Posture - Muscles, Assessment & The Body’s Base-Line for Alignment.
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:
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.
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.
5 main muscles made easy - introduction to the anatomy.
Base-Line Breathing Technique—how to find your Base-Line.
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). Connecting with your ‘Base-Line’ develops this connection between body and mind, bringing the benefits of:
increased awareness your body’s positioning.
self-assessment of posture.
instinctively sensing how to move to improve positioning and work towards full range natural movement.
feeling for the body’s state of balance and alignment.
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.
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.
“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.
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:
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. (Caveat—I can name a few, but have little formal knowledge and no experience in most.)
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:
inadequate usage of the 5 main muscles of movement.
physical restrictions reducing range of movement.
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.
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.
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.
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.