8 Common Posture Myths Debunked

We've all heard the age-old adages from parents, teachers, and wellness gurus alike: "Sit up straight!" "Don't slouch!" "Stand tall!". In the Alexander Technique we've heard it all. But how much truth is there behind these seemingly timeless words of wisdom? As it turns out, not all posture advice is created equal. In fact, some of the most common recommendations may do more harm than good. 


Let's take a look and unravel the myths from the facts.

Myth #1: Sit Up Straight

One of the most pervasive pieces of posture advice is to sit up straight at all times. While it's true that maintaining a neutral spine can help prevent discomfort and strain, rigidly holding oneself in an upright position isn't necessarily the solution. In reality, constantly tensing your muscles to sit perfectly straight can lead to fatigue and tension, ultimately causing more harm than good.


Reality:The key lies in finding a balance between support and relaxation. Instead of forcing yourself into an unnatural position, aim for dynamic sitting. As far as your spine is concerned, sitting and standing are the same thing, so maintain the mobility of your torso. Shift your weight, change your sitting position frequently, and incorporate movement breaks throughout the day. The human body is designed for movement, not stagnation. Remember the old adage, your best posture is your next posture. It's also worth noting that sitting and reclining are not the same thing. Sitting is an activity, reclining is being at rest. And it's perfectly fine to be at rest by using the back support of the chair, as long as you maintain the length of your spine and don't roll your pelvis under so that you're resting on your tail bone (Coccyx). 

Myth #2: Shoulders Back, Chest Out

"Pull your shoulders back and puff out your chest" is another classic posture command we've all heard. While this advice may seem intuitive, it oversimplifies the complexities of posture and can exacerbate existing issues. 


Reality: "Proper" posture isn't about exaggerating certain positions; it's about achieving balance and releasing into support. Instead of forcefully retracting your shoulders, aim to release your chest into width. This will allow the shoulder blades to naturally fall back and down through the weight of the arms.

woman using balloon imagery in an attempt to improve posture.

Myth #3: A Flat Back is Ideal

Contrary to popular belief, a completely flat back is unnatural and can lead to muscle fatigue and tension. Our spines have natural curves that can be as individual as fingerprints.  


The Reality: Aim for a neutral spine when standing and sitting. Avoid exaggerated arching or flattening. You want to coordinate and direct yourself to allow for a lengthening of the spine, but that should never be an imposition. It's more a prevention of contracting along the spine. In addition, because the rib-cage articulates with the spine, any attempt to create a fixed a spinal position will reduce breathing functionality.

Myth #4: Tuck Your Pelvis In

Some posture gurus advocate tucking the pelvis to create a "neutral spine", by which they mean a straighter spine by flattening out the lumbar curve in the lower back. This advice can cause tension and restrict natural movement and contradicts the previous point that the spine has evolved to be curved. 


The Reality: Rather than tucking your pelvis, aim for a balanced pelvis. Imagine your pelvis as a bowl—neither spilling forward nor tilting backward.

Myth #5: Tuck Your Chin In

While tucking the chin in slightly can align the head over the spine, overdoing it can cause neck strain. It's about finding a balance where the head feels naturally supported.


Reality: The head balances in such a way that it naturally rolls forward over the atlanto-occiptal joint i.e. where the skull meets the spine. As with the following myth, the problem is often psychological, leading you to over do it and interfere. What you want to do is to allow this natural balance without interference. In the Alexander Technique the well known direction is to "let the neck be free, to let the head go forward and up", the most important word being "let". 

Myth #6: Imagine a Balloon Attached to the Top of Your Head.

Another very common and well intentioned bit of advice that aims to encourage you to think tall and release up from the head.


Reality: Although there is a possibility of this being helpful advice as a reminder, it generally fails due to psychology. The problem is that you never know how someone will respond to an image, and for this reason the use of imagery is discouraged in the Alexander Technique. Due to habitual behaviour this advice doesn't encourage a release into length, but an active pushing upwards which adds more tension. You also can't maintain the imagery throughout the day. 

Myth #7: Perfect Posture is Achievable for Everyone

The pursuit of perfect posture is often framed as a universal goal attainable through sheer willpower and discipline. However, the reality is far more nuanced.


Reality: Each person's body is unique, influenced by factors such as genetics, lifestyle, and past experiences. While improving posture is certainly beneficial, striving for an unattainable ideal can lead to frustration and self-criticism. Instead of fixating on perfection, focus on progress. Celebrate small victories, listen to your body, and prioritize overall health and well-being over rigid adherence to posture guidelines. It's less about posture, and more about poise, a quality of flow and support in any position. Esteemed Alexander Technique teacher Patrick MacDonald (trained directly by FM Alexander) was born with a congenital forward curvature of the spine and had a permanent forward stoop. This didn't prevent him from learning to achieve great poise.

Myth #8: Standing desks are the ultimate solution

Standing desks have gained popularity as a remedy for prolonged sitting. While they offer benefits such as reducing sitting time, they're not a one-size-fits-all solution.


Reality: Standing desks come with their own set of challenges, including increased pressure on the lower limbs and potential discomfort in the feet, knees, and hips. They also don't change the common behaviour of leaning in towards the screen which generates additional tension on the dorsal (back) side of the body. The key is to alternate between sitting and standing throughout the day, listening to your body's cues, and maintaining a sense of support through the bones up from the ground.


Navigating posture advice can be tricky. Good posture isn't about rigid rules; it's about balance, movement, and support. It's important to listen to your body and seek personalized advice from an Alexander Technique teacher. Remember, what works for one person may not work for another, and the best posture is often the next posture—keep moving! Rather than blindly following generic prescriptions, take the time to understand your body's needs and limitations. Embrace dynamic movement, and prioritize comfort over rigidity. Remember, good posture is about balance, not perfection.

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