The Search for Efficient Posture


Originally published in Progressive Health,
June 2000

By Elizabeth Glaze

Posture is the first thing you notice about a stranger on the street, and posture is the first thing you notice about a person you’re considering dating. Posture is the first thing an employer notices about a prospective employee!

So why is efficiently good posture so hard to find? It is rarely part of any school curriculum, is rarely seen in fashion magazines, is completely sabotaged by most car manufacturers, is not understood by the majority of people in the medical and fitness industry, and is exaggeratedly distorted by every branch of the military.

To complicate matters, not everyone realizes they have inefficient posture. Years ago, as a Personal Trainer, I taught a former nurse in her home. On the phone, she explained that four years earlier she’d tripped on some steps and landed sideways on her jaw. She’d been to Orthopedic Surgeons, Physical Therapists, Chiropractors, Massage Therapists and a TMJ Orthodontist. A Body Worker had helped her the most. She slept with a customized dental mouth-plate. An Occupational Therapist had rearranged her home. She’d changed pillows, chairs, and had her kitchen moved around so she’d rarely have to reach upward. Despite all this, she still had constant neck pain and couldn’t bend forward without feeling dizzy. This was what prevented her from joining group exercise lessons.

Five minutes into our first session, I asked, “Linda, has anyone ever told you that you have an extreme military posture?” She replied, “No, everyone compliments me on my posture,” and described how her father trained her to stand “straight” as a child by asking her to stand against a wall with her shoulders and head pulled back to meet the wall. I explained that her accident had created weak areas, and her customary posture put enormous stress on them.

We began altering her alignment by using Ideokinesis imagery. We also stretched and strengthened various muscle groups. But even I was surprised when, after two weeks, I arrived at her door and she cautiously announced, “My pain is gone!” Before long her dizziness also went away. After two months, she joined a health club and didn’t need private lessons any longer. Motivation was never her problem and her physical problems were under control.

The lesson to be learned from this is: “What seems straight to you, may not really be straight at all!” For example, people with rounded, slumped shoulders frequently stand with their lower body thrust forward. It’s a “Debutant Slouch” posture that models often use when they want to look vamp-like in a slinky dress. Unfortunately, this posture doesn’t look nearly as sexy on a 50 year-old businessman with a slight paunch, stress in the shoulders and lower backache. Add a car seat that tilts him at a 45degree angle and matters deteriorate further. Add whiplash from a collision and you’ve got BIG problems! However, if you ask him to “Stand straight” he’ll invariably pull his shoulders back and lift his chin way up. Since nothing else has changed, he’s actually making things worse!

So what is the ideal posture? For starters, from a side view, efficient posture places the earlobe, shoulder joint, hip joint, knee joint and ankle joint directly in line with each other. This distributes the weight of the head, ribcage, and pelvis evenly throughout the body.

How do you achieve this? Well, the method I use is called “Ideokinesis.” Over 70 years old, Ideokinesis was created by Dr. Lulu Sweigard. She perfected it while teaching at Julliard College. Her intention was to have it taught together with basic anatomy & kinesiology. This has always blended well with my instructional approach as a Personal Trainer.

Sweigard believed that in order to correct posture, which is entirely unconscious and automatic, you have to alter the neuromuscular movement patterns that cause the posture to begin with! This is done with carefully targeted mental imagery. By thinking of the imagery on a regular basis, you gradually replace old, unconscious movement patterns with new, improved ones. As a result, muscles start to voluntarily shorten or lengthen to pull bones into more efficient alignment. However, conscious efforts to improve posture will actually override this effect and backfire!

In my experience, results from Ideokinesis come faster when combined with strengthening and stretching exercises. Improvements also happen sooner if you’re already skilled at mental imagery. But the single most important factor of all is MOTIVATION! Will it work for everyone? There are no guarantees. But if you have neck, shoulder or lower back pain, and you can make it a priority for a while, Ideokinesis may be exactly what you need.

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