More Thoughts on Posture

Posture is the upright organisation of the body in gravity. It is how we hold ourselves when we are not actively thinking about it. Therefore posture is a subconscious process. Hence why telling someone to ‘Stand up straight!’ is an exercise in futility.

Working in the realm of Hanna Somatic Education, we look for signs of the Three Reflexes in clients’ posture. Green Light Reflex (Spinal Extension), Red Light Reflex (Spinal Flexion) and Trauma Reflex (Lateral Spinal Flexion/Extension, Spinal Rotation). These Reflexes are brain events, that is to say they are automatic motor responses originating in the brain, affecting skeletal musculature, instructing that musculature to contract/tighten into an observable pattern.

Posture indicates what the Nervous System is doing at the involuntary/subconscious level. When we assess posture we are assessing subconscious brain activity. Posture is a finger pointing to the moon (or brain in this case!).

“It’s like a finger pointing a way to the moon, don’t concentrate on the finger or you will miss all that heavenly glory” Bruce Lee, Enter the Dragon

For example, consider a very stooped posture, with rounded shoulders and head forward, flat lower back and pelvis tucked under. This would be indicative of Red Light Reflex (Spinal flexion). I do not think the person has ‘bad’ posture or that they need to strengthen their muscles of extension. I merely note that their nervous system at the subconscious level, is drawing them into the pattern of flexion. If this is the most prominent pattern of contraction of their posture or process, it gives me a starting point from which to work.

Once we begin to see posture not as a result of biomechanical structure but as a result of continuous subconscious brain output, we can change our approach. The focus shifts upstream to the brain, not down stream to the muscles and/or bones. Now the goal will be to change subconscious nervous system output. New problem, new solution.

So how do we change this continuous subconscious brain output? The answer is surprisingly simple. The client must voluntarily go into the subconscious pattern of contraction. Make the involuntary, voluntary. Make the unconscious, conscious.

By choosing to contract into the pattern of tension deliberately the client regains voluntary control of all the musculature involved.  Patterns of muscular contraction are primary, as this is how the brain reflexes are expressed. Groups of muscles, contracting into general, observable and consistent full body patterns. These voluntary muscular contractions, into the full body pattern, send new sensory information all the way to the sensorimotor cortex, the movement learning part of the brain. Once the client has reestablished voluntary control of the musculature involved in the pattern, they can sense it, ‘feel’ it contracting, they now have three options available to them;

1. Increase the level of contraction in the musculature, going further into the pattern
2. Maintain the level of contraction in the musculature, holding the pattern
3. Reduce the level of contraction in the musculature, relaxing out of the pattern

In this instance, the best choice is to select option 3, to reduce the level of contraction and relax back to rest. This act of voluntary contraction, followed by slow voluntary relaxation and then a moment of complete rest,  is called a pandiculation. You can find a detailed description of pandiculation here.

By pandiculating several times, the client can quickly learn to become proficient at contracting AND relaxing these muscles that unconsciously have drawn them into a full body pattern of contraction (flexion in this example). This act of pandiculating changes nervous system output at the brain level, reducing motor output to the muscles involved in the pattern. When the nervous system activity changes, the muscles involved in the pattern relax and the posture follows along.

The goal is not to change the posture, the goal is to change the habitual/unconscious motor output of the nervous system. The posture shifts or changes as a result of reducing unnecessary nervous system motor output. Postural changes are a by product of practicing Somatics rather than a goal.

You can now learn Somatics with me from the comfort of your own home. Check out my online learning options here. Or you can visit the Learn Somatics YouTube Channel to start learning right now.

As always thanks for reading.

3 thoughts on “More Thoughts on Posture”

  1. Hi Debs, I found this interesting. What do you think? Love, Ma

    On Thu, Feb 23, 2017 at 10:19 AM, The Somatic Movement wrote:

    > cgmd1 posted: “Posture is the upright organisation of the body in gravity. > It is how we hold ourselves when we are not actively thinking about it. > Therefore posture is a subconscious process. Hence why telling someone to > ‘Stand up straight!’ is an exercise in futility. ” >


  2. YES! I’ve been a PT for almost 25 years, and this is one of my pet peeves. I do not use the terms “good” or “bad” for posture, because not only are they poor descriptors, but they are intensely value-driven, judgmental terms that play more into people’s idea of being either productive (good) or lazy (bad); and it’s so easy to debunk the silly myth of being “straight” as having “correct” posture: as soon as you go out of “straight”, is it no longer “correct”? Obviously that makes no sense, since that would mean you never moved. So then, then how much out of “straight” can one go before posture is no longer “correct”? A millimeter? A centimeter? What’s the cut off? Clearly, this is also an absurd exercise, since you can’t even define the limits (most people would probably just say that, identifying what is “bad posture”, like the US Supreme Court’s stance on pornography, they know it when they see it). So the ortholinear concept isn’t really valid intrinsically.

    For myself, I have always seen posture as a dynamic response of the organism to living vertically in gravity. Meaning that sometimes it serves to sit more vertically aligned (e.g. when typing a t computer), and other times to “schlump” (like on the couch at the end of the day). The point is not to conform to some neurotic, abstract ideal, but rather to “live” in one’s body with a degree of consciousness that allows one to feel what is going on and to adjust / adapt accordingly. So if one is reflexively biased into chronic flexion, then the goal is to figure out why, and start to work on a person’s ability to live there when they chose to, and not live there when they chose not to (this “closing” can be conscious or somewhat “sub” conscious). The other piece to consider is that if they have some sort of somatic dysfunction / restrictions that need to be treated out specifically via a manual therapy approach, meaning that there may be some things that even with increased awareness, movement therapy, etc that they just can’t work out themselves (which I think is the exception, rather than the norm, but also a bit of MT can help ‘jump start” the awareness process sometimes more efficiently than if the client does it on their own – it just depends…).

    Anyway, great article. Thanks 🙂


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