Body, Mind and Sol: The secret to perfect posture

We were told to sit up straight when we were a child – but how many of us have carried that good habit into adulthood? With a little effort we can reclaim good posture, writes Sol Walkling.

Published on SBS Online 30 DEC 2013.

If I held a mirror in front of you now without giving you time to think or shift, what would you look like? And more importantly, how would you feel?

Day in day out, we spend our waking hours hunched over our devices, sitting lopsided in the car, road-raging and stressed, or pushing busily through city streets to get to our next task. Can you imagine the message you’re sending to your body and mind?

I was one of the lucky ones. I started physiotherapy at the age of three to rid myself of a pigeon-toed walk. I was the tallest girl throughout kindergarten and school and I was taught good posture through gymnastics, dance and yoga before puberty could hit and my gangly frame could slump in on itself with self-doubt.

The notion of “perfect posture” and body awareness has continued into my professional life. These days, I help people align themselves better with Pilates, yoga and other techniques and try to find where we can tweak their routines and habits to allow their bodies to unfold more freely.

Think of your perfect, innate posture as a shiny white ball, untarnished and beautiful, hidden away at our very core underneath the layers of conditioning and bad habit. This is a technique taught by Australian Fitness Network Director Lisa Champion.

An exercise Ms Champion uses in workshops to uncover this marvellous freedom and ease in your body is a simple standing spinal roll down. The first time you perform it, you’re asked to feel the weight under your feet, notice tension and strain as you roll up to a standing position and exaggerating all sensations as you come up – unleashing your inner Quasimodo.

Deep breath. Drop it slowly forward to the floor, let yourself free your body and find ease and space and balance under your feet as you roll up again. Keep the body soft, relaxed and tension-free. You’ll likely notice a sense of being more awake, alert and present in your body.

Presence matters, as social psychologist and Harvard Business School’s Associate Professor Amy Joy Cuddy has proven in various experiments.

“Our bodies change our minds, our minds change our behaviour and our behaviour changes our outcome,” she says in her TED talk.

If you’re a keen observer of people, you’ll have no doubt noticed how much grounding and stature change the way people come across and, perhaps more importantly, how other people respond. Cuddy’s linked what she calls high and low power posing – I would call it bad and good postural habits – to a significant change in testosterone and cortisol levels, a different outcome in the way others respond to us in situations like job interviews and even, over time, a difference in the way we feel about ourselves.

Most importantly, her research has proven that “tiny tweaks can lead to big changes”. This is what I personally try to impress on people. Pilates and yoga – and other forms of mind body exercise – can be powerful tools to help you change your experience of life by finding a sense of ease, balance and freedom in your body that directly translates into the way you interact with and are received by others.

The repetitive actions we practice on the mat or reformer – standing tall, grounded and with a sense of strength in our bellies – translate into cultivating better habits in our daily lives.

If you’re ready to change your world through changing your body take it in steps: become aware of how you’re sitting, standing, responding and make a conscience effort to correct it in each and every instance. It will be hard at first but over time it will become habit-forming and second nature to you.

So stand up tall, fake it ’til you make it and let your true self shine.

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