Updated: Jan 10, 2020
There's a lot of myths about 'good posture'. Poor posture such as slouching and even being like a sergeant major, shoulders back, chest out, can adversely affect different systems of the body by interfering with their natural functioning.
The human body is hugely resilient and can cope with a lot so why would a bit of slouching hurt? I'm sure in small amounts it doesn't but when poor postural habits are used for hours a day, this is when it can noticeably interfere with our health and wellbeing.
Slouching is collapsing the body, creating pressure through the spine and causing problems for the neck holding up the head. Being like a sergeant major can also create pressure through the spine, overarching it the other way and creating tightness in the neck. Both scenarios adversely affect breathing, circulation, the lymphatic system, tensing of the musculoskeletal system and I strongly suspect this effects the endocrine system and digestion too, but that's for another day.
How you sit can change how you feel and conversely how you feel can change how you sit and my clients would testify to that. Sitting well can calm the whole nervous system and creates an easy physical environment for all the systems of the body to work at their best, making us feel at our best.
Our bodies natural design is to be upright. Our musculoskeletal system is kind of sprung loaded to spring up away from gravities pull as that's what it's designed for; to be upright in gravity. The muscles responsible for keeping us upright are the smallest muscles closest to the leg bones, through the pelvis and up the spine. These muscles don't have to work hard when we're upright. They don't tire, we can't feel them, we know they're working without interference (poor posture) when we're upright and we feel at ease.
Honestly good posture feels easy! I call it neutral sitting and it's a great place to start sitting activities such as writing, typing, eating, gym exercises etc. I distinctly remember finding that sweet spot of easy upright sitting in one of my first Alexander Technique sessions and being amazed. I didn't know I could sit up and feel totally relaxed! Thank you to Derek Climson for a great start to my AT experience.
So why does pretty much everyone have problems sitting well, being comfortable at work etc. I think we are taught to sit badly (unknowingly). Here's a bit of history to give context but you can skip this bit and go to the last paragraph if you like. Homo sapiens have spent 96% of it's evolutionary history as hunter gatherers. This is the life our nervous systems were designed for. Awareness of our surroundings was key to our survival, for safety, food and caring for young. The mental state of awareness is what we now call being 'present' i.e. the absence of thinking about the past or future. The last 12,000 years has seen huge shifts in our activities for survival beginning with farming, creating larger static communities and farm work and building. 500 years ago began the industrial revolution with factory work and the growth of cities and locomotion. Now we are in the technological age which began 100 years ago with the advent of electricity. Awareness has been swapped for focus and thinking. Our need for awareness has shifted beyond all recognition and is seen as a panacea to anxiety which we call 'mindfulness'. Much of our time is spent sitting in front of screens or books and this starts younger than ever. In the last 100 years education has gone from being for the elite few to now being for everyone (in europe). So our development as children growing up, preparation for survival in the 21 century, is unrecognisable to that of the hunter gatherer.
What does this mean? It means our nervous system was not designed for the lives we now live and this can cause problems but it doesn't have to. Having awareness of how we use our bodies can make a huge difference but it seems, for some of us at least, we need to learn this rather than take for granted that our body can perform all we need it to with no issues. This is due to how we grow up. The things children do can interfere with their natural easy up right design so they loose it. We need to learn how to get it back again. Going to school is the start of the problem. Preparing our children for 21st century life comes at a cost. Four year olds were once learning about how to survive in their natural environment, developing their awareness of their surroundings and of their community. Today children are taught to focus, sit quietly, listen and develop fine motor skills in crowded classrooms with ill designed seating. Children learn to slump, collapse, tighten up, feel tired, wired and stressed trying to please, achieve and be good, all against their own natural design.
So don't give yourself a hard time about poor posture. Progress has achieved many great things but at a price. We need to revise and refine how we teach our children. Being placid/over focussed/trying too hard/disengaged/fearful of failure/apprehensive etc has a significant effect on our bodies. This is how we can loose our easy up rightness we were born with.
Ideally we would rework the education system so this doesn't happen and in some countries this is happening, sadly not in the UK, but in the mean time, Alexander Technique lessons teach how to recover or rediscover this easy, pain free body we all possess.
You don't need to be an adonis to have good posture. We are all born with it and young children move, sit and stand with great posture and ease without super strong muscles.
This is a link to a great video of a fellow Alexander Technique teacher Adrian Farrell about sitting at a desk.