Standing, Sitting, Walking & Breathing

Just because you can stand, sit, walk, and breathe does not mean that you do any of them very well...

Brent Stevenson

How people stand, sit, walk and breathe are collectively what we consider to be their posture.  All you need to do is go sit on a bench in a busy area and people-watch for a few minutes to appreciate how differently people move around.  Our postures and movement patterns are partly a product of our genetics, but are primarily the result of our life experiences to date, for better or for worse.  How we hold ourselves is a reflection of our confidence and insecurities, and how we move is based on our past opportunities for practice and observation.  Wrestling with parents and siblings, playing sports, dancing and performing all refine a person’s relationship with their body, as do injuries, traumas and shame.  We subconsciously learn how to hold ourselves up against gravity in a variety of contexts and some of us become much more efficient at it than others based on circumstance.

There is a series of motor milestones that infants and toddlers go through to progressively develop control over their bodies to enable them to roll over, sit-up and move around.  It is a trial-and-error process that slowly allows them to over-ride primitive reflexes in their bodies and express their intention as to how they move around; our initial movement instincts are related to survival, but they slowly shift to free-will as we are able.  As children’s worlds become more complex, their development of movement and posture becomes more subconscious unless they are directly trained in the context of a sport or activity.  We take for granted the fact that we can stand, sit, walk and breathe as we explore the world as teenagers and young adults because we seem invincible and have no memory of being any other way.

I have watched my children develop into teenagers, seen my parents degenerate as seniors and helped my clients navigate traumas, chronic pains, and injuries.  An integral part of helping all three groups has been the development of mindful awareness for what they have taken for granted over time.  Children need to learn how to use their bodies as they are developing, adults need to learn how to use their bodies as they are degenerating, and everyone needs to build a basic understanding of how their bodies work during good times and bad to effectively help regulate a comfortable, normal, baseline state of being in their bodies.

At a biomechanical level, posture is about how well a person is able to use their muscles and fascia to stack up the bones of their skeleton to hold them up and allow them to move around or to stay still in a vertical position.  It seems like a simple concept, but if you have ever had a back injury, seen a person after a stroke, or had a significant surgery, you will realize how challenging simple life tasks can really be.  In a normal state, we all develop our own strategies to remain vertical, but because it is actually quite a complex task to do well, most of us develop some sort of bracing strategy to simplify the movement pattern.  If you go sit on that bench and people-watch for a while, you will see women with arched, sway backs jogging by, seniors with hunched shoulders and heads poking forward, shuffling along, girls jutting a hip out just trying to stand still, guys puffing their chest up strutting by, meak introverts concealing their chests, and everything else that you can imagine.  

There is not one magical way to be that is right and everything else is wrong, but certain movement patterns and postures will predictably create tension, pain and degeneration in a person’s body over time.  You most likely aren’t aware of your habitual tendencies that are contributing to your own discomfort, so it is helpful to spend some time with a physiotherapist or movement practitioner that can give you some objective feedback on how you are holding yourself and open you up to the idea that there may be different, more efficient ways to move.  It can be mentally challenging to relearn some aspects of standing, sitting, walking or breathing, but the rewards can be life changing if you give yourself the time and attention.

Generally, the bones of our spine are structurally the most stable and supportive when held in a gentle S-curve by our surrounding musculature.  In sitting, this S-curve is generated by holding your pelvis in a slight anterior tip on top of your hips while using your abdominals to support your torso backward and your intercostals to hold your ribcage upward.  In standing, the S-curve is more so about paying attention to stacking your mid-trunk while keeping your pelvis under your trunk and over your feet.  The nuances of improving your posture are very challenging to grasp with generic words and pictures so I created a series of videos to help you and your physiotherapist figure out where you may need some help.  

Best Resources for More Specifics on Posture:     

Why Hips Hurt: An Illustrated Explanation

Everything Your Mother Taught You About Posture is WRONG

How to Sit

Hot to Stand

Learn more about how your body and mind work in my two books Why We Hurt & Why Things Hurt

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