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When "Bad Posture" Isn't Bad

How to have "Good Posture"?

Have LOTS of them!

“Ugh. My posture is terrible.”

“I know I need to work more on my posture.”

“My posture is giving me back pain, but I'm just too lazy to fix it.”

“I hate my posture.”

I've heard these statements so many times in my massage office. Lovely, intelligent adults, berating themselves. They're disappointed with their lack of self-discipline, and blaming back pain, hip pain, and lots of other things on their “bad posture.”

Here's the thing, though.

Back pain is only very loosely connected to posture.



Briefly, if “poor” posture really caused back pain, MOST of the people who slump or hitch or look down a lot (as you would at a phone or a computer) would have similarly tight muscles.

If certain muscles were actually tight in everyone exhibiting a certain posture, and those people tended to have certain problems, then it would make sense to try to loosen those muscles specifically. But they aren’t, and they don’t, so it doesn’t.

Posture starts with what you've got (your own body and its tendencies): for instance, I was born missing one rib. Seriously. Thanks, mom. That means that while my spine may be straight, I'll never have even shoulders. No matter how “straight” I stand up. You have your own quirks.

Then we must take into account what is done to you by your surroundings: Gravity doesn't stop pulling, so we all deal with that, and then there's your work and life. Some of us do massage, and a lot of you sit at desks. Some play violin or video games. Some cut down trees or spackle things. Golf, volleyball, spelunking, you name it. All of these things require body positioning that may or may not be comfortable, and we adapt.

Next, we have to remember how our brains and personalities and emotions affect how we hold ourselves. Personally, I hold my body MUCH differently when I walk into an orchestra rehearsal as principal flute (relaxed, confident, like a leader) than when I walk in to a visit with my tax lady (apologetic, in awe of her brains, hesitant). When we're happy, we “stand happy.” When we're anxious or depressed or sad, that is reflected in our body.

Last, there are temporary things that can affect us, like sitting on a bar stool, talking to a friend for an evening, not noticing how twisted your torso is. You'll feel that (and the martini you drank) in the morning. This is classic “I slept funny and now my neck hurts.”

What to do?

First, stop pathologizing posture.

You're not bad because your shoulders curve forward sometimes. You're not lazy because you let your head move forward as you read your Kindle. You're human.

If you have things you can fix, fix them. Move your monitor up a bit. Rearrange the pillows, ask to be seated at a table instead of the bar, put a pillow on your lap or chest to rest the Kindle on up higher.

When you can't change things, adapt. If you play the violin, and always have to kind of hike a shoulder and angle your chin, spend some time lowering the shoulder and un-angling your chin. Set a timer for every 10 minutes during practice sessions and stretch. During rests in orchestra, move your head and shoulder and arms a bit (don't be weird, though) to help your body.

When your mood is affecting your body, pay attention. There is something to the whole “fake it until you make it” thing. If you're anxious, try holding your body like someone who is confident for a bit. See if it helps. Depressed, experiment with a bounce in your step. It couldn't hurt, and it might help.

Most important of all, hold your body in MANY POSTURES.

What does that look like?

Imagine a little kid. They pretend they're a dinosaur with a big, heavy, spiky tail. Do that. Not when the boss is looking, perhaps, but maybe in the elevator.

Bend over. Arch backwards! Try leaning a few degrees to the right. Move your body in ways it doesn't usually go. Crouch! Kneel. Shimmy. Just doing a little, many times during the day, will help keep your body happy.

Please stop telling yourself that your “bad” posture is causing trouble. It's only bad because it's your only one! You can't live on just carrots or just ice cream – variety is REQUIRED. Even in posture.


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