibility
Your Ability to Pivot, Change Direction, and Shift Your Weight Effortlessly Will Improve The Quality of Your Movements Exponentially
Feldenkrais writes in The Potent Self (aff. link):
The main feature of correct acture or posture in all procedures depending on and existing within the scope of voluntary actions is reversibility. At every instant or stage of a correct act, it can be stopped, withheld from continuing, or reversed without any preliminary change of attitude and without effort. The qualifications of this rule take into account reflex action and inertia as in swallowing or jumping.”
What exactly does he mean by this?
The way one of my teachers taught this was to speak in terms of neutrality.
When you have neutral posture, you are ready to move in any direction, equally easily, without prior re-organization.
Another way to say this…
You’re standing, sitting, walking, moving well if you are just as ready to move forward as back as drop down as step left as right as turn one way or the other —— ALL are equally available. You are ready to move in ANY direction. There is no bias in you to move one way more than any other, neither to stay fixed in place (which is pretty common too!).
This readiness to move in any direction, when all the other 3 criteria are present (absence of effort, absence of resistance, free breathing) feels like a beautiful “relaxed alertness”.
From this place you’re able to pivot, change the direction of your movement, stop whatever you’re doing, go back, alter course…any and all of these things anytime you want.
This is a potent way to live.
Of course, as Feldenkrais pointed out, there are exceptions to this rule: reflexes (which you have no voluntary control over) and actions involving inertia (when you jump, once you’ve left the ground, you can’t not come back down, for example).
Consider this example. The typical ergonomic recommendations for sitting at a computer are usually very precise. The monitor should be at such and such a height relative to your eye level, the keyboard so your arms are bent just so, the chair height so your knees are ever so slightly lower than your hips and so on and so forth.
The thing is, this might work great for our “ideal textbook skeleton” but not necessarily for you, a flesh and blood person with a unique history of injuries, traumas, successes, learning, habits, genetics and so on.
If this “perfect ergonomic set-up” doesn’t let you feel like you can sit, read and type without resistance or effort, and if you can’t easily shift your weight or turn left or right, it is NOT neutral for YOU.
To force yourself to try to fit this “proper ergonomic” situation can be an exercise in frustration.
Too many people sit at their computer with either a profound lack of skeletal organisation as though they forgot they have bones. Or they try to sit with “ideal” posture, ram-rod straight and are completely pinned and rigid. Neither is very healthy.
What about standing desks?
As much as I’m cool with ‘em, they aren’t necessarily the solution. Why? Because this is not about your position or posture! It’s about your acture. If you’re standing doesn’t have all four elements of quality movement, it’s not all that much better than sitting.
Another word that beautifully describes this reversibility or neutrality…
Equipoise: “Equal Poise”
In a state of equipoise, you are ready to shift your weight and move in any direction. And further, while you’re moving you are able to stop the movement and resume moving in any direction effortlessly while breathing easily and simply.
I know, I know. Repetitive. Because it’s such a crucial aspect of quality human organisation at all levels emotionally, mentally, and physically.
As you sit reading this blog post, notice how you are organised:
- Can you shift your weight entirely to your left or to your right equally easily and effortlessly?
- Could you move forward or back, up or down?
- Could you easily and effortlessly lift your right leg? Your left?
- Can you turn your head a little left and right and keep reading without noticing even a tiny blip in the smoothness and comprehension of your reading?
Honestly, as I typed that, my posture improved. For me, it was the idea of lifting either of my legs easy. I had to organise my abdominal cylinder differently. Now I feel my sitting is much more powerful and my arms and head feel incredibly light.
This criterium is incredibly useful!
Don’t worry if you can’t yet find the ease to lift your legs completely effortlessly while sitting. The point is to make successive approximations.
It’s a process; a process that requires awareness and learning. Enjoy the little gains in comfort and vitality.
Instead of “trying to fix your posture”, simply organise yourself so you feel you can move in any direction equally easily without effort or disruption to your breathing.
You’ll find your posture/acture improves immediately in a way that is functional and potent instead of some fixed, rigid, compressed, propped up version of yourself.
If you’ve been reading this blog from the beginning, you’ll notice that I bring up this idea of “shifting your weight in any direction effortlessly” again and again. It started in the very first post: Mind Body Connection: Myth or Fact and is repeated over and over in posts ever since.
But once you add this criterium of reversibility; this ability to move any and every bit of you in any direction easily and effortlessly, you’ll probably find it easier to notice the ways in which you limit your ability to move.
You’ll start to feel for yourself that trying to have “proper” posture can have a ginormous limiting effect on your ability to move well.
Your posture will improve not by trying to “fix” yourself (d’ya catch the pun? 😉 ), but by looking for the sensations of the 4 elements of quality movement:
- The Absence of Effort
- The Absence of Resistance
- The Presence of Reversibility
- Free, Easy, Spontaneous Breathing
Reversibility Applies to All Areas of Life
Feldenkrais makes this point clear when he writes in The Potent Self:
The importance of reversibility is that it is possible only when there is fine control of excitation and inhibition and a normal ebb and flow between the parasympathetic and the sympathetic [parts of the nervous system]. The test of reversibility holds good for all human activity whether it is viewed from the physical or the emotional stand point.” [emphasis mine]
In the previous post, Just Do It! Dealing With Resistance the FeldenkraisⓇ Way , I told a little story about a challenging conversation I was having with my husband, Sean. In it, I mentioned how I couldn’t make my way clear to considering alternative points of view.
This wasn’t just an example of facing resistance. It shows that I was not organising myself in a reversible way. I couldn’t change the direction of my thinking. And I embodied this lack clearly in the way I was holding my abdominals, the way I was restricting easy breathing and the jaw tension I was creating.
The ability to see things from a different perspective, to shift your attention to another’s point of view, return to your own with a fresh perspective, and perhaps even better, to hold two opposing views simultaneously; to move more easily from one way of learning to another; to look at something from a different angle, or in an entirely new way…
These are necessary to solve difficult problems and move forward to a life of greater well-being for ourselves and others, isn’t it?
The ability to move from anger to equanimity to grief to excitement to calmness to fear to joy to exhilaration to contentment to sadness to love to trepidation to compassion….
Isn’t this what it means to be fully human? To have the freedom to experience the full range of possible human experience and to respond to life with a simple elegance appropriate to each situation?
What gets you and me in trouble is:
- When we pin ourselves in place, whatever way we do it.
- When we act and react compulsively, with a very limited repertoire of ways of behaving.
- When we get stuck in one particular mode and can’t move or shift to another way that is more satisfying and serves us better.
- And when we try to be some way we’re not. In my humble opinion, this is pretty much the same as the whole “try to have good posture” scenario.
As embodied beings, movement is a fantastic way to come to living a full and rich life with the freedom to act with power and grace more comfortably, effortless and spontaneously.
Movement IS life, as Feldenkrais said.
So what if the next time you’re struggling with a relationship, a difficult problem in business, school, work, life, or difficult emotions you check in to see how you are organising yourself for movement/acture in a very tangible and concrete way….
What if you were to check in, without judgment, and see which of the four elements of quality movement you were lacking? Gently, begin to explore how you could move in any direction more easily, even just a little.
Never underestimate the power of small changes…
If you think small things don’t matter, try sleeping with a mosquito.”
Describing all this in words is certainly a challenge, so I invite you to check out this short 8-minute video where I’ll demonstrate and you can try for yourself…
You’ll find more of these helpful videos, free Awareness Through MovementⓇ lessons and more in the FREE Online Content Library. If you haven’t joined yet, click here. All the content there is to help you move better so that you can live more comfortably with greater health and well-being doing the things you love to do — better.