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Posture Restoration: The Ideal Balance

Posture

Most of us want to improve our posture (or someone else’s) to look better, perform better, and feel better. But, to get started, we need to ask, what is “good posture,” and what is the most effective way to improve it? 

As for myself, my thinking and teaching of “postural restoration” have evolved over the years. 

Referring back to my Physiotherapy training, postural “correction” mostly involved instructions to hold parts of the body in the proper positions and strengthening to maintain the position. Unfortunately, this type of postural correction is effective only as long as you’re paying attention to holding things together. Even more unfortunate, this type of postural bracing tends to cause excessive muscular tension and joint compression. 

The Ideal Balance

In the Pilates world, I began to explore how movement was related to a better balance of tension in the tissues to establish a centre. I began to pay more attention to the connection with the ground and how weight shifts smoothly on this support base. Additionally, I learned the importance of using as much effort as necessary and as little as possible to support the weight of the body and an external load. In this way, you maintain the internal space of the body to maintain tensegral support (support that comes from a balance of tensions in the fascial net). 

Most recently, my training in the Feldenkrais method has further refined my definition and approach to posture and movement. In the Somatic world (disciplines that focus on the multi-sensory experience of movement, including Feldenkrais and Alexander methods), most teachers emphasize the dynamic nature of posture (Feldenkrais called it acture). The dynamic nature of posture focuses on the organization of the body that allows for ease, efficiency, and responsivity.

In Awareness Through Movement, Moshé Feldenkrais says, “…good upright posture is that from which a minimum muscular effort will move the body with equal ease in any desired direction.”

Let’s take a closer look at some of the common misconceptions regarding posture.  

1. Increased strength (specifically, core) will improve posture.

The idea of core training to improve posture was based on the misinterpretation of studies that found that the timing of abdominal and low back muscle activation was different in people with low back pain and those who were pain-free (The Myth of Core, Eyal Lederman). The faulty conclusion was that increasing voluntary contraction strength would decrease low back pain, which was not the case.

Abdominal and low back muscles are generally active at less than 5% maximal voluntary contraction during functional activity and co-contraction (bracing) is not common. Activation happens spontaneously (the opposite of voluntarily) and is task-specific. Every movement involves the coordinated activation of groups of muscles working together and is directed by our central nervous system outside of our conscious control.

Takeaway: Abdominal bracing can be harmful, limiting our freedom of movement. It is important to notice any muscle tension in our body. Keep in mind that often that isn’t a “doing” that’s necessary but an “undoing.”

2. “Bad” posture is associated with back pain.

In 2008, a systematic review of studies to date concluded that back pain was not associated with static spinal curves. Habitual postures are often functional limitations and not structural limitations, therefore change is possible.

Takeaway: Static position or posture as we commonly know it doesn’t determine whether an individual has back pain. There is more to the story. We need to look beyond alignment to movement or how parts are relating to each other and how forces are being transmitted through the body.

3. An ergonomically designed workspace will improve your posture.

While it is helpful to place equipment at the appropriate heights and in specific configurations, these modifications alone will not be sufficient in ensuring proper use of the body relative to the equipment and within the environment. 

Leaning into the back of a chair that is intended to support the curves of the spine serves to deactivate supporting muscles. I think of it as the outsourcing of support. While breaks are allowed, resting your back into your chair all day isn’t recommended.

Takeaway: It is necessary to bring attention to your body and your interaction with your environment. Ask yourself things like, “Am I holding tension anywhere” (frequently you will find that the answer is YES! And it’s often in your shoulders). The solution is really quite simple, notice and let it go. The Alexander Technique begins with the instructions to allow the neck to be free, the Head Forward and Up, the Back Lengthen and Widen. 

Furthermore, change positions frequently. This was really the birth of standing desks. Remember that standing is also a static position.

In conclusion, to improve posture, we need to bring greater awareness to the quality of our movement. To begin to do this, tune in to the following:  

1. Where are you connected to the ground? Can you easily shift your weight? 

Is the weight balanced through all the points of contact? Notice any gripping or upward holding that might be interfering with your connection to the supporting surface (even holding your breath will change your connection to the ground).

2. Can you find a sense of being light?  We only become aware of the activity of antigravity muscles when their activity is interrupted or exaggerated. This increased activation or over recruitment tends to make us feel heavy and make it more difficult to move. Remember often less is more.

 3. When lifting part of the body away from the ground, can you do it smoothly without creating any jerking or closing up of the body? 

A prerequisite to changing the qualities of our movement is to pay more attention to our movement. This means initially we have to move slow enough to sense subtleties. As our movement becomes more coordinated, we will be able to increase our speed without disrupting the fluid quality of our movement.

Additional Resources:

Liberated Being – Myth of Core Podcast  

The Myth of Core Stability 

Learning to Learn Article by Moshe Feldenkrais

Spinal Curves and Health: a systematic critical review of the epidemiological literature dealing with associations between sagittal spinal curves and health. 

Better Movement by Todd Hargrove

Posture Blogs by Gisele St. Hilaire (Sunyata Movement Studio)

Adara Sitting and Standing Posture Videos:

Sitting posture tips. 

Standing posture tips. 

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