Don’t Judge a Posture By Its Feeling
Sometimes the wrong thing feels right and the right thing feels wrong.
Think of the last time you tried to “fix” your posture. What did you do?
Here is my guess. You were engrossed in something external e.g. phone, computer, lifting weights, checking out hot girls at the beach etc and you suddenly noticed you were slouching or maybe you felt some discomfort or pain somewhere. It doesn’t matter about the details, what matters is what you did next.
You moved into a new position, twisting and turning, sensing and feeling where the body parts are and where you want to move them, and then you just pulled yourself up in some way according to a vague idea of “standing up straight with your shoulders back” then you maybe fidgeted around a bit until you got the feeling “yes, this is it, this feels better, this is better posture, if I can just keep it like this…”
And then of course a few minutes or seconds later you go through the whole little drama once more. And on and on all day, and you never seem quite able to “remember to have good posture” and now you’re looking for tips on the internet.
Stop Judging Your Posture By How It Feels
So what did you do here? You did two things that are so intimate and natural and seem so obvious that it’s almost impossible to imagine any other way.
First, you guided your movements by ‘feeling’ them directly, by using the immediate sensations and perceptions you had of (some) parts of your body. So if you wanted to move your shoulders, for example, then you had to start feeling and sensing them move in order to actually move them. You took each concrete sensation at face value and “decided” where to move the parts during the movements themselves. You had no plan in advance of where specific parts should be in relation to one another at the end.
Second, you judged whether the new position is better or not according to how it felt. If it feels better then it must be better. It it feels less wrong and more right then it must be less wrong and more right. If a pot feels hot then it is hot, right? So you maybe tried a few positions (also known as fidgeting) and stopped at the one that that felt best, or at least good enough for now. You might also have decided that this now ‘looks better,” but again this was judged according to your subjective feeling in the moment.
So, you habitually use “feeling” to both guide your movements AND judge the results after. You take your feelings and sensations at face value, use them to make decisions (subconsciously) and automatically believe them to be true and accurate.
What do both phases have in common? They are both entirely subjective. And it is this hidden “subjective habit” is the root of many problems, including posture. A lot of our physical issues are downstream of this deep mental habit. It is so close to us we don’t even notice or think there could be any other way.
You can also see I’m using the word “feeling” in both of its common meanings. The direct physical feeling of the movements themselves AND the associated emotional feelings that appear with them. In practice they are inseparable for you (without training) so I’m deliberately keeping them together. You “feel” your way into a new position and it “feels” good.
You Are Addicted To Your Feelings
“But what if I learn to feel my body more deeply, surely that will fix it?” So your proposed solution to the addiction is… take even more? You just need one last “surge” before you finally pull the troops out?! Sounds like something an addict would say.
Maybe you have also tried an “embodiment” practice, or a Mind-Body technique to help you feel your body more deeply and get back to that Natural Perfect Posture” you assume our ancestors had – “it must be in there somewhere, go deeper!” – but you find that this too just makes you more aware of the unpleasant feelings and sensations you are trying to get rid of.
By the way, if it’s mind and body unity you are after, then where is your “mind” in all of this? All you have done is focus your attention on your immediate sensations and feelings. Where is your reason? Where is speech? You can’t be a fully integrated human if you throw away intellect and language and rely on the mysteries of “embodied cognition” or “holistic” therapies.
The truth is many of the people who do these mind-body techniques and spiritual practices for years end up with even bigger postural problems – while thinking the opposite is true! I know, I was one of them. These practices can be very deceptive when it comes to posture and coordination in general. You can learn to feel better in the short term, receiving a steady supply of new and more pleasant sensations (getting your “fix”) and if you keep doing the practice every day you will experience feelings of progress, being more at ease, more “at one with the universe” and you will just become addicted to these seemingly “higher” feelings instead of the old “lower” feelings. (Again, I’m speaking from experience!)
Feeling more deeply is not the solution… even if you feel better! This seems like a contradiction but it’s not. And when it comes to posture: especially if you feel better in the short term. Focussing your attention on feelings and sensations is not the same as becoming more conscious.
(I know I am harpooning some sacred cows here… but I will write a lot more about this and explain my position in future posts. I’ve had a radical change of mind in the last couple of years.)
I Am Making An Intervention
So now let’s go back to the last time you adjusted your posture. You might have done it again since you started reading this. Examine the decision you just made. You were in one position, it felt wrong or uncomfortable and then you moved to a new position, a new posture. How did you know the new posture is better? What criteria did you base this decision on? It felt better to you, it felt right or correct. How do you know it IS right? By what standard?
Our feelings and sensations are so intimate and immediate and obvious to us that we automatically believe them. But they aren’t always objectively true. Do you know those optical illusions you see online that make you perceive that e.g. some lines are different colours, or longer, but in reality they are all the same? Well similar illusions exist with your sensations, feelings, kinaesthetic awareness etc. Sometimes they correspond to objective reality, sometimes they don’t. But you’ll never know which is which in the moment so we need some other way of judging what we are doing.
The Wrong Thing Feels Right
And here we come to another problem: if you do anything long enough it begins to feel normal, correct, true – even if it is objectively and demonstrably wrong.
You stop reacting to those particular sensations as much, you get used to the new behaviour and it becomes not just normal for you, but right, proper, healthy. If you stop doing it you feel wrong. As wrong as the first time you did the unhealthy behaviour. Very few people enjoy their first cigarette. Eventually not having a cigarette feels wrong and uncomfortable. It’s the same with junk food etc. I don’t know about you but I feel better right after a good splurge…but it doesn’t last. In fact long term the opposite happens. Everyone knows this, but they don’t realise it’s also true with your feeling and sensations related to posture and coordination in general.
In every 1-to-1 lesson with a private pupil I aim to demonstrate that what they subjectively felt is not necessarily what they objectively did (as seen on video after.) It’s amazing how much we can delude ourselves by relying on our feeling and not verifying objectively after the fact.
The wrong thing feels right because it’s familiar. We prefer the known, it’s safer. You’ve sat down and stood up that way thousands of times, never really questioning HOW you did it. So if you were to do the right thing, because it’s new and unfamiliar it will feel wrong (at first.) So if you only move your body into new positions, new postures when it feels right, when it feels correct, then you will never make those little adjustments you need, those new and unfamiliar movements you need – because they will feel wrong in the moment. We habitually cling to our familiar and ‘safe’ feelings and sensations, like little addictions that have tricked us into believing they are for our own good.
So, all this is obvious with bad health habits but it’s the exact same with posture. Your bad posture creeps up on you, little by little a wrong position will feel normal and so you can now get a little bit worse every day, so over a longer timeframe you deteriorate as a whole.
Of course every day you are making little adjustments that FEEL better in the moment, you don’t want to let it get worse, so you keep making new movements, changing position until you are in a posture that…? Feels better of course! But this feeling is based on your past behaviour, your new normal and habitual sense of what must be right. Do you see how this is a feedback loop fuelled by the fact that you continue to judge your posture according to how it feels?
And by the way, the worse your posture becomes the less reliable your “feeling” and sensory appreciation becomes, and therefore the worse your posture becomes…etc.
The Right Thing Feels Wrong
So what is the solution? how do we get out of this swamp of untrustworthy feelings and sensations?
Stop judging your posture according to how it feels.
But to do this you need an objective way to judge your posture. This means having a model of “correct posture” to aim at and a method for (1) avoiding the deep meta-habit of judging your posture according to how it feels and (2) making postural readjustments and new, unfamiliar movements that you can objectively measure and judge afterwards by comparing yourself to the model – no matter it feels wrong or weird or impossible in the moment.
Another serious problem with judging posture by feelings is that you can’t understand and assess a whole system of relations by how it feels. You can only feel maybe three body parts move at the same time, and even this if you investigate your sensations you’ll discover that it’s just one after another really quickly. You can’t feel principles, rules and concepts. You have to understand and apply them consciously, and this means using reason and analysis, not sensations and feelings. And when you do this you will feel wrong, uncertain, confused. I’ll write a lot more about this later.
You have to learn how to feel wrong, how to feel bad, how to feel weird. Stop clinging to familiar feelings and take a step into the unknown.
“But I Want To Feel Better!”
Yes in the long run you will likely feel better! But that comes indirectly, it’s a happy side effect. If you try to do do this directly then you will just make adjustments to make specific parts feel better in the short run, which will only be damaging to your posture and coordination as a whole in the long run. When you begin to judge your posture according to objective standards your attention is pulled out of the immediate rush of feelings and sensations so they affect you less, bother you less, hurt less. You begin to develop a higher level of genuine detachment – which is structural and not a feeling – it’s how you’ve ordered your mind.
Right now you only want to do things that feel good or correct in the moment. But imagine if in a few months you were able to do anything you decided to do – no matter how bad or wrong it felt in the moment – and this new power over yourself, in all domains of life, developed though first learning to detach from unpleasant sensations and control your posture?
A Step Into The Unknown
This new conscious discipline of mind definitely “feels” more satisfying to me. But you have to be prepared to feel “bad” in order to be “good.” Saying that, I do obviously FEEL better physically and emotionally after doing all this work on my posture and coordination. I don’t get back pain or need to lean on chairs or any of that anymore. Is it perfect? No way. But I do have more “springy-ness” and energy and joy.
For this you need to learn an objective way to judge your posture, otherwise you are at the mercy of your unreliable feelings and fear of the new and unfamiliar. This is what I teach in 1-to-1 lessons with my private pupils. If you are new to this then start with the posture consultation and Body Audit. But it’s not a quick fix. We won’t just treat the symptoms to make you feel better in the short run. You will learn to feel wrong in order to be right.