The Method

How to Achieve Good Posture

March 23, 2010

I’m eating dinner alone in a little Italian restaurant in Portland after teaching at the brand new Portland Bar Method studio. I notice a young, blond waitress serving some other tables. She’s tall, slender and pretty, only she has a noticeable slump that mars her looks. My usual rant about people’s posture starts to kick in inside my brain, which goes something like “How can people in our country spend billions every year on cosmetics and so little effort on such a major beauty issue?” but I stop myself.

The truth, I realize, is that changing the way you stand and walk gets hardwired into your body from an early age, and changing it is easier said than done. Most of the students I teach understand that their posture is a big factor is how they look and feel, and they’d love to improve it. Many of you, for example, wrote me in response to last week’s blog on posture asking for tips on how to make yours better. Thanks for asking! If you decide to set your mind to making this change, the benefits are huge. You’ll look prettier of course. You’ll also suffer fewer joint issues in your neck, back, hips, knees and ankles, all of which are adversely affected by poor posture. Here are three steps you can take to get started on this project.

The first step is to develop strong “posture” muscles, which is the only way you’ll have a fighting chance of holding onto your new alignment. The Bar Method  – or another well-designed bar class that uses mirrors and focuses on good alignment – is an excellent workout for developing stronger postural muscles because it requires you to stand up straight while you’re working your limbs, which mimics how you move throughout your day. Where are these “posture” muscles? They mainly reside in three places, in your back, in your abdominals and in your rear. Your back muscles, of course, hold your ribs upright. Your abs and glutes work as a team to hold your pelvis in good alignment. Make sure the workout you chose is safe and methodical enough to enable you to concentrate on how you’re standing and moving during the class.

POSTURE CORRECTIONSThe second step is to consciously work on your posture while you’re working out. Your perception of how you stand and the reality of how you really stand can be very different. For that reason, check your form in the mirror often during the standing bar work. Don’t assume that you’re standing up straight. Really look at the lines of your body. Is your head over your shoulders, or do you just assume that it is? Is your rib cage really upright, or does it sag backwards? At the same time, pay attention to any adjustments your teacher gives you. One adjustment you may get is what we teachers call “the shark bite,” which sounds scary but actually feels great, like a little massage. The teacher will place her or his on your upper back and press fingers and thumb inwards. The result is that your upper back will suddenly become straighter.

Your final step is to work on your posture during the day. This part of the process is the most challenging and usually requires that something or someone light a fire under you. The story of one person I know who successfully transformed her posture shows how hard this stage is even when you’re highly motivated. Becky Crabtree is currently a superb Bar Method teacher in Boulder, Colorado. As a teacher trainee, she proved herself to be uncompromisingly good humored and hard working.  Becky was the kind of trainee who went home after every training session and spent hours practicing a skill until she got it right. The one drawback in her teaching was that she tended to carry her head forward of her spine. I’d mentioned this problem to her more than once, as had other Bar Method teachers. Nevertheless, Becky showed little improvement on this front. Then last month, I visited the Boulder studio and took Becky’s class. “Your class was terrific,” I told her afterwards, “but your posture is unacceptable.” Knowing Becky, I wasn’t surprised when she came in the next morning with perfect posture and has held onto it from then on.

good postureLast week Becky emailed me this story about how the transformation in her posture has become an inspiration to her students: “Posture is a hard thing to correct over night but it can be done,” she wrote. “I wanted to tell you that the other day a student came in after being gone in Africa for a month and she told me after class that she was inspired by my improved posture. She has always had bad posture and to see the difference in me meant she could do it too.” Becky added that she appreciated my feedback. “I guess I wanted to say that you not only affected me but our students as well.”

Read more from Burr on transforming your posture.

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