If we didn’t have structure, we’d be a puddle on the floor.

I wish there was a different word for posture. When I say that I’m a posture therapist, most people react by artificially retracting their shoulders and attempting to stand up straight like a soldier standing at attention. Posture is far more complex, intricate, and life-changing than simply a momentary, forced, stiff, shoulder-and-head-back-stance.

If we didn’t have a structure, we’d be a puddle on the floor. All of our organs would be lying flat in a blob and we wouldn’t be able to breathe. Graphic enough? The bones that give us structure, and the muscles that hold them in place, allow us to not only breathe and have our organs function normally, but these muscles and bones enable us to run, jump, sit, climb, crawl, skip, bend, lift, carry, twist, and climb (things we do very little of these days).

Motion is a basic necessity of health and longevity, and we humans are have an incredible capacity to move well.  Just watch a video of a dancer, olympic weightlifter, or any athlete and enjoy the raw beauty of what the human body is capable of. What’s striking is that these amazing fetes of human movement all start with hundreds of tiny neurons firing to contracting and releasing muscles in perfect sequence. Most spectacular, however, is that unlike cats and dogs, that have four feet to support them, we humans deal with a tiny base-of-support of only two feet, and have to balance a 5–7 foot tall body stacked vertically. We should be grateful for our bi-pedal structure, that enabled us to advance above all other species. But this also means the alignment or structure of our body is critical to maintain.

Engineers have worked for decades trying to create a human-like robot, and while we’ve successfully made robots that can communicate and think like a human, the ultimate challenge has been trying to get a robot to simply walk naturally like a human. We take it for granted how complex walking is, let alone the many other movements that I mentioned previously.

This is the complexity that I’m talking about, when I say I’m a posture therapist. And posture relates not just to the head and shoulders, what most think of when they “try” to have good posture, but it relates to the rest of their body.

What does good posture look like? The ankles, knees, hips, shoulders, and head should all be balanced and symmetrically, stacked vertically in standing position from both the front and side views. I also assess the arches in the foot, the curves in the back and neck, any possible beer belly posturing, or rib flaring. I also have the patient try different tests to see if the horizontal and vertical stacked lines go out of alignment when put into different positions with various new demands.

There’s a principle in 19th century architecture and industrial design that form follows function, meaning the shape or structure of an object, like a building, should be intimately married to its intended purpose or function. So when I say I’m a posture therapist, I’m really saying that I’m a therapist of human movement because form (aka posture) follows function. It also means that good posture should be our natural positioning, and that trying to force it is only causing strain. Imagine trying to push the leaning Tower of Pisa to be straight. Luckily, the body is not made of stone, and we can re-learn how to naturally stand and moved in a stacked position.

What happens when we are out of alignment? When any of these joints are not aligned as they were intended to by our intelligent design, movement is impaired. Range-of-motion becomes limited, load bearing joints experience added wear and tear, and muscles responsible for certain movements turn off, forcing other muscles with different purposes to compensate and take over as a way to “get by” in the short term. Fortunately, our body has developed an amazing alert system to let us know about this dysfunction occurring in our body, and that alert system is called pain (yes pain, the four letter word).

While this alert system pain is often the thing that brings clients to me, it’s not always the reason client refer their family and friends to me. While pain subsides quickly when posture is corrected, our clients start to realize the other benefits of good posture. They are able to breathe easier, allowing more oxygen in the body and more energy. Other systems of the body, like digestion, seem to work better also. It becomes easier to concentrate. Running, which they used to avoid, feels like freedom. Their confidence shines through them, because they are standing taller and feel stronger. And of course, when they visit their parents, their mother compliments their posture when sitting at the dinner table.