In my last post I talked about the "Myth of Aging," as Thomas Hanna called the belief that humans inevitably become decrepit as they age. Here's one of the most common postures that people associate with old age:
This is typically considered "bad posture." Some people say that they've always stood this way.
Thomas Hanna called this the Red Light Reflex. Psychologists know this as the Startle Response. It is a reflexive response to fear, worry, anxiety... and now more than ever, habituating to hours slumped over a computer. If I were to suddenly frighten or surprise you, you would quickly and instantaneously tighten your abdominals, hunch your shoulders, round forward, and pull inward. This occurs in order to protect you from a real or perceived threat. Breathing stops as you wait for the danger to pass. If the belly is tight (in response to fear), it makes it impossible to fully, freely breathe. This affects all aspects of your physiology, from digestion, mood, energy level, the oxygenation of your heart and full coordination of walking.
If you are "collapsed" inward this way, your inner thighs tighten, causing you to pronate and fall inward. You might even experience knee pain. Orthotics might help you in the short term, but the problem lies more in the center of your body and the lack of balance in the inner and outer thigh muscles. But remember, that which is learned can be reversed or avoided altogether.
The trouble is this: this kind of reflexive posture has little to do with old age. Last week I observed a group of teenager girls gathering to chat. I was stunned by the number of them with rounded shoulders, depressed chests and necks jutted forward, just like in the photo above. They couldn't have been older than fifteen or so, but every one of them displayed the "posture of senility."
Aging has its stresses, yet this kind of posture can be avoided if, as mentioned in Wednesday's post, we pay attention to our movement, and bodies and spend time every day lengthening our muscles to remind them to stay long and relaxed.