“I want to get old gracefully. I want to have good posture, I want to be healthy and be a good example to my children.”
Over the summer, I read a book that really moved me called The Art of Grace: On Moving Well Through Life by Sarah L. Kaufman. From the opening chapter, called The Body Electric, Sarah completely grabbed my attention. I immediately knew her book was destined for my cherished list of favorite books ever!
I’ve found that the secret to creating the life of my dreams is taking action when inspiration strikes me. So, when the remainder of her book was just as inspiring as the first chapter, I knew I needed to take action. First I contacted her and we developed a relationship on Twitter. Next, I interviewed her for our popular series, Something Significant, so I could share her inspiring story with you. Then, I featured some of my favorite quotes from her book in this post, Favorite Quotes From My Favorite Books. And finally, I was so enthused by her writing on grace and walking, and grace and posture that I asked her permission to share those sections with our community at Happy Living. Happily, she agreed. Here is Sarah in her own words talking about the benefits of a practice of good posture:
I have a colleague who has pain in his ankles and is convinced that you can’t change the way you walk. That is absolutely untrue. You can improve your stance and your gait at any age and find a supple, graceful posture that sails you through life. This is not difficult. It is not building the pyramids or restoring the economy. Barring a condition that requires expert attention, most of us simply need correct awareness and practice. Good posture has a ripple effect: if you have young children, your posture work will help them, too. Children imitate all kinds of body language. Just as they adopt their parents’ facial expressions, gestures, and loose or tense movement styles, children also copy postural habits.
Posture is a constant process. It is dynamic, not fixed. Work on it, and you can improve it. But toss out any notions of ramrod rigidity. Good posture is comfortable, balanced, and fluid. You want to feel elegant and light. Here is a brief tutorial. Stand with your back against a wall. Your head, shoulder blades, and rear end should be touching the wall. Now step away and try to retain that position. Take a deep breath and feel your upper body rise up along your spine. Imagine a thread lifting you up from the top of your head. The muscles behind your neck soften. Your shoulders relax, widen outward, and float down a bit. This is a gentle, subtle action. Forcing the shoulders back and down soldier-style strains your neck and makes your head jut forward. Think of the shoulder blades gliding into place while you breathe deeply and inflate your chest a little.
Now think of your midsection and imagine a snug, shaping support around it. I once heard an actress from the Downton Abbey television series talk about the corsets they wear and how those period undergarments force them to stand taller and more upright. That’s the image you want. No Madonna-style bondage cage. More like Spanx. We’re not after rigidity; remember, the goal is movement. You just want a gentle, elastic hug around the center, as you draw your navel toward your spine.
There’s been a lot of focus lately on core strength, and I won’t gainsay the benefits. But six-pack abs have nothing to do with graceful movement. You do need some abdominal support to keep your upper body lifted and weightless. When you draw in those muscles, also think of lifting in the legs: imagine rising up out of the hipbones (this is subtle; no pelvis tucking allowed), perking up your quadriceps, and lifting the knees and ankles, so they don’t roll in or out. Center your weight right over your feet. We tend to settle back in our heels, so you will probably need to adjust your weight forward a bit.
Roll your attention back up the body, checking in with all your parts, so they feel buoyed up on little cushions of air. You stand suspended on that air, effortlessly aligned, right up through the top of your head.
A few years ago, I had the sweet pleasure of interviewing Gillian Lynne, the choreographer of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera, two of the longest-running musicals in Broadway history. Before that, she had been a ballerina with the Sadler’s Wells Ballet. Her dedication to movement wasn’t over, even at eighty-two, her age when I met her for coffee. She was slim, leggy, vibrant—a Roman candle of a woman. She left me with two great postural images. One is where to locate the liftedness: she stood and clasped her hands between her legs, using them as a harness around her crotch, and shouted, “Pull up! Pull up! I am not tired!”
And: think, “Nipples firing!”
“Because that’s what I always yell at my actors,” Lynne told me. “The first thing that enters space is this”—she inflated her chest—“and they have to be firing with energy, have to be something that lifts the audience up.”
Good posture will make you look taller, slimmer, more confident and elegant. But the benefits don’t stop there. Proper posture improves your health. It increases blood flow, facilitates breathing, and reduces stress on back muscles, ligaments, and discs. Poor posture doesn’t just look sloppy, it is bad for you. Negative health effects include neck pain and decreased range of motion, lung capacity, and circulation. A study published in the August 2007 issue of the Journal of Neuroscience suggests that strained neck muscles, which can occur with misaligned posture or slumping at a desk, may contribute to higher blood pressure.
So fire those nipples and sally forth with grace. It’s good for you.
I’m so grateful to Sarah for sharing part of her book so I could share with you how a practice of good posture is good for your body, mind and overall health, too.
If you’re interested in learning more about developing a practice of good posture, Sarah recommends The New Rules of Posture: How to Sit, Stand, and Move in the Modern World by Mary Bond.
Follow Sarah like I do…
 Ian J. Edwards, Mark L. Dallas, and Sarah L. Poole, “The Neurochemically Diverse Chbermedius Nucleus of the Medulla as a Source of Excitatory and Inhibitory as a Source of Excitatory and Inhibitory Synaptic Input to the Nucleus Tractus Solitarii,” Journal of Neuroscience, August 1, 2007