Critiquing Youtube’s Most Viewed Posture Videos

I went to youtube.com and put in “posture” and found that none of the top videos mentioned Alexander Technique, the best way to develop good posture.

Instead, I found these videos:

Caroline Blackburn, an Olympic athlete, recommends tightening the abdomen and buttocks and relaxing the shoulders.

My critique: Nobody can deliberately tighten any muscle for very long. Your attention will go elsewhere. And while you do tighten certain muscles, you won’t move as smoothly or sit as comfortably or breathe as freely. And as for “relaxing” shoulder muscles or any muscles, this usually leads to collapse.

The tightening instructions are going to feel terrible and will restrict your breathing and movement. Aside from that, they’re great!

Caroline’s advice does not address the root cause of bad posture — reacting to stimuli by tightening and compressing. You could do all of Caroline’s directions, but if you’ve developed the habit of tightening your neck and compressing your torso every time you get in and out of a chair or chop vegetables or answer the phone, these destructive habits won’t change.

In this interview, Alexander teacher Jan Baty advises listeners to try tightening their stomachs. “See what happens to your breathing, what happens to your availability to yourself, what happens to your movement throughout the body.”

Everything tightens up when you try to tighten your stomach. It causes unnecessary strain and stress.

Chiropractor Natalie Cordova advocates pulling the shoulders back and down and the hips should be tucked in.

This is going to narrow the back, feel terrible, and restrict breathing and movement.

From an Alexander perspective, Dr. Cordova’s advice ignores the habits that are causing postural malfunctions. Trying to align the ears above the shoulders and the shoulders above the hips is likely to increase body tension and compression and won’t result in free easy movement.

Telling yourself to pull the shoulders back and to tuck in the abs will have an effect only as long as you think those directions and does not counter the habits that formed the problem in the first place. By contrast, the Alexander method of thinking about your width and your length helps you to let go of unnecessary tension and compression, even when you’re not thinking your directions.

Leland Vall, Alexander Technique teacher, says: “For a wider back, gently point your shoulders away from each other and avoid pulling them back. Pulling your shoulders back narrows the back of your upper torso, restricts arm movement, and also makes breathing more difficult. Instead, think of your shoulders as drifting away from each other in opposite directions.”

Chris Lopez from FitandBusyDad.com gives four exercises that supposedly correct bad posture.

All of his exercises call for squeezing the shoulder blades together. This will constrict the back, constrict breathing, and constrict ease of movement. His neck compresses so much at one point that it disappears.

You can’t get rid of destructive habits of compression by layering exercises of compression on top of them. All you do is add to your unnecessary tightness and tension and strain, increasing your likelihood of injury and decreasing your ease of movement and of breath.

Watching the MassageNerd below makes me wince. Who would want to look like him? His head has collapses on to his spine, reducing his neck. He bends and collapses from the middle of his back. He’s obese and ungainly. I can’t imagine that his touch would feel very good.

Below, Mike D’Angelo of BodyEvolver.com is a disaster. He says: “You can contract and squeeze through these muscles in the middle of the back in order to hold yourself upright. That’s proper posture.”

This is horrible advice. If you constrict your back, you will constrict your movement and your breath and you will feel terrible.

If you want to develop the muscles in your back in harmony with the rest of you, try just sitting cross-legged on the floor in a meditative pose (if you can do this comfortably). Add a cushion if necessary to make things easier.

Another thing you can do is to practice getting in and out of a chair by stopping at any point and just hanging out for a few minutes. There should be no point in getting in or out of a chair where you can’t comfortably hang out for a few minutes. If you can’t do this, you can build up to it. Make sure your neck is free and your torso is lengthening and widening rather than tightening and constricting.

About Luke Ford

I've written five books (see Amazon.com). My work has been followed by the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and 60 Minutes. I teach Alexander Technique in Beverly Hills (Alexander90210.com).
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