What Is Good Posture? (Patrons)

Standing, chair-seated, and transitioning between. Experience for yourself Moshe Feldenkrais's three-part answer to his lesson title: 1) Good posture is synonymous with the greatest potential for action. 2) Whether we're standing, sitting, or anywhere in between, in good posture our bones (not our muscles) must continuously counteract gravity, leaving our musculature free for action. 3) Posture improves spontaneously when we eliminate superfluous efforts in the sit-stand-sit transition, as we become more sensitive to the physics and neurology of that function. A 5-minute talk begins the recording. Demonstrations and principles are in the Clarifications and Curiosities tabs.

Before you begin read this for practical tips and your responsibilities, and check out Comfort & Configuration below.

Recorded live in a Feldenkrais Awareness Through Movement (ATM) class, this lesson is copyright Nick Strauss-Klein, for personal use only.

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Tip 4 – Padding

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Tip – what to wear

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Tip 3 – Head Support

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Tip 5 – Discomfort

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You won’t need a mat, but you’ll need two chairs. You’ll sit on one, which can be a chair or stool, for much of the lesson. It should be level, non-rolling, and tall enough that your hip are at least a little higher than your knees.

It should also be firm enough to feel your sitbones clearly when seated upright at the front edge of the chair. If the surface feels too hard you may want to put a layer or two of bath towel on it.

Often a simple kitchen or dining room chair works, perhaps with a large book on top of it if you need the height.

Chair #2 only needs to be non-rolling and have a chair back that you can rest your hands or arms on.

If you find the sit-to-stand practice later in the lesson difficult:

  1. Sit on a taller chair. Later you can try it with progressively lower chairs.
  2. Try having your feet a little closer to you in seated than is described: rather than your heels under your knees, you might have the front of your feet under your knees.
  3. See the Related Lessons tab for preparatory study, then return to this lesson.

Usually in Feldenkrais, when we tip the pelvis side to side in seated we invite the spine to sidebend to counter it. And usually, when we roll the pelvis forward and backward, we invite the spine to arch and round.

This lesson is different: we’re asked not to arch, not to round, and not to sidebend the spine. Rather the spine, head, and pelvis all stay aligned as we tip on our sitbones in most of the seated and sit-to-stand movements.

 

After you do the lesson the first time:

#1 Watch the class discussion from after this audio recorded, which includes a video demonstration from a student with commentary from Nick. She finds her way through several common confusions which are helpful to see. Eventually the movements become very clear.

Logged in Patrons can link to this clip from Patrons Quarterly Conference Zoom event right here:

#2 Watch the following amazing videos by Feldenkrais Practitioner Andrew Gibbons as you continue to practice this learning. They are not full teachings of the lesson, but rather reference videos to help you understand and embody this learning.

Moshe Feldenkrais made this lesson #1 in the book he wrote to introduce his method to the masses, but it isn’t taught often in public classes. His writing is difficult to parse, and the movements themselves are at first difficult for most people to do and understand.

On the surface, Moshe’s titular question, and this lesson’s means of answering it, don’t seem to line up. Though it begins by exploring the length and uprightness of standing and sitting, why is it that Moshe spends the whole second half of the lesson exploring the transition back and forth between chair-seated and standing, in a lesson he calls “What Is Good Posture?”

In short, the sit-stand-sit transition affords us opportunities to reduce superfluous efforts and make sensory distinctions about the details of a healthier, more dynamic posture. Posture should never be thought of as static since we’re always moving (even breathing counts, since it disturbs our center of gravity), and our potential to move freely and easily in any direction without hesitation is a biological imperative.

By becoming far more sensitive and efficient in the dynamic transition between sitting and standing, we can learn to sense and shed the habits we’ve accrued that interfere with a more natural way of supporting ourselves while upright.

 

The details

In his long introduction and several discussions throughout, Feldenkrais expounds on the principles at work in the lesson. I summarized many of them in the audio recording. Here are those principles, and more. The full chapter is worth a read for even more information.

  • What is good posture? “Good upright posture is that from which a minimum muscular effort will move the body with equal ease in any desired direction.” Notice that Moshe’s definition isn’t a description of a position. Instead it focuses on efficiency and potential for movement.
  • We may have been told to stand “straight,” but consciously trying to achieve that can’t be maintained without continuous mental and physical effort. Anything necessary, urgent, or interesting will distract us.
  • What’s more, “straight” isn’t even precise, since even in an ideal state almost none of our bones align vertically with gravity. And some folks’ structures will never allow them to stand very “straight,” due to injuries or how they were born. Yet they can learn to functional as well in gravity as anyone else, with efficiency, grace, and power.
  • So, “Any posture is acceptable as long as it does not conflict with the law of nature, which is that the skeletal structure should counteract the pull of gravity, leaving the muscles free for movement.”
  • It follows that poor posture is when muscles do job of the skeleton, holding us up against gravity. In that state they’re wasting energy, preoccupied, and unavailable to do what they’re meant for: moving our bodies!
  • Much of our standing is organized by an older, lower level of our nervous system than our voluntary musculature. But unlike the animals who stand entirely like that, relying on instinct to stand (the experience of their species), we are a lot more adaptable. We rely more on the experience of the individual, thus we learn to stand in a unique way. Often we accumulate inefficient habits.
  • We are learning to sense and reduce superfluous efforts so we can rely more on the ancient wisdom of the lower parts of our nervous system in sitting, standing, and transitioning between the two. When we’re well-organized and our center of gravity is over our base of support, then the reflex to straighten our legs (from the lower levels of our nervous system) takes over, simply and efficiently.
  • But if we have poor posture, if we’re resisting gravity with our muscles instead of our bones, the natural reflex to simply unfold ourselves into standing is muted. This is true whether we’ve accumulated unnoticed habits of excess effort, or we’re trying hard with voluntary muscles. (So don’t try hard in this lesson!)
  • “Anything that tends to lessen the sensitivity of the power of discrimination will slow down response to stimuli.” In other words, if we can’t sense the availability of the standing reflex when it is stimulated, we’ll override it with volition or habit, both of which are less efficient.
  • Whenever we sense fewer details, we only make corrections when the need is “more urgent and requires more muscular effort.” We don’t notice slight changes. Our movements become coarser. We try harder, and override the most natural way of moving in all sorts of activities.
  • So our goal in this lesson is to reduce superfluous effort and thus increase our sensitivity.
  • How did our movements become coarse? What diminishes our sensitivity? Physical or emotional pain is “one of the original causes.” “Pain that undermines confidence in the body and self is the main cause of deviations from the ideal posture. Pain of this kind reduces the individual’s value in his own eyes.”
  • In my words, pain shrinks our self-image, diminishing the range of our thoughts, feelings, movements, and sensitivity to stimuli. In this state “nervous tension rises,” reducing sensitivity even more, so we don’t notice even large deviations from ideal positions, and we must do more and more postural work with muscles. In this way “Control may become so much distorted that while we think we are doing nothing we are in fact straining muscles needlessly.”

This lesson is #1 of 12 in Moshe Feldenkrais’s 1972 book Awareness Through Movement. The Feldenkrais Project has a collection of lessons from this source.

It also appears as the final lesson in our Grounding for Liftoff course.

It was recorded during our Patrons Quarterly video call of August, 2023, but we highly recommend studying from the audio version above since it’s been edited for better clarity, flow, and sound quality.

Members and Patrons. Learn more or login:

While taught in my own words, this lesson comes directly from Moshe Feldenkrais’s 1972 book Awareness Through Movement. Logged in donors will see more information on sources I used and changes I made here:

Members and Patrons. Learn more or login:

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2 Comments

  1. Nick Strauss-Klein on September 15, 2023 at 11:53 am

    A while back, as I was considering which ATM book lesson to record next, I received this email from a listener about this lesson, as it appears in Feldenkrais’s book.

    I find it inspiring – maybe you will too! I’m sharing it with Ann’s permission:

    I am overwhelmed by the logic and simplicity of what [Moshe Feldenkrais] is saying. Many years ago I did a degree in maths mainly because I found it easy and interesting and I enjoyed finding the simplest and most elegant solutions.

    In a similar way I was drawn to Feldenkrais with its emphasis on looking for the most effortless ways of moving. I realise you could in a way apply this to many pursuits, like for you playing the piano.

    When I was 60 I suddenly experienced a severe attack of sciatica and eventually with the help of an excellent yoga teacher I completely recovered and trained as a yoga teacher.

    When I read lesson #1 and understood about the autonomic anti-gravity muscles I had hitherto been unaware of, suddenly things began to make sense. It was an epiphany! I now feel very embarrassed to admit that for many years I was convinced that you could stand in the gravity line with no apparent muscular effort. All the questions about, for example, why it was more difficult to go down in a forward bend than up were answered. Also the explanation of why if I did forward bends and back bends in quick succession the forward bends became easier.

    I realised that if I went into a squat by first flexing at the hips the movement up and down was almost effortless. In yoga I had been firmly instructed to always start from the neck and work my way down the spine. If I had just looked around me and observed how every small child behaves I could have saved a lot of bother.

    There were many other ideas in the lesson like the transition from sitting to standing and that the desire to reach a goal interfering with the process. I have never found any other writer who can pack so many ideas in a paragraph.

    Unfortunately at 84 I feel I am to old to do a Feldenkrais training but thanks to you I can study as I wish.

    Best wishes,

    Ann

  2. Gertrude Schmidt on September 18, 2023 at 5:44 am

    I’ve just experienced this special ‘Feldenkrais moment’ – finding a wonderful sensation out of the tiniest movement.
    It’s hot and humid outside and I’m standing at my window looking at a group of beautiful trees, letting thoughts come and go while swinging gently back and forth. And there is your question that caught my attention when I did ‘What is Good Posture’ yesterday:
    ‘Do your shoulders change as you move front and back, the collarbones ……. your ribs?’
    So I listen closely to these parts of my body and feel the sensation of my bones reorganizing themselves nicely, the same with my right wrist, my thighs, my lower legs and the soft gliding in my ankles.
    Afterwards I’m perfectly balanced and I love the feeling of my toes touching the ground.

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