The Psychological Impact of Posture

There was a great little article recently in the New York Times, "Your iPhone Is Ruining Your Posture - and Your Mood", that reminded me of a conversation I had with a new client a couple of months ago. Working together, we figured out that her lower back pain was coming from the hunch she held herself in, and a really important question came up while looking at how to come out of that hunch. "What are your thoughts and your approach on the emotional impact of not hunching?"

She knew right away that there were emotional reasons that she hunches. She's a large-breasted woman, and we're taught as women by society to hide our shape. She mentioned some digestive issues, and cramping can lead to hunching. Hunching is protective - it makes us feel less visible, it literally hides our soft spots from physical danger, and it can help us avoid confrontation or being seen as confrontational. On the other hand, being upright is bold - it makes us feel strong, protective of others, confident, and it protects us by making us feel very visible. There are very important reasons that both options exist.

Staying hunched or upright all the time, however, can affect us deeply and negatively. For brief periods of time, each can provide protective emotional support. As the author of the NYT article points out...


Over time, hunching can turn from supportive to problematic, causing back pain, neck pain, sadness, lack of ability to be assertive, and a multitude of other physical and emotional situations. Being upright all the time can turn into a different kind of back pain, cockiness, and an unwillingness to cooperate, among much more.

So, back to the original question - how do you manage the emotional aspect of learning to do something different physically? Here's my answer:

Both parts involve learning. I'm not interested in helping someone find a new definition of upright without helping them recognize the emotional impact of it as well. The same way that, during and after a private lesson or class, your nervous system shifts back and forth between old and new movement patterns, emotions do the same. I'm not a therapist - I am not there to help you analyze those emotional shifts. It's my job to introduce options, and then help you navigate the physical and emotional shifts and provide a safe space in which to get used to them. It's also incredibly important to be kind to yourself and recognize that fully upright or fully hunched are probably not where you always want to be, physically or emotionally, and that is okay. Listening to yourself and your needs is always a good way to go.