This is a greatly expanded version of an exercise that we gave as prerequisite homework for our recent classes. Learning how to fine tune your posture is key to creating posture awareness which is very important in tango and in life. This also ties in nicely with a request for an awareness challenge from a friend in Turkey. Our friend had observed that after a shoulder adjustment, his hips and sacrum would sometimes respond in an unhealthy way. While this is far more than an awareness challenge, it does provide more comprehensive posture exercises to help bring awareness to the possible interactions that may occur as we adjust different aspects of our posture.
This is also one of the primary exercises I did many times a day when I felt my job situation deteriorating last summer. A timer on my computer told me to stand once an hour and this exercise is the minimum of what I did then and every other time I stood up from my desk. Doing this exercise many times a day can do wonders to correct the bad posture caused by stress, sitting too long, or time spent hunched over a desk or computer. Even better, do this exercise combined with a few stretches or even some exercise. Maybe a few sun salutations, some Bulgarian squats, or some push ups. Try it– your body will feel better and so will your mind!
Good posture serves as a reinforcement of a positive self-image.
Fine-tuning your posture requires an awareness of bad posture and the knowledge of how to adjust to create a good healthy posture. These are also the single most important skills needed to begin learning tango. As always, we also believe this is very important in our every day life as well. We believe that a healthy, refined posture helps to create a better awareness of our self and the world around us. Good posture serves as a reinforcement of a positive self-image and a confident, self-possessed approach to everything we do.
We already touched on posture awareness in our last challenge ‘Finding awareness’. This exercise is going to go into more depth to enable you to refine your posture and understand how your body works holistically to create good and bad postures. A big part of learning this is to play and explore with the adjustments as we go along.
Release any tension you find in your body
Stand, first, without doing anything. Feel your body. Now adjust yourself to become more comfortable while continuing to stand up straight. Do not get lazy or slouch. Do get comfortable and try to release any tension you find in your body. You may wish to do all of this challenge while standing sideways in front of a mirror. The changes in posture that we will explore can be very interesting to see as well as feel. Part of finding healthy posture includes also exploring bad postures. We need to refine the ability to feel the difference between good and bad postures.
Adjust your head by putting your ears over your shoulders
Breathing can be very helpful when focusing on posture. Take a deep breath and stretch your spine towards the sky. Let your head float. Imagine your vertebrae pulling apart. Imagine growing taller. Relax while continuing to be tall. Adjust your head by putting your ears over your shoulders. A mirror might be helpful. Pull up on your ears if you need to. Move your head forward and back until it feels balanced.
Relax your shoulders and flatten and lower your shoulder blades
Now, bring your awareness to your back. Is it arched or rounded? Try lowering and flattening your shoulder blades. This will change how your shoulders chest and spine feel– let it happen. You might want to get your tailbone involved. Most likely you will need to let you tailbone sink toward the ground. After you flatten and lower your shoulder blades, relax and let them come back a bit to a place where everything is comfortable. Is this a different place than where you started? How does it feel? Readjust your head.
Imagine your tailbone is being pulled straight down by a string
In your mind’s eye, trace down your spine from your nicely adjusted shoulders to your sacrum, hips and tailbone. How is your spine? Is it curved one way or another? It should have a bit of curve, but not too much. How do your sacrum, hips and tailbone feel? (If you have questions about how to perceive them, we recommend ‘Perceiving the dynamic sacrum’). Are your hips and sacrum tilted forward or backward? Try rotating them forward and backward paying attention to how your spine, shoulders, and head change in reaction to your sacrum’s position. Bring everything back into alignment by rotating and dropping your tailbone so it is pointing straight down into the ground as in the image on the left. Or, imagine your tailbone is being pulled straight down by a string. (You might, also, visit our ‘Aligning our sacrum’ challenge for another way to find this alignment). Find what works for you. Readjust your head and shoulders as before.
How is everything feeling? Is your head balanced on top, are your shoulders relaxed? Are your shoulder blades flat and low on you back in a comfortable way? How is the curve of your spine? Does it feel nicely balanced and stacked on top of your sacrum? Is there any tilt in your hips and sacrum or do they feel like they are sinking straight into the ground? Can you feel the bone structure of your body supporting itself, rather than using your large muscles to keep you upright?
You may have already noticed that every adjustment we have made has changed the curve of your spine in some way, and that adjusting your head or shoulders can cause a change all the way down in your hips and sacrum. It also goes the other way– a change in your sacrum can ripple all the way up to change the way you hold your head. Everything is connected. Poor posture can start anywhere. It could be your head hunched over a computer screen or your hips slouched in a poorly fitting chair. It could also be you putting too much effort into accommodating your partner in the embrace.
Use a nice deep breath to help you reset, stretch, and relax
Now that we have everything nicely stacked up from your sacrum up, its time to move down from your hips. Throughout this section, be sure to revisit your spine, shoulder blades, shoulders, and head. Keep them stacked up and stretched upward while your sacrum, tailbone and legs sink into the floor. Use a nice deep breath to help you reset, stretch, and relax.
Bring your awareness to the connection between your hips and legs. How does it feel? Tilt your hips forward and back as before. Pay attention to how this feels both in your hips and legs and in your lower back. Bring your sacrum back into a more vertical alignment with your tailbone down. Be aware that this does not mean forcing your hips to scoop up– if your lower back curves outward (like you are hunching), allow your hips to return to a more neutral position and begin again with small sacral adjustments. It will take time to develop sensitivity to small movements in this area.
When you get your sacrum adjusted, you may feel a tension in your legs. Let your knees soften and bend slightly. Now how do your hips, tailbone, and lower back feel? Readjust your spine, shoulders, and head as before. This may or may not feel different and better depending upon how your knees were to start. Try locking your knees and see how everything feels, then soften and bend them slightly.
Move your weight
At last, bring your attention to your feet. How is the pressure distributed across the bottom of your foot? Where is your weight? While maintaining the rest of your posture, move your weight forward to the balls of your feet. This will require your knees and ankles to bend slightly. Keep your spine and shoulders over your hips and sacrum and stay nice and vertical. Now move your weight backward to your heels. Move your weight forward and back until you find the center where your weight is evenly distributed between your heels and the balls of your feet. For a more in depth exploration, you may also want to read this challenge, ‘Rediscovering our Feet’.
Make one last scan of your body, checking the position of your sacrum, the curve of your spine, the flatness of your shoulder blades and the balance of your head. Try to relax. This is your finely tuned posture. As you practice this over time, you may notice more about how your body works, or even find that something that feels right today was not ideal. This is a natural evolution which comes as you develop a higher degree of body awareness.
This time, from your feet, up
Relax, shake yourself out, and when you are ready, start over again, this time from your feet up. Start by being connected to the ground and let your breath stretch you upward from your foundation. Become aware of your feet and your weight on the floor. Adjust yourself so that your weight is evenly distributed. Soften your knees and let your tailbone point at the floor. Feel how solid you can be from your hips down to the ground.
Take a nice deep breath, stretching your spine upward. Relax your shoulders and roll them back flattening and lowering your shoulder blades, let them find a neutral, comfortable place. Let the stretch ripple on up through your neck and head bringing your ears into alignment with your shoulders and spine. It may help to visualize a flashlight shining up through your body and out the top of your head to the ceiling. Imagine following the light upward as you adjust your posture.
As a contrast, try everything the other way around from the top down, again. Shake yourself out, and begin at your head and work your way down to your feet.
From the sacrum, out
As a third option, try all of this again, starting at your sacrum and tailbone. Start by adjusting everything from your sacrum down to the floor, and then take a nice deep breath and adjust everything upward from the sacrum. This option may be the easiest and feel the best since adjusting the sacrum will cause your whole body to respond and your only thoughts will be to follow the adjustments outward like ripples in a pond for final adjustment and fine-tuning.
Find what works best for you.
If you find your hip tilting in response to your shoulders, adjusting your shoulders and head last may work best for you. Play with all of these adjustments to find what good and bad postures feel like. In your mind’s eye, see your bones stacked on top of each other. Feel where your bones connect and rest upon each other. Visualize a string pulling your tailbone downward, or light shining upward through you. Imagine your head is floating upward like a balloon on a string. You can also create your own visualizations that work for you in creating a healthy and refined posture.
Find pleasure in fine-tuning your posture.
As always, we encourage you to use what you have learned here to fine-tune your posture on a daily basis in your everyday life. Practicing these ideas will bring more awareness to your posture and how your body works in a holistic way. Good posture is good reinforcement for a healthy self image. Try, also, to find pleasure in fine-tuning your posture. It does take work and diligence, but if you begin to also be aware of its benefits and how good your posture feels, it will make the process of creating healthier patterns enjoyable and even relieving.