Does that sound familiar? It does to me.

My whole childhood I had people telling me to stand up straight.

Onstage as a Candy Cane in The Nutcracker, as the Prince made his entrance he whispered in my ear, “Stand up straight!!”

In grade school one of my teachers took me out into the hall and had me stand with my back against the wall, forcing my body back against the straight surface, and told me that was how I should be standing all the time. Stand up straight!

The father of a friend grabbed my shoulders and shoved his knee into my back, telling me to “stand up straight!”

Diagnosed with a spinal curvature* at 12, I wore a Milwaukee back brace that held me forcibly erect. It was painful getting used to it at the beginning; then it became painful to have it off when my body lost the muscles needed to hold me erect without the brace. I could make it through a shower without the brace. Barely. I had so much forward head posture the brace cut a large open sore into the front of my throat that never healed. I have the scar still.

You could say that the rest of my life has been a decades long response to that whole experience and a journey of strengthening and straightening my body on my own terms.

After all these years (and all my years of teaching fitness), I still get posture-shamed by people who think they’re being helpful.

At one of my continuing education trainings as a Pilates teacher, the trainer told me I was never allowed to rest in child’s pose, that it emphasized the curve of my spine too much and was (according to her) bad for me. Instead, during every rest period between exercises I had to “rest” in Swan, an exercise where you lie on your belly and lift your head, neck, and shoulders. (By the way, I’ve probably done 5 million Swans and their ilk over the years to try and fix my posture. Spoiler alert: it didn’t work.)

At this point in my life and in my career, I mostly think that sort of thing is just funny. I am comfortable enough in my own body that I don’t care what other people think. I feel confident in my own experience to make my own decisions for my own body. I know how to take care of my body so when someone has me do something ridiculous like “rest” in Swan, I’m able to keep myself safe without disrupting the training and being belligerent.

Over the years I’ve learned a lot about posture.

  1. There’s no such thing as perfect posture. Yes, you read that right. A lot of what we believe about posture is purely based on aesthetics. Do we culturally have a preferred posture we like to see in people? Yes. Is that posture really the perfect posture? No.
  2. Most of the methods people use (or have been told) to make their posture better don’t work.
  3. Having “good” posture doesn’t protect you from injury. Having “bad” posture doesn’t make you more likely to get injured.
  4. Bodies crave movement and posture can imply stillness. One of the best things you can do for your body is not worry so much about your posture in stillness and just move more. Staying in any one position for too long, regardless of whether it’s a good position or a bad position, is probably going to make your body unhappy over time.
  5. You can definitely make changes to your body but your body has a certain baseline posture it lives in. This is why we can recognize our friends and family from far away before we can see anything else about them.
  6. Human bodies and human bone structure are organized in similar ways but are unique in others. There may be things that work well for other people that don’t work for your body or your structure. It’s fine to try things and then decide it’s not for you. I tried for a long time to fix my forward head posture and finally realized it’s as good as it’s going to get. Structurally, I still have enough spinal curvature that my head will never line up “correctly” without me straining my neck.
  7. While there can be certain risk factors in staying in any one position for a long period of time, your best bet is to worry less about your posture and think about building strength throughout your body. Having a strong body is a great way to reduce many risk factors. In order to build strength effectively it can be helpful to have your bone structure in a particular alignment so the muscles are getting good work to strengthen them.
  8. Often a muscle that feels tight or knotted up will be happier if you make it stronger and that in turn will make your posture feel better physically. Having access to a fuller supported range of motion in your joints will give your body access to more postural positions to choose from which will likely also feel better physically.
  9. Your posture can affect your mood and emotional state so making changes in your posture can change your mood.
  10. Breathing is strongly related to posture and how we hold ourselves. Working with your breath is a wonderful way to affect your posture and how your body feels about it.

Is posture worth bothering about? I believe it depends on how you define it. I’m no longer on any sort of quest for perfect posture. Instead I work to make my body strong and functional and comfortable in many different positions so that my body, as is with all its quirks, feels good, supportive, and graceful to me, regardless of how others see it and regardless of what posture I’m currently holding.

*It’s normal for your spine to have curves. In fact, NOT having curves in your spine can be problematic. An inward curve is called lordosis. An outward curve is called kyphosis. Many folks with spinal curvatures have scoliosis where the spine curves sideways or in a spiral. I have what’s called hyper-kyphosis, or too much outward curve, in my upper spine.

copyright 2021 Autumn Needles Pilates and Fitness LLC