Posture is a topic I’ve been deeply involved with since 1980 when I started teaching my program, Somatic Stretch®, with its ultimate goal of “proper posture.” Everything I taught then, under its original name of BioSomatics, I still teach to this day, and all of it came from working on, and changing, my own posture from sway-backed to what I now consider to be correct posture.
Whether correct posture, good posture, or proper posture are the right ways to describe standing “straight” is still a confused issue, and it won’t become clear until all of those phrases are understood to mean “how the body works at its best.” This is how I define correct posture, and it includes good body mechanics as demonstrated by the squatting man in Frey’s article.
How to arrive at this best working condition is still up for debate, the methods of achieving good posture varying from the old-time walking with a book on the head to imagining a string attached to the head pulling the body up, to established methodologies like the Feldenkrais and Alexander techniques.
Ballet instructors everywhere tell students not to “tuck under,” to “close the ribs,” to not “sit in the hips” and to pull the shoulders down. When the body “works at its best,” these corrections become simply reminders instead of the impossible challenge they so often are. My aim in Somatic Stretch® is to make those challenges “as possible as possible” according to each person’s innate body makeup and the extent to which it can be brought closer to its best working condition in both structure and body mechanics. This, in a word, is what I call “ideal” posture.
Regarding the “neutral” posture discussed in Frey’s article, I’ve never understood what exactly is meant by it. However, because of Frey’s invitation to join him in his questioning, I looked it up recently in Wikipedia. Two passages there read:
(1) “In this context, proper posture or “neutral spine,” is the proper alignment of the body between postural extremes. Deviations from neutral alignment are identified as excessive curvature or reduction in curvature.”
(2) “Neutral posture has given rise to the idea of achieving “ideal posture.” Ideal posture indicates proper alignment of the body’s segments such that the least amount of energy is required to maintain a desired position. The benefit of achieving this ideal position would be that the least amount of stress is placed on the body’s tissues.”
Although I’m in agreement with (2), neither definition is very enlightening:
(1) begs the question, ”How much, or how little, curve is neutral? Aside from that, alignment has nothing to do with curves. In my own simple way of describing it, alignment refers to the direction of energy through connecting centres. In standing posture, the head, neck, ribcage, pelvis, legs and ankles should all have energy connecting them in a direct, or “straight,” vertical plane, the way each floor of a building is stacked squarely above the one below. A tilted pelvis, for example, is not vertical, therefore, what’s above and below it can’t be vertical; they have to compensate by leaning in the opposite direction.
In (2), the ideal posture referred to again throws no light on what that ideal posture is nor how it reduces stress on soft tissue. My explanation is that stress on soft tissue is reduced when the soft tissue is supported by the vertical, centred positioning of the bone structure, and the bone structure is supported in its alignment by adequate strength in particular muscles, mainly the abdominal, upper torso and neck muscles. Excessive body curves are irrelevant to the extent that the body mass causing the curves, e.g, a bulging abdomen or imbalanced body weight on each side doesn’t pull the body off its central axis.
In neither of the two definitions, then, does “neutral” make sense, so to my mind the word doesn’t belong in relation to posture. Neutral in a car means that it’s stationary, going neither forward nor backward. Another word for that is “static,” but posture isn’t meant to be static. Correct posture is not a held position; every fibre of the body should be actively engaged in supporting the body at its full height, with the hips and aligned body weight placed forward of the heels. With that condition and placement when walking, only a little pressure from the ball of the foot and a squeeze of the buttock muscles initiates forward movement of the pelvis, with everything above it carried along in balanced alignment.
An image I often have of this is the way an upside down broom, with the end of the stick placed on someone’s hand, stays balanced and upright when it’s carried around by the hand. Or the way an ocean liner glides over the water by the movement of mechanisms in the bottom of it. Think of those dance performances where a whole group of women, wearing long dresses and their feet pitter-pattering in unison, moves across the floor like a smooth wave. Or ballroom dancers who move as though they’re on a circling platform. The body movement of these dancers initiates from the pressure of the feet against the floor going into the hips, which carry the upper bodies along for the ride.
Going now to the postures of the boys in the photo above, you can see the difference between the second and third boys from the left, who are well aligned and static, and the fourth and fifth boys, who are not quite as “together” in their torsos but show the potential for moving forward from their hips.
Using the very top graphic, my ideal posture is a combination of the figure in the top right and the male figure third from the left. The former has the hips forward with weight toward the front of the feet to initiate movement, but it’s leading with the chest and upper body, making the whole figure look sloped. In contrast to this, the male figure is vertically well aligned but has his weight back on the heels, making him look completely static. If the photo of the male had the hips forward and legs sloping back like the graphic on the right, it would have the internal body alignment and weight placing that I consider correct. This is what my fourth drawing in the graphic of four figures looks like and is what, for me, constitutes correct posture.
My drawings are not done with anatomical accuracy. I drew them to the best of my ability many years ago and they’re meant to show the uprightness of the body when the main body parts are vertically supported. So perhaps you could say the last two drawings are more of an internal energy posture than realistic. That is, the straightness of the backs is more what the back should “feel like” and not that it should actually be that straight. If you look at those two drawings carefully, I think you’ll see that although the bodies are shaped identically, the positioning of the pelvis in the fourth drawing — “straightened” and ahead of the heels – is what gives that figure the forward movement look along with an upright, relaxed appearance in the upper body. Compare this to the static, “held” look of the drawing to the left of it.
The explanation for this placing of the body and the method of achieving it is too extensive to go into here, so I’ll conclude my discussion by saying that the drawings above are from my as-yet unpublished book and show my process of changing one type of bad posture into one that is aligned, supported, outwardly relaxed and with forward movement potential. Not everyone will agree with my viewpoint, but as Frey says, evolution is not finished, and I would be happy to participate in any discussions or events on this topic.
For past articles I’ve written on the subject of posture, you can read my March 16 ‘16 blog, My Rant About Sway-backed Posture (https://www.somaticstretch.com/rant-about-swaybacked-posture/) and “A New Look At The Pelvic Tilt” from my Family Practice articles in 1994, https://www.somaticstretch.com/pelvic-tilt/
Sorry about the over-sized graphic. I’ll get it fixed as soon as I know how. : /