If you’ve heard of Rolfing then you know that it’s supposed to help you permanently get into better posture.
Rolfers do this through a 10 (and sometimes up to 15) session series of sessions.
The result is something like this:
But what are the factors that go into developing good posture?
This article goes into how Rolfers see posture. It includes anatomical and functional references to the art and science of Rolfing. It also details what you can do to improve your posture and your well-being both within a 10-series and beyond.
What most people think of as good posture
First let’s talk about bad posture. What does it look like?
- Forward-neck syndrome
- Excess or flattened lumbar curve
- Collapsed or raised arches
- Knocking knees
Before I got into Rolfing I made the same mistake everyone else makes to correct these patterns.
And I noticed that as time went on my posture actually kept getting worse.
I wasn’t putting on weight, but my belly was looking softer and bigger.
My shoulders kept creeping forward, and my neck seemed to be attached to my arms.
I was doing the same thing everyone else does when trying to improve their posture:
I was contracting the muscles that oppose my bad posture instead of letting go of the subtle contractile tension in the muscles supporting it.
Essentially, you’re fighting against yourself while trying to beat a system you don’t understand.
Human body mechanics are utterly counter-intuitive. So it’s not your fault that your instinct to pull your shoulders back is wrong.
Let’s explore an example:
If you catch yourself slouching at the computer, chances are you contract the muscles in your back to bring yourself back up to “good posture.”
While this works for a minute, you go back to “bad posture” as soon as you forget to hold yourself up.
Why does bad posture happen?
The brain-map everyone creates of their body is highly inaccurate.
Most people don’t spend much time learning about the actual mechanics of their bodies.
And that’s understandable…
… it’s a complex world in there.
So when we try to correct our own posture, we obviously don’t account for that much complexity. So we use our very simple and inaccurate map of the body to set ourselves straight.
We think, “my shoulders look like they’re forward, so I’ll pull them back.”
Or, “I seem to be slouching, so I’ll straighten my back.”
That’s not how it works.
So here’s what’s happening.
When we try to do good posture, we are triggering a response in our phasic muscles to do something.
The trouble with this…
is that as soon as you stop applying volition, your phasic muscles go right back to where they were before.
They’re not interested in the same long-term project of self-improvement that you are.
They’re interested in turning on to get something done…
…and then turning back off.
The Secret to Good Posture
Good posture is basically a three part formula.
The first part of the formula is to stop using phasic muscles to compensate for bad posture.
So let’s try something together:
Go ahead and let yourself slouch like you normally might at a computer screen. Now, instead of shortening the muscles in your back, try slowly lengthening the muscles in your abs, your chest, and your anterior spine.
Try this a couple times – try to peel your eyes away from the screen and pay attention to your body.
If you tried the experiment – chances are you could only do this to a point before contracting the back muscles again. That’s because there’s a neuromuscular reeducation process that your body needs to go through before it can lengthen muscles without shortening others.
So what do you do?
As soon as you notice that you’re contracting, come back to neutral and start again. If you can only get 10% of the good posture we’re seeking on your first day, that’s fine! It’s better than contracting muscles unnecessarily. And ~ it means you only have 90% left to go. Good job!
This is part of Rolfing re-education.
The second part of the formula is to release actual fascial adhesions throughout the body.
There are a variety of ways to do this. Osteopaths, myofascial release therapists, and Rolfers all address fascial adhesions.
Of the three, I think Rolfing is the most specifically able to target fascia throughout the entire body, due to our 10-series bodywork.
The third and final part of the formula is to activate and initiate motion from the core.
This means using tonic muscles to perform the basic function of keeping you upright.
Tonic muscles are usually already doing this, but in many cases they’re also performing certain phasic functions as well. That means they’re acting like volitional skeleton moving muscles instead of performing their more perfunctory gravitational resistance function.
So you’re done with those first three steps, right?
Pretty much, actually.
There’s a couple things I didn’t mention, like sitting properly.
And functional coordination.
But those are more important for us as Certified Rolfers, so we can help clients figure out their patterns over the course of a 10-series.