How do you stand?

Seán Carey explains how humans are the only animals that have the potential to stand fully upright – though how many of us actually do that?

Standing male posture

How much do you weigh? Eight, 10, 12 or 14 stone? Whatever your body weight you need good support from your musculoskeletal system to stand without strain. In fact, humans are the only species that can stand in a fully upright stance, with flexible ankles and fully extended knee and hip joints. With our joints stabilised by ligaments, body weight is then efficiently transmitted into the ground through the bones of a double S-shaped spine, pelvis, legs and the platforms of the feet, notably without much need to use the body’s large, powerful muscles, such as the gluteals, thighs and calves. Intriguingly, as anatomists have discovered, this alignment allows a healthy person to stand for hours, swaying slightly, using only seven per cent more energy than while lying on the ground.

But how many of us are capable of such efficiency in quiet standing? Very few, alas. The big problem for most of us is that we never, ever manage to come up to the potential of our full height – that is, the measurable distance between the crown of the head and the soles of the feet. Instead, we tend to droop or collapse, pulling the head down on to the neck, raising or collapsing the shoulders, pulling the lower back in and pushing the pelvis forward, as well as stiffening the muscles that operate the ankle, knee and hip joints. Given this pattern of mal-coordination, it’s hardly surprising that many of us suffer from a variety of musculoskeletal problems – chronic lower back pain, chronic neck pain, shoulder stiffness, achy legs or flat feet – as well as fatigue.

So is it possible to improve the efficiency of how you stand? Yes, although it’s fair to say that this takes more brainwork than physical work. For example, there’s no point trying to get some extra height by tightening the abdominal, gluteal or other muscles to ‘engage your core’ or by ‘tucking your tailbone under’. If you do either of these things you will only create additional tension – yet another ‘different form of badly’ to use philosopher and Alexander Technique enthusiast John Dewey’s pithy phrase – rather than a genuine release of your body’s musculature brought about by Alexander-style thinking (‘ordering’ or ‘directing’) that allows you to achieve your full height.

Seán Carey

For more information read Seán Carey’s Alexander Technique in Everyday Activity: Improve how you sit, stand, walk, work and run

Available through Amazon with free P&P

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