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Posted by Lorraine Josey on 5th Dec 2016
What are we talking about when we say our posture is "not good”, or “It's bad because of all the computer work I do”?
In this situation we are talking about our habitual posture, the position our body adopts when we’re not thinking about posture. This is the posture we’re in most of the time, and because of that, habitual posture obviously has a huge impact on our health.
But there can be different meanings for the word ‘posture’. For example it’s possible to learn how to adopt good posture without actually changing our habitual posture. In this situation, we learn a series of steps that result in us sitting or standing with upright posture. We’ve probably all heard the steps and we know what to do (note: beware of outdated cues such as "shoulders back"- you can learn my steps for adopting good posture here). We can adopt that upright posture, but only when we focus on doing the steps. As soon as our attention is diverted by something else, like what’s on the computer, our new upright posture flies out the window and our body adopts the posture it thinks is normal; if that’s a slouch, that’s what our body does. In this situation we’ve trained our Postural Skill but we haven’t changed our Habitual Posture.
Postural skill- the understanding of how to adopt good posture- is useful. However it is misleading to assume we can change or improve our habitual posture just by learning the correct steps.
Control and delivery of postural skill and habitual posture happen in different parts of the brain. Postural skill is managed by our conscious thinking, whereas habitual posture is managed by an unconscious or automative process.
Changing habitual posture is not as simple as learning a new postural skill. If that were the case, we would all have beautiful, upright posture. To change habitual posture you have to re-program the unconscious posture control mechanisms.
So don’t beat yourself up if you’ve been practising your postural skill but haven’t changed your habitual posture. Just like learning to drive a manual car- you can understand how to change gears, you can go through the steps, but it takes constant, immediate and accurate feedback (via stalling the car) to train your muscles to do the right movements without thinking. This is a form of biofeedback. If you want to learn about how real-time biofeedback can improve habitual posture, click here to have a look at our research.