Posture, and the misguided thinking that can be more harmful than helpful

Posture is typically viewed from an aesthetically pleasing point of view, and this view has become incorporated into the physical therapies of the world. The belief of musculature therapies, gymnasiums, gym instructors etc. is that we have this tall, erect posture, shoulders back and square, chest up, arms down by side, and an arch in the lower back.

While this is mechanically the ideal posture, if we base posture around contentment with the whole body being neutral, then we might view posture differently.

The body bases itself not on mechanics, but on its visceral organs. With that in mind, if our body feels under threat and it has gone into fight or flight mode, or the sympathetic side of the nervous system is stimulated, our physical reaction to this is to behave as a hedgehog i.e. we curl up to protect our engine, we curl up to protect our organs and we harden our muscles and bones as if this is a car chassis. When this happens our posture is more of a curved thoracic spine which is called Kyphosis posture.

While this is structurally and visually strained-looking, it is the current neutral for the body. It is the best place that that body can find at this point in time, given all the ingredients. Therefore this is the neutral posture at this point.

When the body is capable of letting go of the protective posture in which it is now holding itself it will return to a normal, more aesthetically pleasing, tall posture. Neutral is the keyword because when it is protective the body feels that that is neutral and when it has let go, its new neutral is back up, tall and straight in what was previously thought as the epitome of ideal posture.

Building up muscles, and tensing muscles to keep and improve good posture is running away from the idea of neutral because now you have to over-tense your erector spinae muscles which are running down either side of your spine. A person may also try to squeeze the shoulder-blades to give that look of being tall but if that person stops concentrating on that squeeze for merely seconds, it will naturally return to the previous selling. All of this is sold as fact, and we almost accuse ourselves of being lazy for not sitting tall. However the body is not about sitting tall, it’s about its organs and its energies and if it has lower energy or is trying to protect where it feels vulnerable, its neutral posture is more about its comfort than its position.

Helping patients to understand the protective mechanism in the body allows us to help them get back to a more neutral posture and help them understand why and when it is possible to make corrections, but adding the corrections when the body is still in a protective mode will only cause further strain in the opposite direction.

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