When I decided to become a massage therapist, I envisioned that, learning about good posture and all sorts of things about keeping the body healthy, I would simply stop slouching. In the end of course, even with my new knowledge, I did not miraculously cease falling into my own habitual positional patterns. But all of us, not just enlightened massage therapists, know that slouching is bad. So why do we persist in this behavior?
Well, why do we do anything that is “bad” for us? There are so many reasons, no need to list them out. What is important is that we recognize for ourselves why and that the why matches what we want. Exploring the realm of slouching versus being held up by the String, bending from my back or squatting, having my weight on one leg versus keeping equally balanced on both feet…I became more aware of a value I didn’t know I had. I value slouching.
I value being able to do anything I want with my body, whether it’s a posture that isn’t nicely aligned, or playing a sport that uses repetitive motion, or sleeping on my side without bolstering myself with pillows. Our bodies evolved to carry us through a tough world where we often need to be in positions that aren’t necessarily good for us and do a lot of repetitive tasks that create muscle imbalances. We evolved to survive traumatic events like injuries that have lasting impacts on our bodies. So even though we didn’t evolve to sit at computers eight hours a day, I think people’s bodies should be able to rough it and not live in constant balance, propped up on ergonomic chairs, bolstered into appropriate sleeping positions, on the go in scientifically structured shoes.
The problem is our body’s wonderfully helpful ability to adapt. When we have a task we need to do a lot, like swing an axe or type with just one thumb, the appropriate muscles get stronger and we can do it longer and more easily. But whenever the body adapts, it creates imbalances—the opposite muscles that aren’t used for swinging the axe or typing with the thumb get used less and become weaker than their counterparts. Therefore the really healthy thing to do is vary your movements as much as possible and sit/stand/lay in a way that keeps muscles as balanced as possible. I realized that if I wanted to slouch, I need to make it more like dessert than the main course.
So now I try to think of slouching like eating chocolate. It’s okay to enjoy it once in a while, but if you eat it all the time, you will not have a happy body. One reason I also like to equate it to chocolate is that I don’t eat chocolate thoughtlessly. I savor it. Similarly, one should savor slouching, or at least don’t let it be a thoughtless act. Know why you are slouching, and then ask, “Do I really want to slouch?”
- It’s really cold and you are hunched over in an attempt to keep warm. Now you know why, so ask: would I rather put on an extra layer or keep slouching? If you don’t have an extra layer, then maybe you do want to slouch.
- You are miserable and depressed and you find yourself expressing these feelings by slouching. Ask: Can I express my misery a different way, or do I want to just continue slouching?
- You are driving and end up slouching as you crane your head to keep an eye on all the cars around you. Ask: Do I want to just keep slouching since I’m so intent on not crashing into other cars, or is this an instance where I can let my shoulders drop and still be alert enough to not crash?
That’s my thought process anyway. More and more frequently I answer, “No,” realizing that slouching isn’t needed after all. Sometimes I say, “Yes, I do want to keep slouching,” and then I slouch with purpose.
I try to apply this mindset to as many repetitive postures and habitual motions as I can identify in myself. For example,
-putting my body weight on one leg instead of both
-crossing my legs
-sleeping on my side, belly, or back
-bending from my back instead of squatting
-always using a certain arm to carry,lift, push, or pull something
-always putting a certain leg first
When you think about it, almost every movement is part of a habitual pattern our bodies have developed. It can be overwhelming to try to be aware of your posture all the time, so I just try to focus on one or two aspects at once. Our bodies’ habits develop over a long time, so it will take a long time to un-develop them, too.