“Stand straight !”
I head this injunction countless times, during my childhood (not always in my direction). Almost each time, the person who heard the order would rigidly stiffen their spine.
Sometimes, while consulting a physiotherapist, a coach or a chiropractor, some people will hear that their back is out of alignment, that their pelvis could move back to its rightful place, and that this misalignment explains their (present or potential) low-back pain.
That’s a compelling story, because by changing their posture, some people will really feel improvement (be it regarding low-back pain, or any other pain). This seemed so obvious to me that I never questioned this idea, until… I hurt my back trying to stand straight !
When I got interested in Yoga, Pilates, Feldenkrais and associated methods, I heard more of these injunctions that some children hear, but in a more subtle way:
- let your spine fly up
- imagine that your head is hanging from a thread made of silk
- don’t arch your back too much, but don’t round it too much
- mind your vertical alignmet
But in the end, the order was still to stand stratight, with my head above my pelvis (some went further, telling me to align my ear with my shoulder, with my hip, with my knee, and with my ankle…)
The more I tried to stand straight, the more I felt like my back was stiff, and each of my teachers had a perfectly credible explanation: sometimes, it was because I was finally paying attention to my body, and sometimes, because tensions were dissipating themselves (painfully)…
So I started asking many people about this topic (patients, students, fellow teachers, people who were still training while being teachers, relatives, etc…).
After reading scientific studies and digging deeper, I realized quite a few things, that I’m now sharing with you:
- there are people who are in pain, while standing perfectly straight
- there are people who are not in pain, while standing in a way that doesn’t fit to this ideal posture at all
- among those who feel low-back pain, there are people who are muscular, skinny, fat, fit… There are couch potatoes, people with round backs, and people with arched backs… Flexible people, and stiff people alike
- among those who don’t feel the pain, you can find the very same kind of people !
What does this mean ? Well, that’s quite simple: I didn’t find any clear and evident relationship between posture and discomfort / pain…
And yet, some people feel better when they changer their posture !
Why ? The more I study this phenomenon, the more I think there is no bad posture: there are only postures that you have been assuming for too long.
If I asked you to read a book, lying on your stomach, you could probably read in this position for a certain amount of time. After a while (depending on each person : each body is unique), you would feel the need to change the way you are reading…
When you think about it, children have an intuitive understanding of this mechanism ! Watch them read, play video games, or just relax: they often change their posture, switch from one stance to another, and sometimes put their bodies in very creative configurations that would probably be described as unhealthy for an adult.
Adults are more prone to be socially conform, and more prone to feed old habits. Because of that, they tend to forget that it is uncomfortable to keep the same stance over and over. Pain can be, sometimes, the signal that your body uses to tell you: “I need some change”.
This change can happen while practicing sports, taking a walk at the park, receiving a massage, or taking a bath: it is as if you decided to turn a computer on and off too fix a bug.
If you are used to working long hours in front of a computer, you can work in a standing position from time to time, but then again, the good idea is not to stand up, in itself: easing discomfort isn’t about working in a specific posture, but about introducing diversity in your sensorial experience. Standing all day long could also hurt you, just like sitting in a pricy ergonomical chair can also become painful if the only stance your body knows is this one.
Myself, I take several different stances throughout the day: sitting on the floor, standing, sitting on a comfy gaming chair, sometimes on a back-less piano chair, and sometimes on an inflatable Pilates softball…
Since not everybody can enjoy a workplace it is allowed to be creative regarding the working posture, I would at least like to precise that there are many ways to incarnate, to embody a posture: you can sit deep in your chair, enjoying its back, cross your legs, slouch comfortably, sit firmly straight, resting at the edge of the chair, lean forward, arch your back, etc… In other words, to those who slouch and feel back pain, I’d like to say “from time to time, stand straight and arch your back… it’s a torture if you do it all day long, but can be a great relief sometimes !” And to those who already keep their spine straight, and feel back pain, I’d like to say “perhaps standing even straighter isn’t necessarily the best solution, and sometimes, it’s great to allow yourself to slouch !” Of course, this require some trial and error with your own body, just like kids do. I wish you a good week, then, exploring this freedom of posture that we all had as children, but in your adult body !