I've always been told a good posture is desirable - but what is a good posture?
A go-ogle search returns lots of results (and side-view illustrations) but no clear winner in the definition department.
... Standing up tall. No slouching when sitting. The correct curvature of a neutral spine. Alignment of various parts of the body ...
i.e. a lot of talk about the spine and positioning of the head and joints but a lack of information on what's responsible for the positioning of our body parts - of what creates our posture - our muscles.
A go-ogle for "posture muscles" names a lot of different muscles - too long a list for me to work through here (I'm happy to discuss specific muscles in comments) but I can't find anywhere that gets it 'right' - based on my experiences and logical thought about human anatomy.
According to my Base-Line Hypothesis of Human Health and Movement, the core muscles to focus on for a better posture are the five main muscles of movement.
Properly utilising the main muscles of movement brings an understanding of what a good posture feels like. Where movement is easy and the physical form feels strong and natural. Try working with your 'main muscles' and feel for yourself.
The Base-Line (pelvic floor, rectus abdominis) muscles provide the core support from where the rest of the body extends and are central to my hypothesis. Think stronger and longer with every breath in.
Engaging and elongating the Base-Line muscles straightens out the linea alba (our primary anatomical guide for body alignment) lying between the rectus abdominis muscles. Posture can be:
- The default setting.
- The position of your body when you are not thinking about it.
- The maintenance of a 'functional posture' (see below) at the subconscious level.
- Conscious thought about "how you are holding yourself".
- Using voluntary muscles under voluntary control to alter your positioning.
An active posture becomes the passive norm when the relevant connections between mind and muscles have been 'wired in'. Meaning good postural habits can be formed by consciously working with the main muscles for a sufficient length of time.
Traditional methods of assessing posture and alignment include visual inspection (+/- plumb-lines and grids) and the palpation of anatomical landmarks, usually with a stationary subject. Newer techniques also employ radiography and photography, but all focus on the positioning of bones and joints (especially the spine) and rely on assessment from an external examiner.
I believe an accurate assessment of posture and alignment comes from self-awareness, not from someone else's opinion.
The body provides more sensory feedback about its positioning than can ever be supplied by external sources. Becoming aware of this sensory information is the basis of conscious proprioception (your sense of position, motion and balance). Focusing on the Base-Line muscles (pelvic floor, rectus abdominis) is the key to developing this connection between body and mind. Base-Line Breathing Technique.
Self assessment facilitates self-improvement of posture. When you can feel it for yourself you can making adjustments instinctively to be in a better position.
Micro-adjustments in posture too subtle to appreciate on clinical exam can have wide effects throughout the body (everything's connected) which can be felt when the body-mind connection is strong.
Body Alignment & Midline Anatomy.
A search for "body alignment" yields results about reducing stress on the spine and the positioning of the head, shoulders, back, hips, knees, ankles etc. All the wrong approach in my opinion.
Lying in bed trying to 'align my spine, hips and shoulders' in an attempt to ease the pain but I had no inner reference to guide me - until I found my Base-Line.
"Use your core" is oft-repeated advice - but what does it really mean?
'Core muscles' has many definitions and it would not be helpful to add to this over-used term - but think of your Base-Line as your core pillar of strength.
Posture isn't static. We are constantly on the move.
Explore movement extending out from your Base-Line. Feel where the main muscles of movement are in relation to each other. Sense where your natural range of movement should take, you guided by your sense of proprioception. Work towards balancing and aligning your body.
Definitions for Base-Line Hypothesis:
In an ideal posture stresses are distributed and dissipated in the best/safest/most efficient possible manner for the activity being undertaken, permitting dynamic stability through a full range of natural movement.
An ideal posture provides the maximum capacity to deal with external stresses - the body is as strong as it can be.
There are many disciplines that appear to represent ideal postures, demonstrations of the body's capabilities when it is functioning at optimal. (Caveat - I can name a few, but have little knowledge and no experience in most.)
- The asanas of yoga - snapshots of the body with a full range of natural movement. Named poses (see below) that can be perfected when the body is truly balanced.
- Pilates, tai chi and other internal martial arts, ballet - demonstrating the grace and freedom of movement possible with dynamic alignment.
An ideal posture is not possible with inadequate usage of the main muscles and when physical restrictions that reduce range of movement are present on the body.
A Functional Posture.
A 'functional posture' is what the brain/body uses day-to-day when an ideal posture cannot be achieved.
A functional posture at its most basic:
- Keeps our eyes level (maintaining horizontal equilibrium in visual input).
- Keeps us facing/moving forward.
- Puts the body in a position to do the task at hand.
- Adjusts body position to bear external stresses as they are applied.
Subconscious adjustments are made throughout the body - twists, kinks, tilts and compressions - as the brain sees fit, using 'mimic muscles' in an attempt to compensate for misusage in the main muscles, but the body is imbalanced and imbalance leads to further imbalance.
When faced with a task, the body/brain prepares by activating muscles into an 'anticipatory posture' - bracing yourself.
An anticipatory posture should be the ideal posture for the activity - using the main muscles of movement to their full potential, but if that is not achievable, the body braces into a functional posture with the use of mimic muscles.
Becoming aware of anticipatory postures and the activation of mimic muscles allows self-correction by focusing on engaging with the main muscles of movement instead, over-writing bad postural habits that have developed.
Positions & Poses.
When talking about the position of the body there is a sliding scale of preciseness, from a very generalised description (which may include some details), to named poses, to a full assessment, to the constantly changing exact position.
A Generalised Position.
A generalised position may be a broad categorisation e.g. sitting, standing, squatting, or more specific e.g. sitting on hands, standing on one leg (which leg?), squatting with arms extended (extended in what direction?).
There is a wide scope for variance in the same generalised position.
A Named Pose.
e.g. downward dog, half lotus, plank pose ....
Named poses can also be considered as generalised since there is a wide range of possibilities to be in what, without closer examination, appears to be the same named pose.
Named poses are representations of the ideal, something to aim for and achievable when the body is functioning at optimal.
A Full Assessment of Positioning.
A full assessment considers the positioning of all parts of the body from core to extremities, looking at the details from head to fingers to toes.
A full assessment needs a starting reference - a Base-Line - from where the rest of the body is positioned relative to.
The body is always moving. Infinite possibilities ... Never the same position twice?
The movements of breathing, vibrations in the cardiovascular system, muscle activity etc. means the body's exact position changes moment by moment even when trying to be still. Stillness is finding the perfect oscillation for equilibrium.
On what scale is exact position considered? Movement at the cellular level - a twitch of a muscle fibre? At the electro-chemical level - movement of molecules and ions? Unimportant to my hypothesis, but something to think about.
Muscles do the work. They create our posture. Muscles can be under our conscious control.
You want to stand up straight? Use your main muscles of movement.
You want to sit properly? Use your rectus abdominis muscles to support you.
You want to know what body alignment feels like? Work towards aligning the linea alba and nuchal/supraspinous ligaments.
You want to 'center yourself'? Find your Base-Line.