Striving for Perfect Posture

Genius, in truth, is nothing more than the faculty of perceiving in an unhabitual way.
— William James

Posture As An Upright Position

Posture is a funny word. In our culture it's a loaded word. Usually we think of posture as a position, and usually that position is vertical. On top of that, we believe, as a society, that vertical is good, strong, worthy, upstanding, upright. The more vertical, the better.

So we say someone has good posture when they are in an upright position. But the way someone maintains that position might be very painful. In the Feldenkrais Method, we look at how it is one achieves a particular position, not whether that position is right or wrong. For example, if someone is ramrod straight and suffering extreme pain to maintain it, that's not well-distributed effort. How can that be a good thing?

You can see where this is going: if you define posture as the way in which we maintain a particular position, then a strictly vertical position can have very bad posture, and an awkward, slouchy position can have very good posture. In fact, a slouch can be beautiful if the muscle tone is well-distributed and supporting all the bones.

If, however, you define posture strictly as a vertical position, then a person with abnormally formed bones who could not attain a vertical position would have very bad posture no matter how well they distributed effort through the musculoskeletal system.

Posture As a Component of Action

Moshe Feldenkrais also likens posture to a pause between two actions, or a component of action. As human beings, we're never fixed in space, we're constantly shifting and adjusting between one stable state and another. Try thinking of posture as that moment in which you organize yourself to shift from one stable state to the next---without discomfort.

Shifting States Requires Sensitivity

Ideally, we want to develop the sensitivity to shift from one stable zone to another without adverse effects of being destabilized. We want to be able to "right" ourselves again, and to do that requires sensitivity to where you are in space.

Think of shifting between two stable states for a moment. The premier example of this is shifting from crawling to walking. As babies we sacrificed one kind of stability for another, all without aches and pains!

But as babies we did this through learning. As adults, many of us lose that capacity to shift between stable states---to get something out of the back of the car and stand up again without strain, to pick up a child without pulling something, to ride a bike as long as we want without an aching back, or to walk through a museum without discomfort. 

In the Feldenkrais Method, we're waking up our innate capacity to learn how to lose our balance and find it again. (In fact, as a practitioner, the big question for me is not how to we maintain perfect posture, but how do we deal with losing it? What do we do when our sense of stability is compromised? How do we go about shifting from one kind of stability to the next, whether it's righting oneself after picking up the groceries or moving to a new city?)

Feldenkrais's Definition of Posture

Ultimately, Moshe Feldenkrais defines posture as a position from which we can move in any direction without preparation. In fact, he throws out the word "posture" altogether and uses the word "acture"!

So try thinking of acture the next time you want to pull your shoulders back or hoist your chest up. How will you safely, effortlessly, fluidly move out of that position into the next direction you want to go in that moment, that day, in life?

Check out the Creating Effortless Posture audio series.