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Pay Attention and Transform Yourself
I just finished taking class, and I’m drinking some water from the water cooler outside the studio. I watch a group of my fellow students filling their water cups while chatting with each other. I was thinking that these particular students had had beautiful form during class. Now they were slumping, rounding their shoulders, and arching their lower backs. What happened to the great posture I noticed during the class? I feel the urge to jump into my teacher’s role, walk over, and manually upright their spines. A voice inside me says, don’t be an overzealous busybody. I stay put, this time.
This scene did not happen on one particular day. It has replayed itself again and again with one group or another over months and years. On some of these occasions my obsession for improving the world’s posture did get the best of me, and I imposed myself on a group of unsuspecting students. I’ve finally figured out that changing posture is simply hard both for the teacher and the student herself. You can sculpt your muscles by going to class three or more times a week. If you want to change your posture, it turns out, you need to do some additional homework. Your assignment: Stay aware of how you’re carrying your body as you go about your day. “You don’t have to focus on your posture every waking moment,” says to Rick Stebbins, a physical therapist who treats posture issues. “Just spend about 20 minutes a day thinking about it.”
I’m not one to talk about other people’s alignment issues. A few months ago I noticed I had one. I was rolling out on my heels, so much so that occasionally one foot would begin to fall outwards, and I’d have to catch myself to upright it. My problem might have been caused by having sprained my ankles a few times decades ago during dance classes. Whatever the origin, I started to practice stepping evenly on my heels during my daily walks with my Pomeranian, Pi. After a few weeks, I found myself rolling off my heels less often.
When you pay attention to patterns of movement that are off-kilter, it can really make a difference in the way you look and feel. Here are some bad alignment habits I see in a lot of students that could benefit from some homework: carrying their head forward of their shoulders, rounding their shoulders, leaning their rib cage back, arching their lower back, walking with their feet turned out or turned in, and jutting their chin forward while talking.
Three years ago, I watched one Bar Method student dramatically transform the look of her body by setting her mind to changing her posture. This student was training to become a Bar Method teacher and was showing herself to be talented and hard-working. I noticed one problem however: she stood with her hips forward and her rib cage slumped back. I’d mentioned this issue to her, but nothing had changed. One day part way into the training session, I took her aside and told her that I was dropping her from the program due to her posture. The next morning, she returned to the studio and told me that she’d stayed up all night crying and practicing her posture. Would I give her another chance to prove that she could change? “Who knew?” she said. “My whole family stands this way.” I said yes.
In the years since that day, I’ve seen this teacher many times both at Bar Method events and at social occasions. I’ve never again noticed her slump, even when relaxed or involved in a conversation. The last time we were together, we were celebrating the opening of her beautiful new Bar Method studio. She was chatting and laughing with her students, unaware that I was watching her. Her posture was beautiful. It showed off her sculpted arms and her pretty face. Wow, I thought. That’s an accomplishment!
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