It seems as though posture has been a big topic for humans for a while now. These days, optimal posture has become an almost a vogue term in certain therapeutic and movement circles. There is often an intense focus, using various physical methods, on creating some form of idolized alignment, and keeping the person that way as much as humanely possible. To those not really trained in biomechanics at any really level, the advice is often to stand upright or “don’t slump” as they say; which is actually a very superficial and vague recommendation. I would like to dive into some of the dynamics of this upright posture and take birds eyes view of it.
*An exhaustive breakdown of posture is beyond the scope of a single article. The focus will be on this notion of Staying Open*
What is posture?
All this talk about posture often leaves out what it actually is to the body. Posture is actually a reflex. All things being equal, you enter into your default bipedal posture, unconsciously and without thought, as it is a reflexive response to the vertical upright experience of gravity. Standing upright on two feet is a hardwired, ancient response, that is a part of the homo sapiens ancestral lineage. It is tied to fundamental movement patterns, such as crawling, rolling and rocking, which also work off of reflexive patterns. Obviously we are upright bipedal primates and thus, upright posture is innate.
Posture is a reflex and it also an expression of emotion
Aside from being a reflex, posture is also an expression of emotion. Partly due to postural dynamics found in primates, and also the mind-body unity, the way we stand can say a lot about how we feel. Expansive open postures “often” denote positive, aggressive and confident feeling states; whereas closed off contracted postures, “often” denote fear, defensiveness, infantile feelings and stress. This is bit simplistic, but is satisfactory for the purposes of this article.
I have written about it before, but will mention it again because it is highly relevant to this discussion. The human animal is unique, in the sense that when upright, and not experiencing unnecessary tightness, our most vulnerable parts (inner organs and genitals) are expressed forward. These parts of us “lead”, whereas in most other species of animals, they are pulled back or facing the ground. So, to be open, is to be vulnerable.
To be open, is to be vulnerable
What I mean by "open", in this article, is the notion of our front line (face, throat, chest and abdomen) remaining in state where they are not unnecessary tight. These parts remain pliable and loose, allowing us to not be contracted into what they call a "slump". However, I also refer to emotional states conductive to connection, unity and acceptance.
Allow yourself to be loved and to love others
The opposite of vulnerable in this context is defensive: what we refer to as a slump forward. Although in an experienced combative, this "slump" may have different a tensional network, this overall "collapse" has its place in our movement repertoire. A highly refined version of it can be seen in gymnastics, boxing and american football especially and is often referred to as the "hollow body" position.
When referring to healthy alignment, I think context matters a whole lot. What are we dealing with? A friend? A lover? A threat? Being in a constant slump is likely a chronic defensive or inhibiting response, that cant be let go of.
One of the most common tensional patterns in the modern world is the contraction of the front line of the body. This contraction, often starts in the face, and moves through the throat, into the chest, upper and lower abdomen. The contraction of this line is associated with various psychosomatic states.
1. Defensive posturing (fighting posture)
3. Restricting the Breath (chest and abdominal tension)
4. Restricting Sexual feelings (lower abdomen/pelvic floor)
5. Choking off Tears (throat)
6. Resisting the urge to bite (jaw throat)
7. Closing off the Heart (collapse)
8. Too much sitting
Being in this constant defensive posture can have many negatives to our overall state of being. It restricts the breath, puts pressure on organs, disturbs our entire alignment, alters nerve signals coming from the spine, and blocks off the heart from the world around us.
There are countless ways to open up our front line in terms of technical methods for easing this chronic tension, and I will touch on them in the future. My hope in this article is just to get you thinking about some of the potential psychosomatic components at play here.
Our willingness to be open to love, friendships and positive experiences is at some level tied in to this front line. As we “open” the front line, we become vulnerable, due to the fact that all of our most vulnerable organs are exposed to the world. Metaphorically and almost literally we open our heart to the world around us, and to do this, at some level we must feel safe. For many us, this type of exposure (at all) feels extremely threatening, due to conditioning from previous circumstances.
Posture is a dynamic living process and not a stagnant stable structure
At some level you are dealing with layers beyond the scope of kinesiology and into ones related to your somatic charges. If internally you want to shrink away from the world, are depressed, scared, angry or just feel threatened in general, then being open is that much more difficult.
The key is to reset your tensional patterns, movement patterns, behavioral conditioning and also deal with the feelings that you brace against (armor) in order to truly change your alignment, so that you do not actually have to think about it. If you have to “will” a particular posture into place, your psychosomatic landscape, likely cannot sustain it at the moment.
Beyond the “visual observable” posture, there are the actually muscular qualities to pay attention to. Someone may seemingly have what is stereo-typically referred to as healthy posture, but actually be a tight, rigid and blocked off mess. I discovered a while back, that I existed in such a state from time to time.
When referring to the front of the body, the feeling and qualitative state of the muscular apparatus that is seems to be the most desirable for day to day life is softness. If we can remain soft, it means we are night bracing and trying to defend ourselves all the time. To get there, it is likely going to require a combination of exercises, emotional release, and a shedding of the conditioning the lead you there in the first place. Release your trauma, defensiveness and fear, while also restoring your innate reflexive movement patterns and your version healthy posture will be available to you more often, without a conscious effort to sustain it.
The most desirable feeling state we want in the front the body is softness
The title of this article is “Staying Open”, which implies an active ongoing process that is more of a verb, than a noun. The practice of becoming aware of how we contract this line, and choosing suppleness instead, can be very useful and is in my opinion an ideal place to start right now. Learning what types of situations cause us to fall into this type of unconscious bracing, consciously releasing this tension, while breathing deeply, can start to rewire our habitual conditioning. Certain situations can bring up feelings of sadness, love, anger, frustration, insecurity and sexuality, and can cause us to unconsciously brace against them, to reduce their intensity. Feelings are “felt” in the body. To prevent them from being felt, we brace. Most of us have been unconsciously bracing against a similar set of feelings for much of our lives.
Here is a short outline of how to apply this practically-
1. Become aware of the front of the body, starting from the hairline to the pelvic floor and feel the sensations erupting forward.
2. Notice the specific manifestations: Eyebrow’s raising or furrowing, jaw clenching, throat tightening, chest collapsing, diaphragm stifling, belly tightening , castration anxiety/genital insecurity.
3. Simultaneously do your best to release the tensions (relax them) and keep the breathing smooth and deep.
4. Choose a different behavioral option, than the one conditioned into your structure.