When you stand with your normal posture do you perceive yourself as standing up straight, slumping slightly forward or slumping backwards?
Perception is an interesting thing. Over the years of teaching walking, yoga and posture I came to realize that people are rarely standing up the way they think. More simply put— people who think they are standing up straight rarely are.
Another interesting piece of the perception puzzle is the way we perceive ourselves incorrectly. When someone stands before me in a workshop or private session, the first question I always ask is, “Standing as you are, are your shoulders forward or behind your hips?”
Almost everyone answers that their shoulders are rounded slightly forward even though they are usually leaning backwards slightly pulling the shoulders behind the hips. In workshops I am always amazed that even the fourth or fifth person that comes up to have their posture looked at is still answering that their shoulders are forward even though they have empirically seen everyone’s shoulders are back.
The key to understanding what is going on here is the concept of slumping. Slumping seems like something that happens in the forward plane. When you think of slumping it is likely that the image is of forward rounding.
This is reasonable and in some measure it is what is happening. But the way it actually works is that we are slumping, or rounding, our shoulders forward to compensate against the backwards lean of the spine and trunk.
This all happens because of the tendency of the legs to lean forward of the hips rather than sitting directly underneath them. The forward movement of the legs pulls the upper body backwards into what I refer as the parentheses posture.
We tend to stand like the back end of a parenthetical. I love this image but I think that most people don’t get a clear sense of what I mean.
Working to change our perception is where the magic happens. When I ask someone to stand up straight, they are leaning backwards when they think they are straight. Then when I put them straight they think they are leaning forward.
I believe that many years later I can accurately perceive the nature of my posture when I stand, walk and exercise but it was a very long learning curve that brought to where I am now.