Overcoming beliefs about good posture is one of the biggest challenges to be overcome by people I see. Suffering pain, they are often doing everything they can to have “good posture”.
What they often don’t realize is that all that effort they’re putting into having good posture is detrimental to having quality movement.
There are two common misconceptions about posture I come across all the time.
One is about the importance of good posture in relieving and preventing back pain. My colleague, Todd Hargrove, wrote an excellent blog post with scientific studies and systematic reviews showing that the connection between posture and pain is a myth. (Click here if you want to read his post).
The other misconception about posture I come across all the time is the means to getting good posture.
By this I’m talking about the all too common recommendations to:
- “pull your shoulders down and back”
- “pull in your belly button”
- “lift your chest while tucking in your lower ribs”
- “tucking your pelvis”
- and so on and so forth….
I get it! I was schooled in physiotherapy 25 years ago. I used to believe and teach these things…
Yikes! Gladly, I’ve learned a bit over the years and have come to understand posture in a very different way.
The problem with all that work to correct your posture is that it is:
- insanely effortful
- interferes with effortless breathing
- makes you more rigid and less responsive to the constantly changing needs of the moment
- makes you less adaptable as a human being
- makes you vulnerable to injury
- places undue stress on your entire system
- is unsustainable in any functional, healthy way
If you want some ways to start exploring what does make for functional, adaptable “posture” you can check out these posts:
- Got Back Pain? Why Strength & Flexibility Don’t Cut It and What to Do About It
- How to Find the Power & Strength to Move with Grace & Ease, Even if You Have a Back Injury
These are only a couple of ways to begin to understand how you can come to having more functional, adaptable posture. There will be much more to come. But at least you’ll have something to start with.
When “Good Posture” Isn’t So Good
Often, after a new person’s first Functional IntegrationⓇ (private, hands-on) lesson, they feel as though their posture is “wrong” or “poor”. They may feel great —- no pain, lighter, more grounded, easier movement — but they still feel their posture is “wrong” and some want to go right back to their old habits. Why? Because they think that’s what they should do to “have good posture” and “prevent pain”.
The analogy I often use to describe what’s going on in these situations goes something like this…
Lets say you buy a new oven. You get it installed and are all ready to bake your favourite cookies. You put those delicious little dough balls in the oven as you always do, only to have them burn. “New oven” you figure… “Just have to make a little adjustment”. So you bake the next batch 25 degrees cooler and check them a couple minutes early. Crap! They’re burnt again…
Time to call the repair man.
The repair man comes and tests the thermostat…
Aha! When the dial on the oven reads 325 degrees, the thermostat is setting the oven at 550 degrees. No wonders your cookies are burning!
It can be the same with our own perceptions.
You may feel that your posture is “straight” and “good” when in fact you’re a little backwards of your centre and you’re holding your back far shorter and narrower than it really is. You are so used to this you feel and think you’re “straight”. And heck, you’ve been working mighty hard to get to this place! But in fact, your “thermostat” and your “dial” aren’t calibrated properly.
Again, I know how that feels! I’ve been through the process (and continue to be in process) myself.
Here’s the good news…
There is something better than good posture. Quality movement!
The beauty of this is that quality movement tends to lead towards more ideal posture.
I’ve mentioned “quality movement” in previous posts. Most recently, in Getting The Greatest ROI From Your Feldenkrais Lessons, I kept mentioning the importance of how you move over that you move and encourage “quality movement” more than once…
But what exactly makes for quality movement?
Feldenkrais clearly describes the four elements necessary for quality movement.
1. The Absence of Effort
2. The Absence of Resistance
3. The Presence of Reversibility
4. Free Breathing
This and the next four blog posts will be a series dedicated to helping you understand and move with greater quality.
Because when you learn how to move with better quality, you improve the quality or your life.
That’s a pretty bold statement. And I and my fellow FeldenkraisⓇ practitioners aren’t alone in thinking so:
…we are fundamentally moving animals that move intelligently. The more intelligent our movement, the more intelligent we are as animals.” [emphasis mine]
Rodolfo Llinas, Neuroscientist, Medical Doctor
If you think about this question for any length of time, it’s blindingly obvious why we have a brain. We have a brain for one reason and one reason only, and that’s to produce adaptable and complex movements. There is no other reason to have a brain. Think about it. Movement is the only way you have of affecting the world around you.” [emphasis mine]Daniel Wolpert, Neuroscientist, Engineer
So let’s get started….
First, to be able to move closer to having anything like any of the four elements required for quality movement, you have to learn what it takes to learn better.
The important word in that above sentence is LEARN…
Learning anything requires that you sense differences — that you can make distinctions between different sensations.
If you want to learn to be a better sommelier (wine taster), you have to develop your ability to make finer and finer distinctions with your palate (taste and smell). If you want to learn to play music better, you have to learn to make finer and finer distinctions with your ear (hearing pitch, timber, tonality etc.).
So…if you want to learn to move better, you need to make finer distinctions in your sensations related to movement (pressure, position, muscle tone, weight and so forth).
Here is where things get interesting….
The Less Is More Rule
There are a couple laws of perception that are extremely important to wrap your head around. They aren’t hard to understand, although it seems that many find them hard to believe.
Let me assure you, these laws have been tested, and to date, are still used in understanding the nature of sensation and perception. Heck, these laws show up on MCAT exams (medical school entrance exams).
I was taught these as one law, the Weber-Fechner Law. But in fact, as I delved into the science behind these laws, it became clear that they are in fact separate.
The Weber Law describes a law related to the detection of a Just Noticeable Difference (JND) between two sensations. The increment needed in order to detect a change – the JND – is smaller for weak stimuli compared to stronger stimuli.
What does this mean, exactly?
It means that if you’re holding a 2 pound weight, you’d only need maybe two tenths (0.2) of a pound more weight to notice that there is in fact a difference. But if you’re holding a 20 pound weight, you would need, say, a whole 2 pounds more weight before you’d notice a difference.
The Fechner Law describes the inverse relationship between the intensity of a stimulus and your ability to sense that intensity. Formally, it goes like this: subjective sensation is proportional to the logarithm of the stimulus intensity.
Here’s a simple way to understand what these men discovered…
Basically, the more intense a stimulation, the less able you are to make distinctions.
Here’s an example to make this clear…
If you’re standing in the noon day sun and I come up behind you with a flashlight, you’ll never notice the difference in the increased intensity of the light around you. But at dusk or dawn you might, and at night you certainly would.
In terms of movement, the harder you work at doing anything, the less able you are to notice small changes in your organization. The less effort you use to do something, the more subtle differences you’ll detect.
If you trying to lift the back end of a Cooper Mini, you’ll never notice the difference in the weight you’re lifting if I put a 5 pound book on the roof of the car. But if you’re holding a small bowl of 10 cherries, you’re probably going to notice the extra few ounces if I add another few cherries.
Well, as I mentioned earlier, if you want to learn to move better, you have to be able to make distinctions.
The more varied and refined your ability to make distinctions, the more you can learn.
Think of it this way. If you want to learn to be a wine taster, it helps if you develop your palate. If you want to develop your palate, your ability to taste small differences, you have to savour the wine. You have to be mindful. You have to pay attention. You have to linger with the taste sensations. You have to “grow your library of distinctions” as one of my teachers says.
Chugging your wine, swallowing fast, drinking mindlessly is not going to help you here at all. Sure you’ll get drunk faster, which is perfect if that’s your intention. But you sure as heck won’t be able to make many distinctions about the wine.
In the same way, if you want to move better with more skill, grace and power, you have to develop your ability to make distinctions in movement. To do this you have to move slowly and with less effort.
This point is so crucial, take a look at it again in a different way and in relation to the Feldenkrais MethodⓇ
The reason we move slowly and are always looking to move with less effort in Awareness Through MovementⓇ lessons is not because we are interested in relaxation, sloppy movements, dopey states of mind or a laissez-faire attitude to life!
The reason you are constantly invited to move with less effort is because you will learn faster. You are creating a profoundly more potent learning environment for yourself when you move slowly, mindfully and with less effort.
Feldenkrais said it well when saying things like, “You have to move slowly in order to learn to move fast.”
So now you know why you have to move slowly and with less effort when learning a new skill. Its because of these biological laws…
You’re just wired that way!
Sometimes, less really is more.
And now you know how to bring yourself to the task of learning to move better, with more skill, grace and power.
Over the next four weeks, we’ll explore each of the four elements of quality movement.
You can start exploring these ideas right away in everyday activities.
Simply do whatever you are doing with less effort.
Anything and everything… things like…
• washing your hands
• chopping veggies
• carrying groceries
• holding a pen
• getting into a yoga pose
• doing the dishes
• pulling weeds
Do it all with only the amount of effort required to get the task done…
And notice — which activities and how you tend to use unnecessary effort, whether it be holding your breath or tightening your jaw or stiffening your chest….
There are as many ways to waste effort as their are people on the planet. And often these ways overlap for the vast majority of us.
Using less effort will help you sense more subtleties within yourself.
What do you do? What subtleties do you pick-up about yourself?
Share your discoveries. Where do you work harder than necessary? How? What subtleties do you discover about yourself? Leave a comment below…
sandra stuart says
This weekend I thinned the beets in my garden. I intended to do so with an awareness of how I move while doing this – do I clench my jaws, do I shorten my back, do I add unnecessary effort to the task. Wow – what a difference this made! I enjoyed the hour of work immensely. It was a meditation. I looked, I smelled, I even spoke to the beets I was pulling – sorry guy, need to make room for your neighbour. Usually I have the attitude “why am I the only one who takes care of the garden?” Now I know – I am gifted this opportunity to learn.
Gisele St. Hilaire says
How beautiful! This is why I love this work. I find the very same thing. The way I embody myself doesn’t just affect the way I move, but the way I am (my thoughts, perceptions, emotions….).
Thank you for sharing! It reminds us all to keep learning….being….living…..