Does posture matter?

Perhaps this is a heretical question…. the importance of ‘good posture’ to health and well-being is so widely recognised that it is beyond question. Certainly, in the world of Pilates, it would seem to be doctrine. A renowned teachers tells us that good posture is “essential to a healthy, well functioning body.”

I accepted the importance of posture for years, as well as ‘improving posture’ being an appropriate goal for someone’s Pilates practice. I was even a little irritated by anyone who questioned if there is a link between posture and pain – why ask the question at all when we know that bad posture is bad for you? 

I first started to be curious and question my own orthodoxy on this subject when I noticed that people I was taking workshops with, in particular with Ido Portal, who were effortlessly wonderful movers, had (to my Pilates teacher, good posture obsessed eye) very poor resting positions. In other words, when they were relaxed, they were really relaxed, and clearly not trying to hold themselves well. To reiterate, when they wanted or needed to move, they were graceful, supple and strong. When they didn’t need to move they did not seem to be controlling the form their body took. It doesn’t matter if we slouch, provided that we can easily move out of the slouch to a different position.

Needs some postural training?

Then someone I was training with said “posture is reflexive”, which really got me thinking. It ties in with ideas of energy efficiency that I gleaned from basic evolutionary biology – as a species we are ‘programmed’ to use as little energy as possible. Also with an idea I learned from biomechanist Katy Bowman: no one is ‘out of shape’, we are all in the shape that our brain/body thinks is best for us, based on our environment and the inputs (nutrition, movement etc.) we receive. So ‘posture is reflexive’ means that at any given moment your brain will organise your body according to the best (most energy efficient) strategy that it has available, based on the information it has received.

You can consciously organise your posture, until your brain is occupied with something else – if your job is to sit or stand up straight that’s great, but if your life requires you to do anything else then postural organisation will quickly take a back seat. To say that your posture is a determinant of your health is putting the cart before the horse – your posture is a manifestation of your health, and ‘fixing’ your posture, however fleeting that might be, will not ‘fix’ your health.

Problematic postures are only problematic when they indicate poor movement strategies. This is when Pilates can be especially useful. If someone’s default standing position is with their hips forward and ‘hanging’ into their lower back (could be a sign of the dreaded ‘glute amnesia’!) the solution will be to teach them to move, not to teach them to stand. If someone’s sitting position appears to be causing them problems with their neck, shoulders, back, digestion, breathing etc. the solution won’t lie in teaching them to be better at sitting (just as a more ‘ergonomic’ chair won’t help), but might lie in helping them to sit less and move more. We understand, too, that someone’s posture can be a product of their emotional state. In this situation teaching posture doesn’t present a solution, and encouraging more movement, and diverse movement actually might.

Pilates can offer a wider range of movement strategies then we may currently be using, so that our bodies have more options to self-organise. As our diversity of movements increases and we become more confident in them they expand our default options and we become less likely to remain in the same static position for long periods. As one of our favourite teachers says “Diversity breeds immunity.” This is as true for movement as it is for diet, or any of our other health

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Bio

Mike and his wife Anoushka are Pilates in Motion and run the Pilates equipment studio at the Ealing centre for triyoga. He also teaches a weekly open level Pilates mat class there every Wednesday at 12.30pm.

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