If you search for “improve your posture” and look at the top results, you are going to get a lot of images of bracing harnesses promising to get you sorted for under £5. The sad and ironic news about it is that strapping yourself with ropes will not only not help you to improve your posture, but it will actually make it worse. Here is why.
Believe it or not, there is no such thing as an “ideal posture”. All the images of the super-aligned, symmetrical and sporty bodies that our culture feeds us through adverts are only ideas and as such do not exist. The truth is that most of us have one leg longer then the other, and one half of our pelvis is usually lower then the other, which then influences the position of everything that is above – the spine, the shoulders, and the head. The more we realise the ubiquity of the asymmetry in our bodies, the more gentleness and understanding appears in how we treat them.
Let’s be plain about it, to put your shoulders in a set of braces in the desire to improve your posture is like putting a wild bird into a cage – it is an act of violence, and so it creates pain, struggle and disfigurement. Looking at the anatomy of the thorax and the shoulder girdle you will see that the shoulder blade is a gliding structure that slides over the back ribs and is designed to be free. Fix the shoulder girdle with a strap and that freedom is lost. What results is inhibition of movement and expression that over the long run compromises the shoulder joint and can lead to morphological changes such as arthritis, not to mention the impact it will have on your communication. Hence the proverb “If you want to silence an Italian, tie his hands”.
This is not to say that there is no such thing as a misaligned posture, and that this can’t be improved upon. To help the body find its natural and individual alignment is a project that requires kindness, time and commitment and no amount of violent strapping will do. The first step is to understand what your body’s natural and most comfortable position is. You can read about this more in my post about postural alignment. Finding your alignment is best done when accompanied by a practise that helps you to deeply explore your body, such as genuine Yoga, Feldenkrais or Rolfing. Once your body knows its “natural habitat” and is allowed to dwell there, it will reward you with an improved coordination and vitality – and you know what, you will even look better too (even though one of your shoulders may insist on remaining higher then the other – who cares!)
So, the next time you look at yourself in the mirror and lament about your protruding head or winged scapula don’t rush to buy a shoulder brace but ask yourself – do I move with freedom, is there joy in my body, can it dance, laugh, cry and smile? If the answer is a resounding “yes” then all is good, if “no”, then find a true method to help you on the journey to get there.