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Posture Alone Does Not a Healthy Body Make

February, 2019

In my experience, there are four important pillars of wellness: healthy diet, exercise/movement, posture, and community. In the general population, posture is the least recognized of these pillars. Gokhale Method aficionados don’t have this blindspot; they understand the importance of healthy posture well. What is sometimes not understood is that you need more than healthy posture to cover your musculoskeletal needs. Healthy posture is a base on which you need to build an active life. Especially in modern contexts, which sometimes allow you to fulfill almost all your duties from behind a computer screen, it takes some reflection on how you can supplement, edit, and weave healthy movement into your life.

I was originally trained in a posture tradition that looked down upon exercise as a juvenile and unnecessary pursuit. I would frequently hear that “sport is for kids” and that I “shouldn’t have time for things like running and swimming.” Though I did not subscribe to the entirety of my teacher’s philosophy, ” I was influenced away from believing that dedicated exercise time is a necessity. In my book, I wrote, “it isn’t that we sit, but how we sit that causes our problems.” Over the past 10 years, in working with students, observing what computer use has wrought in my own life, and keeping up with new data, my beliefs on exercise and sitting have shifted. Given just how little exercise we get, how little variety of movement we have in modern lifestyles, and how compartmentalized to short bouts our exercise is, I now believe it behooves us to introduce movement in our lives in as many ways on as many days as possible.  

Though I continue to believe that sitting is not evil — sitting well is restful, conducive to creative thought and fine-motor work, and prevents varicose veins and atherosclerosis — sitting needs to be done in moderation. Standing well provides a good alternative position, and also needs to be done in moderation. Shifting positions doesn’t have to be done frenetically a la “the best position is the next position,” but changing position does put G-forces on the bones, stimulates circulation, and exercises the muscles. Having a variety of exercise forms pushes your limits in strength, cardio, and flexibility, and helps you resist decline with aging.  

I find myself increasingly focused on how to introduce more movement into my own life as well as in my students’ lives. Here are some of my practices and aspirations for 2019.

  1. Create more standing stations for when I need to use a computer. I don’t have a standing desk, but it has been easy to find the right size containers to mount on the kitchen counter, the dining table, and the desk. I also sometimes work on my Congolese drum, but it’s not as stable as the other options.  


I don’t have a primary workstation or desk in my home office; rather, I adapt wherever I am at the moment to accommodate me.

  1. I’ve begun teaching a dance class again at my center. Doing activities with groups, whether I am the teacher or a student increases the fun and accountability.

  2. Take frequent work breaks to move. My fave is samba. We’ve also assembled some equipment throughout the house to encourage variety in movement breaks  — our coffee table is a trampoline, we have hanging rings and a recently bought TRX suspension trainer hanging near the dining table, and some dumbbells and a kettlebell adorn the fireplace. Sometimes we even have our ping pong table set out in the living room.  


There are many activity reminders around my home office.

  1. Rethink going to the gym regularly.  I used to be averse to gyms but since I began thinking of gyms as modern piazzas, I’ve begun enjoying them. It’s fun to people watch, to be inspired by people who are clearly challenged (the cancer survivors group at the Y I used to go to, for example) pushing themselves very courageously, and to admire the gym rats who do things I can only imagine.

  2. Some static poses are good too. My favorites are chair pose (because it preps you for standing well) and Hero 1 (because it preps you for walking well).


The weather in Palo Alto, California allows for posture breaks outside almost year-round.

  1. I’m re-introducing exercise into my social life. Our potluck party invitations used to include the line “Bring your dancing feet.” Step by step I’m ramping up to have those parties again.

 

What are some ways you weave movement into your workday?

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Comments

I like the electrical desks too! Ms. Gokhale, are those pitcures of you with your computer indicative of how computer users should be holding their necks while working? I have built a set up in which my arms can be at a "natural" position while I look straight on at my monitors and this seems to work, so I am curious to if a chin tuck is supposed to be better while standing.

 

Thanks for the great info!

No, chin tuck is not better, but layered on an elongated neck is fine when a monitor is somewhat low. In the second pic, the monitor is higher and i don't tuck my chin. That's a better default when you have a choice. 

Humans are well adapted to look up, down, and to the side - first use your eyes, then your head pivoting on the neck, then the neck bending where it meets the thoracic spine, and then the hips. 

Great, useful information, as always -- thank you! Lots of pictures, too -- also very helpful.

 

I've been using a standing desk for nearly two years and I'm pleased with how it's helped to strengthen my back, legs and glutes (or at least keep them from atrophying!). I use your Gokhale head weight very comfortably in this stance too and it helps remind me to keep my neck lengthened, which feels great. I have a very comfortable head angle vis-a-vis my computer screen so I think I've got the right screen height for me. Occasionally, after many hours of computer work, my trackpad (right) hand will sometimes feel a bit sore at the base of my palm (where it rests on the desk surface) -- so I'm thinking that either I need to try out an upward adjustment to the height of my desktop (which is a cardboard box), or maybe just take more frequent breaks to exercise my arms and shoulders.

 

As always, thanks for the great information and life-changing work you make available to us all! Best thing ever.

Sounds to me like you're going to figure this out! Thanks for sharing. 

 

Nice article. Thanks for it.

Please correct the title though.

Cheers.

I'm taking some poetic license here!

I like to exercise and it's been a part of my daily life for years: swmming, water aerobics, excercise videos, etc.  I need variety.  And, I've been trying to add moments of exercise throughout my day.  For example, in the morning while getting my breakfast ready, I'll do 20 "push-ups" against my kitchen counter; while brushing my teeth I stand on each leg while doing balancing exercises; just before stepping into the shower I reach down to the floor in front of me (bending from the hips) 10 times.  I have a 15-minute routine using light weights that I do while watching TV in the evening, every few days.  You get the picture.  It's surprising how much exercise you can incorporate in your daily routine quite easily, without it becoming a chore.  Thanks for your tips, Esther! 

Additionally, I find that this approach keeps me sharper as well. I used to think of this as contrived, but we live in a pretty contrived world to begin with, so I've come to think we need some contrived things to counter!

Very enjoyable reading and I will try to move more during my office days from now on. Just read this Guardian article posted by Kelly, my favourite food blogger based in Edinburgh, which has a very similar message:

https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2019/feb/06/exercise-health-move-all-day-standing-desk?CMP=fb_gu

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