Posture - Muscles, Assessment & The Body’s Base-Line for Alignment.

In­tro­duc­tion.

Pos­ture = Po­si­tion­ing of body.

I’ve always been told a good pos­ture is de­sir­able—but what is a good pos­ture?

A go-ogle search re­turns lots of re­sults (and side-view illus­tra­tions) but no clear win­ner in the defi­ni­tion de­part­ment.

Stand­ing up tall. No slouch­ing when sit­ting.
Po­si­tion­ing of the head and joints …
Cor­rect cur­va­ture of a neu­tral spine …
Align­ment of var­i­ous parts of the body …

Tra­di­tional meth­ods of as­sess­ing pos­ture in­clude vi­sual in­spec­tion (+/​- plumb-lines and grids) and the pal­pa­tion of anatom­i­cal land­marks, usu­ally with a sta­tion­ary sub­ject. Newer tech­niques also em­ploy ra­dio­g­ra­phy and pho­tog­ra­phy, but all fo­cus on the po­si­tion­ing of bones and joints (es­pe­cially the spine) and rely on as­sess­ment from an ex­ter­nal ex­am­iner.

But what po­si­tions our spine and joints? What cre­ates our pos­ture?

Mus­cles are re­spon­si­ble for the rel­a­tive po­si­tion­ing of our bones.

Mus­cles cre­ate our pos­ture.

Pos­ture can be:

  • Pas­sive:

    • The de­fault set­ting.

    • The po­si­tion of your body when you are not think­ing about it.

    • The main­te­nance of a ‘func­tional pos­ture’ (see be­low) at the sub­con­scious level.

  • Ac­tive:

    • Con­scious thought about “how you are hold­ing your­self”.

    • Us­ing vol­un­tary mus­cles un­der vol­un­tary con­trol to al­ter your po­si­tion­ing.

Good pos­tu­ral habits can be formed by work­ing with the right mus­cles for a suffi­cient length of time. i.e. An ac­tive pos­ture be­comes the pas­sive norm when the rele­vant con­nec­tions be­tween mind and mus­cles have been ‘wired in’.

But what mus­cles to fo­cus on? A go-ogle for “pos­ture mus­cles” names a lot of differ­ent mus­cles—too long a list for me to work through here (I’m happy to dis­cuss spe­cific mus­cles in com­ments) but nowhere gets it ‘right’ as far as I can see. Ac­cord­ing to my Base-Line hy­poth­e­sis of hu­man health and move­ment:

The mus­cles to fo­cus on for a bet­ter pos­ture are the five main mus­cles of move­ment.

Th­ese mus­cles, when fully util­ised, cre­ate a “good pos­ture” what­ever po­si­tion the body is in, for what­ever it is do­ing.

The Base-Line mus­cles (pelvic floor, rec­tus ab­do­mi­nis) are the pri­mary mus­cles to fo­cus on. The core sup­port from where the rest of the body ex­tends.

Prop­erly util­is­ing the main mus­cles of move­ment brings an un­der­stand­ing of what a good pos­ture feels like. When the body is dy­nam­i­cally bal­anced and al­igned with a full range of nat­u­ral move­ment. Easy, com­fortable, re­laxed, strong.

Try it. Feel for your­self.

Self-Assess­ment of Pos­ture.

The body pro­vides more sen­sory feed­back about its po­si­tion­ing than can ever be sup­plied by ex­ter­nal sources. Be­com­ing aware of this sen­sory feed­back is the ba­sis of con­scious pro­pri­o­cep­tion (your sense of po­si­tion, mo­tion and bal­ance) and con­nect­ing with your ‘Base-Line’ de­vel­ops this con­nec­tion be­tween body and mind, bring­ing the benefits of:

  • in­creased aware­ness your body’s po­si­tion­ing.

  • fa­cil­i­tat­ing self-as­sess­ment of pos­ture.

  • in­stinc­tively sens­ing how to move to make im­prove­ments in po­si­tion­ing.

  • feel­ing for bal­ance in the 5 main mus­cles and work­ing to­wards full range nat­u­ral move­ment.

Micro-ad­just­ments in po­si­tion­ing can have wide effects through­out the body (ev­ery­thing’s con­nected) which can be felt when the body-mind con­nec­tion is strong.

Body Align­ment & Midline Anatomy.

Body al­ign­ment comes when our midline anatomy can be cor­rectly ar­ranged to cre­ate the me­dian plane.

Lin­ear midline struc­tures:

linea alba. (be­tween the rec­tus ab­do­mi­nis mus­cles)

nuchal/​supraspinous lig­a­ments (be­tween the trapez­ius mus­cles)


A good pos­ture—when the main mus­cles of move­ment sup­port the body and our midline anatomy can be al­igned on the me­dian plane.

We can stand up­right with ease, no strain on the spine. Move­ment is easy and un­re­stricted.

Ly­ing in bed try­ing to ‘al­ign my spine, hips and shoulders’ in an at­tempt to ease the pain but I had no in­ner refer­ence to guide me—un­til I found my Base-Line.

Core Mus­cles.

“Use your core” is oft-re­peated ad­vice—but what does it re­ally mean?

“Core mus­cles” has many defi­ni­tions and it would not be helpful to add to this over-used term—but think of your Base-Line as your core pillar of strength.


Dy­namic Pos­ture—Move­ment.

Pos­ture isn’t static. We are con­stantly on the move.

  • Ex­plore move­ment ex­tend­ing out from your Base-Line.

  • Feel where the main mus­cles of move­ment are in re­la­tion to each other.

  • Sense where your nat­u­ral range of move­ment should take, you guided by your sense of pro­pri­o­cep­tion.

  • Work to­wards bal­anc­ing and al­ign­ing your body for the ideal pos­ture (see be­low)


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Defi­ni­tions for Base-Line Hy­poth­e­sis:

Ideal Pos­ture.

In an ideal pos­ture stresses are dis­tributed and dis­si­pated in the best/​safest/​most effi­cient pos­si­ble man­ner for the ac­tivity be­ing un­der­taken, per­mit­ting dy­namic sta­bil­ity through a full range of nat­u­ral move­ment.

An ideal pos­ture pro­vides the max­i­mum ca­pac­ity to deal with ex­ter­nal stresses—the body is as strong as it can be.

There are many dis­ci­plines that ap­pear to rep­re­sent ideal pos­tures, demon­stra­tions of the body’s ca­pa­bil­ities when it is func­tion­ing at op­ti­mal. (CaveatI can name a few, but have lit­tle for­mal knowl­edge and no ex­pe­rience in most.)

For ex­am­ple:

  • The asanas of yoga—snap­shots of the body with a full range of nat­u­ral move­ment. Named poses (see be­low) that can be perfected when the body is truly bal­anced.

  • Pilates, tai chi and other in­ter­nal mar­tial arts, ballet—demon­strat­ing the grace and free­dom of move­ment pos­si­ble with dy­namic al­ign­ment.


An ideal pos­ture is not pos­si­ble if there is:

A Func­tional Pos­ture.

A ‘func­tional pos­ture’ is what the brain/​body uses day-to-day when an ideal pos­ture can­not be achieved. Sub­con­scious ad­just­ments are made through­out the body—twists, kinks, tilts and com­pres­sions—as the brain sees fit to keep us go­ing—the de­vel­op­ment of a “bad pos­ture”.

A func­tional pos­ture at its most ba­sic:

  • Keeps our eyes level (main­tain­ing hori­zon­tal equil­ibrium in vi­sual in­put).

  • Keeps us fac­ing/​mov­ing for­ward.

  • Puts the body in a po­si­tion to do the task at hand.

  • Ad­justs body po­si­tion to bear ex­ter­nal stresses as they are ap­plied.

Mimic mus­cles’ are used to at­tempt to com­pen­sate for mi­susage in the main mus­cles but the body is im­bal­anced. myal­gia of im­bal­ance.

An­ti­ci­pa­tory Pos­ture.

When faced with a task, the body/​brain pre­pares by ac­ti­vat­ing mus­cles into an ‘an­ti­ci­pa­tory pos­ture’ - brac­ing your­self.

An an­ti­ci­pa­tory pos­ture should be the ideal pos­ture for the ac­tivity—us­ing the main mus­cles of move­ment to their full po­ten­tial, but if that is not achiev­able, the body braces into a func­tional pos­ture with the use of mimic mus­cles.

Be­com­ing aware of an­ti­ci­pa­tory pos­tures and the ac­ti­va­tion of mimic mus­cles al­lows self-cor­rec­tion by fo­cus­ing on en­gag­ing with the main mus­cles of move­ment in­stead, over-writ­ing bad pos­tu­ral habits that have de­vel­oped.

Po­si­tions & Poses.

When talk­ing about the po­si­tion of the body there is a slid­ing scale of pre­cise­ness, from a very gen­er­al­ised de­scrip­tion (which may in­clude some de­tails), to named poses, to a full as­sess­ment, to the con­stantly chang­ing ex­act po­si­tion.

A Gen­er­al­ised Po­si­tion.

A gen­er­al­ised po­si­tion may be a broad cat­e­gori­sa­tion e.g. sit­ting, stand­ing, squat­ting, or more spe­cific e.g. sit­ting on hands, stand­ing on one leg (which leg?), squat­ting with arms ex­tended (ex­tended in what di­rec­tion?).

There is a wide scope for var­i­ance in the same gen­er­al­ised po­si­tion.

A Named Pose.

e.g. down­ward dog, half lo­tus, plank pose ….

Named poses can also be con­sid­ered as gen­er­al­ised since there is a wide range of pos­si­bil­ities to be in what, with­out closer ex­am­i­na­tion, ap­pears to be the same named pose.

Named poses are rep­re­sen­ta­tions of the ideal, some­thing to aim for and achiev­able when the body is func­tion­ing at op­ti­mal.

A Full Assess­ment of Po­si­tion­ing.

A full as­sess­ment con­sid­ers the po­si­tion­ing of all parts of the body from core to ex­trem­ities, look­ing at the de­tails from head to fingers to toes.

A full as­sess­ment needs a start­ing refer­ence—a Base-Line - from where the rest of the body is po­si­tioned rel­a­tive to.


Ex­act Po­si­tion.

The body is always mov­ing. In­finite pos­si­bil­ities … Never the same po­si­tion twice?

The move­ments of breath­ing, vibra­tions in the car­dio­vas­cu­lar sys­tem, mus­cle ac­tivity etc. means the body’s ex­act po­si­tion changes mo­ment by mo­ment even when try­ing to be still. Stil­l­ness is find­ing the perfect os­cilla­tion for equil­ibrium.

On what scale is ex­act po­si­tion con­sid­ered? Move­ment at the cel­lu­lar level—a twitch of a mus­cle fibre? At the elec­tro-chem­i­cal level—move­ment of molecules and ions? Un­im­por­tant to my hy­poth­e­sis, but some­thing to think about.

Fi­nal Thoughts.

Mus­cles do the work. They cre­ate our pos­ture. Mus­cles can be un­der our con­scious con­trol.

You want to stand up straight? Use your main mus­cles of move­ment.

You want to sit prop­erly? Use your rec­tus ab­do­mi­nis mus­cles to sup­port you.

You want to know what body al­ign­ment feels like? Work to­wards al­ign­ing the linea alba and nuchal/​supraspinous lig­a­ments.

You want to ‘cen­ter your­self’? Find your Base-Line.