I was watching a 1950's movie the other day - Bette Davis in "All about Eve'. What struck me was how beautifully everyone held themselves back then. Heads held high, upright and straight, walking tall. My stepmother walks like that today, the result of school days of walking around with books balanced precariously on her head. Today, in older age, her posture is still elegant and upright.
I fear, however, that our generation and the next may not be. Decades of hunching over computers, walking down the street with our heads down, iPhones under the ears, tilting our heads at a strange angle, straining to hear in the midst of a busy street. It doesn't bode well.
Watch those old movies. In the past, people looked at the world around them. They were aware of their environment, looked each other straight in the eye. Greeted their neighbours and picked up emotional nuances. Today, I watch people walking down the street and most of them are staring downwards. Looking at the pavement but not seeing it. Not aware of anything much around them.
A modern condition
Apparently the average person nowadays looks at their phone 165 times a day. And that's just average. (I probably check mine about 8 times - I refuse to be its slave!) They are in another world. The world of Instagram, of WhatsApp. They have 10,000 friends, all over the world, yet hardly any in the real world. And few of them look happy.
Your posture reflects your physical habits. But it also reflects what's going on inside you. It's an expression of who you are. You make up your mind about people in the first few seconds of seeing them. Even at a distance, how someone stands gives you a subliminal clue of what's going on with them. Who they are and how they are. It draws you to them, or pushes you away.
When all is right with your world you stand taller. When good things are happening your happiness and enthusiasm automatically straightens your spine and pulls your shoulders back. Head high, you become more in touch with the things and people around you. In difficult times, the reverse happens. You withdraw from the world, into yourself. You pull away from other people, and your posture reflects the negative emotions surging through you. Shoulders slumped, head bowed, eyes on the ground, avoiding contact. Change the direction of your eyes and your whole attitude to life changes.
But, by consciously changing your posture, even in troubled times, you can affect your mood and change your experience of the world and others in it. It's a fact. Try it.
How can I improve my posture?
Decide to make great posture second nature. Sort it now and avoid that hunched posture in old age. Straighten out your poor habits, and along the way, you may also alter your psyche in wondrous ways!
Bodywork can help you here. It can get deep into your subconscious, accessing your mind and emotions, changing your thoughts. Certain therapies release the memory pain held deep in your body by working on the bones, muscles and tendons of your body. You may, once and for all, release the effect of the past on your present.
Posture improver 1. Rolfing
Beloved by ballet dancers and gymnasts, this is the toughest of the posture therapies. Developed by Ida Rolfe in the 1960's, rolfing is a way of restructuring your whole body by working deeply through the fascia and the tissue. It consists of a series of 10 sessions, each of which realigns a different area of the body. Rolfers also claim mental and emotional benefits, releasing internal tension as your physical symptoms also clear.
It is a very physical therapy, and not for the faint hearted. It can often be painful as the therapist digs deep into your muscle, manipulating and moving areas that are pulling and creating problems in your hips or spine. It is a whole body therapy, and before and after each session the therapist will study how you stand and how you walk, looking at your posture from all angles, so they can assess your way of moving. They identify what needs undoing and re-balancing, and then, boy, do they rebalance you! The day I finished my 10 sessions was a very happy one!
It made a remarkable difference to my feet. I had weak ankles as a child, and spent a period of time in 'special' boots. Since childhood I had always walked with one foot turned in slightly. Now, my feet stand pointed directly ahead of me, in line. And best of all, they do it all by themselves. I don't have to think about it for a minute. And the secondary gain from this fundamental restructuring, is that my hips and pelvis now balance perfectly atop my leg bones. The rebalancing continues, all the way up my spine to my head, which had sat at a slight angle for years, unnoticed by me entirely. The before and after photos are mind blowing.
Posture improver 2. The Feldenkrais Method
This therapy was created by an Israeli, Moshe Feldenkreis, in the mid 50's. Told by the doctors that he needed surgery for a badly damaged knee and would always limp badly after the operation, he worked out a way to heal himself without any operations. He managed to repair the connections between the motor cortex of the brain and the physical body and spent the rest of his life teaching his method around the world.
Feldenkrais examines how you walk and move, identifying any habitual movements that are inefficient or causing problems to the body's structure. A slow series of focused, gentle, repeated exercises then re-educates your body and mind, releasing old patterns. It extends your range of movement and improves your breathing patterns.
Posture improver 3. The Alexander Technique
Frederick Alexander was an Australian actor who developed chronic laryngitis every time he tried to perform. In trying to sort out his problem, he developed, and later taught, what is now called the Alexander Technique. He noticed, while checking every aspect of his posture in a mirror, that how he held himself and moved, was not actually in reality as he thought it was in his mind. He also found that what he was doing was not beneficial for his body. He began to study how people 'use' their body, and noticed that the way they were thinking was clearly visible in the way they walked and moved. Moving badly was at the heart of many of their physical pains, so for him the relationship between the mind and the body was crucial. He experimented with changing his thoughts and noted how correspondingly his body changed its actions.
I would like to make the point here that each of these therapies is only as good as the therapist that carries it out. I first signed up for a series of Alexander technique sessions 20 years ago. And I didn't make it to the end of the course. The man who was teaching me was so laboured and so dull in his instruction that I decided I would rather be a hunched old lady than continue to subject myself to two hours of pure boredom each week. I have, however, met many people whose experience was very different from mine, and swear by the therapy.
It took me another couple of decades to work on improving my posture again. There were too many other things that needed to be sorted instead... and not enough time for all of it. Last year, however, I found Soma, and took to it like a duck to water.
Posture improver 4. Soma
Soma therapists are rare as hen's teeth. But for minimal pain, and maximal psyche sorting as well as structural straightening, this is the way to go. Soma works with the fascia, the bands of connective tissue beneath the skin that surrounds the muscles and other internal organs, releasing blockages and freeing movement. It is deep work, but remarkably painless. It's premise is that if you change your posture, you change your patterns of thinking. Soma practitioners find subconscious patterns held in the body and bring them to the minds attention so they can be released.
The first thing the therapist does in a session is study exactly how you hold yourself. Your posture reflects what is going on inside you and the therapist will draw certain conclusions from how you stand.
Are you standing straight? If not, are you so heavily burdened in your life that it's impossible for you to walk upright?
Are your muscles stuck? Are you stuck in your life?
Do you have tense shoulders? Is it because you feel out of kilter?
Do you have a pain in your neck? So, who is the pain in your neck?
It's a two way street. Resolve that stress and your neck pain will release. Or release the neck and you will finally be able to address the issue that caused the pain in the first place. Soma believes that there is always an original seed that created your problems. You just have to find it and then release it. Relax your shoulders and you relax your view on life. The physical affects the mental, and the mental the physical.
Learn how to stand up straight now, before your patterns are too deeply engrained. Avoid that old age stoop and all the problems that come with it.
Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, who founded one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, The Haven, twenty years ago. With Reboot Health, Sara aims to bring the best preventative and curative health solutions ranging from nutrition, alternative therapies, fitness and conventional medicine.