Posture

Lead In - speed 35

What is posture? Today I am going to describe how muscle, tendon and bone work together to create your posture. We will also examine the concepts of habitual and dynamic posture.

Intro

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Man seated on chair

When you were a kid your teacher may have told you to sit up straight. Well, a lot of mine did anyway. I'm not sure if that happens at school these days. In our school years, good posture often seems like such a chore and all we want to do is slouch. However a decade or so prior, when you were a toddler, posture came easy. As you learn to take your first steps your posture is pristine. As you get older you lose this natural poise and take on all the baggage of adulthood.

Definition of posture

Posture is defined as the position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting or lying down. We can split posture into two distinct components, structural and voluntary.

Structural Posture

The structural part of our posture is made up of a configuration of muscle, tendon, ligament and bone. Bones are rigid and generally do not flex at all, nor do they stretch. They supply unmoving, rigid structure. The tendons and ligaments are elastic. They are the springs in the body, and will stretch slightly when we move but always returning to their original shape. Ligaments join bones together at the joints and tendons join muscle to bone. Muscles themselves are flexible and their main purpose is to supply movement, but they contribute to structural posture in a different way which we will discuss in the next presentation. In short, our structural posture is maintained by this system of muscles, ligaments, tendons and bones and without all of those components, will fall apart.

Our structural posture is essentially involuntary, largely due to the stiff elasticity of tendons and ligaments, which prevent us from voluntarily changing this structure with any ease.

Voluntary Posture

The voluntary part of our posture is supplied by using muscle groups to position our body and / or limbs into a particular placement in three dimensional space.  Freedom of movement allows us to voluntarily put our bodies into a vast number of different postures for whatever task or whim we are trying to achieve.  Use of voluntary posture usually takes place within the structural limits set by the habitual posture.

Main Event

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Baby crouching

Let's start by taking a look at toddler posture. Not knowing any better, toddlers tend to walk, stand and sit in a manner which is exemplary. This suggests that good posture is innate. Toddlers have an advantage in that they have a lower centre of gravity so they are able to get up and sit down with greater ease than adults, but watching toddlers can provide insights into optimal posture and movement.

We defined posture as the position in which someone holds their body when standing or sitting. The use of the word 'hold' suggests that this is a conscious action that we take. The word 'hold' is a doing word, such as we hold the cup in our hand. To a certain extent this is true: We hold our posture through conscious decision making. However, underlying this conscious decision there are limitations to our muscle, tendon and bone structure that define what we can consciously do.

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A woman shown in two postures

As an example, a person with a slouch, if they adopt that position repeatedly and consistently they may end up having it permanently imprinted into their muscle, tendon and bone structure, making it very difficult to stand up tall and proud. Through habit this person develops a structure of muscle, tendon and bone that exhibits as a slouch.

Let's identify two elements to structural posture:

  • The habitual structure, which is the shape our body takes with minimal muscles activated.
  • The dynamic structure, which is the extent to which our body shape changes when we use muscles to stretch tendons across bones.

The person with the habitual slouch has a sunken habitual structure. When asked to straighten up, they might well be able to change their posture, but it may be hard to retain it since they may be working against this sunken structure, and they will soon return to their default slouch.

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Rough looking man

We can also apply the concept of posture to our face. Have you heard of the expression 'resting bitch face', when applied to someone who appears to have a permanent scowl on their face? There is a certain amount of truth in this kind of observation. The person may well have an habitual posture in their face that is an ingrained expression of displeasure. Other people appear to have a permanent smile on their face. How is this so? Do you think it is genetic? If we spend an inordinate amount of time feeling sad or angry and letting it show on our face, then over time that expression may become frozen into our muscle, tendon and bone structure. In a later presentation we cover this in more detail including exercises to help over come it.

Take a break

Technology: Good posture

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Bone of human spine

An internal view of the spine shows that it has an S shape. This S-shape allows the spine to act as a spring to absorb shock and enhance movement, especially for activities involving running and jumping. Any good posture must incorporate this requirement.

There are many definitions of good posture. Some of the best come from Martial Arts. In most Asian hand fighting disciplines the best posture for standing is something similar to the following:

  • feet firmly on the ground a shoulder width apart, parallel to each other
  • knees lightly bent; they must never be locked
  • chest lightly expanded forward and buttocks lightly extended backwards to enhance spinal curvature
  • hands either by sides or bent and held forward in loose fist clench
  • remain relaxed but able to move easily

The posture described enables readiness for action at a moment's notice. The posture is relevant for any kind of action, not restricted to Martial Arts. The same or similar posture is taught in singing schools, in most sports, and disciplines where high performance is sought. If you think you have bad posture, it might be a good idea to research posture and find a technique that works for you. Certainly there is no harm in learning a Martial Art for a while.

Obtaining a good posture is a matter of practise. The more you consciously work at and adopt good posture, the easier it becomes, until you do it by default.

Personal experience

I remember as a kid having this perception of posture which I later found to be totally erroneous. During pre-teen years I thought that tucking my backside in was the thing to do. I also through that the diaphragm was an essential item of support in lifting heavy objects. We all have these misperceptions of how things should be done. No doubt these contributed to my suffering. It wasn't until I studied karate and later singing that I started to understand good posture and how to obtain and maintain it.

Recap

You only have one life, and your main instrument in life is your body. For your body to work well it has to be in good shape and that is an S-shape that is flexible and ready for action when necessary. Your muscles, tendons and bones help to create an habitual shape that is ingrained and persistent over time.

Challenge to audience

My challenge to you is that the greatest technology available to you is what you can find within yourself to manage your sense of well being and help control your life. We all too often look for solutions outside of ourselves, when in actuality the greatest solution can be found within yourself. Do research what I have proposed in this presentation and practise for yourself.

 

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