Everyone would agree that posture is important to good speech, but I never talk about posture with my clients. The word has too much baggage. When people think about posture, it’s usually in terms of standup straight, belly in, chest out, shoulders back, chin up. It doesn’t feel good. It takes a lot of effort and it can’t be sustained. Plus, you end up adding new tension on top of the old tension. Don’t get me wrong, posture is undoubtedly important, but you need to approach it in a way that encourages the right result rather than forces the right result.
I like to start with the image of standing on your bones. Here’s what I mean by that. Notice the t-shirt doesn’t hold itself up. It’s just resting on the hanger and the hanger is resting on the stand. Imagine the stand and the hanger represent your bones and the t-shirt represents your muscles. If your bones are supporting you, then at least the large external muscles can relax over that framework much like a t-shirt resting on a hanger.
Keeping that visual in mind, stand up, close your eyes, and do this body scan with me. If my bones are supporting me, if I am standing on my bones, maybe I can relax the muscles of my lower legs. Maybe my thigh muscles can let go. Perhaps I can unclench my glutes, the muscles of my bottom. If my bones are supporting me, I might be able to relax my belly. Maybe my lower back can soften and lengthen. Maybe my chest can open up or my shoulders can drop. Perhaps I can relax the back of my neck and that area between my shoulder blades. Certainly these larger muscles of the body aren’t required simply for standing, they’re more for movement. As you were scanning through your own body, which of the larger muscles were working harder than they needed to work? Which muscles felt like they could relax a bit, even though you were upright?
Good posture, or alignment as I prefer to call it, doesn’t happen overnight. It’s an ongoing process of negotiating balance. As muscle tension lets go, bones can move back into alignment, and that in turn can release still more tension, allowing other parts to align. As you continue this process over time, you’ll find yourself becoming more aligned and standing with more economy of effort. Instead of holding yourself up with muscles, you’ll enjoy the way your bones can support you and bones don’t work hard.
Good posture probably requires more specific strategies than just standing on your bones, but you need a way to get started. I think the image of standing on your bones is a good place to begin. As your posture improves, you’ll stand tall, move freely, breathe easily and speak confidently. You’ll feel better, sound better and communicate with more impact.
For more information relating to good speech and another exercise that affects posture, click the link below and download the free booklet and video series The Sound of Success.