Postural Awareness

What is postural awareness?

Our skeleton is designed to hold up our body without spending much energy even with the pull of gravity. If we use poor posture, our muscles have to perform the job of the skeleton. This requires them to burn energy needlessly but more importantly, prevents us from using them in their primary purpose which is to move the body into different positions. When we move, most of us do so inefficiently. This requires greater energy, resulting in excess muscle tension. When this tension stays around for hours or we experience it day after day, we often develop some movement related problem. Our aches and pains restrict us, not only at work but at home, too.

Why would anyone want to become aware of their posture?

To alter our inefficient movement we must make an effort to reprogram our nervous system. We can only begin to do this once we become more conscious of our current "bad" movement patterns and work on changing them to more efficient ones. The goal is to inhibit the accustomed pattern, then accept a new pattern as habit or second nature.

While you are sitting at your workstation throughout the day, ask yourself, "Is my jaw clenched?" "Is my mouth shut?" Your muscles have to work to keep your lower jaw up, touching the upper one. The relaxed jaw position is achieved by saying the word "emma." Try to put your jaw in this position. How does this compare to your closed jaw? Is the feeling very different, maybe even uncomfortable? Do you notice any changes to your face, especially your eyes and expression? Return your jaw to the closed position. Do you feel the tension return?

Would you have noticed your clenched jaw without consciously asking yourself? The goal of this program is to develop your sensitivity to muscular effort so you will detect such tension unconsciously and alter it appropriately. Just as a tree will bend in whichever direction the wind blows it, a minimum amount of muscular effort will move your body in any desired direction with ease.  A slight amount of muscular effort can result in good, upright posture.

What can I expect?

Once you become aware of your movements, you will integrate it into a function whether it be sitting at your desk writing or typing at the keyboard. Oftentimes, after just completing a few exercises you may notice a change or increasing awareness of your posture.

Where do I start?

A few simple exercises can help you develop and improve your body awareness.  The focus is on how to move, not on how much to move, how fast to move or how hard to move.  As each exercise is introduced it is performed repeatedly so your nervous system can start to adapt to the new position. The components of the nervous system that control movement will detect the changes, amplifying and retaining them.  You will develop increased sensitivity to muscular effort that normally has been concealed from your conscious mind.

If you'd like more information about postural awareness, including postural exercises, please contact the Duke Ergonomics Division.