Recently, someone said that they saw me walking down State Street, looking “very lord of-the-manor.”
But it did get me to noticing how I, any other similarly vintaged folk, carry ourselves. What I started seeing were certain themes: Older women who look like stiffened ballerinas. And the aging dudes, swaggering down the street like silver backed apes. Everyone seems to be so aware of their posture, so intent on being an older person carrying him or herself in a particular way. I suspect we are all trying our damnedest to not look old and broken down, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing.
Yet, I started wondering if we aren’t missing something with all of this self-conscious posturing. Is Pilates and and all of those “weighted workouts” taking their toll on our individuality? Are we posturing instead of standing easily in our own unique postures?
With such profound questions I need to consult the experts. And when it comes to the body and how it moves, my money is on Ann Brode, a Certified Somatic Therapist and a longtime maven of the Santa Barbara healing community.
I recently asked Ann about these postures I have been noticing. Am I making too much of how one stands?
No, assured Ann. “The way we are in our body posture says a lot about who we are, our personal history and our emotional feelings.”
Yes, but what about the ballerinas and the silver-backs?
“Your observation of men and women of a certain age in our community reflects the influence of the health industry,” which is pervasive.
“Currently, we are between two streams of influence: The fashion industry’s slouchy, sexless, skinny look and the health industry’s athletic, aerobicized look. If you glance around, you will also find examples of posture that is decisively unhealthy… slumped, slouched and physically disengaged, the couch potato look. One posture tries to defy gravity, while the other is succumbing.”
Ann said that both extremes of posture—either the “hypertoned” or the “hypotoned”—are unhealthy.
“Perhaps the ultimate sacrifice in both postures is spontaneity. With the hypertoned, rigid posture, there is often no rest, no variability, no softening to emotional expression. With the hypotoned, collapsed posture, there is no strength, no resiliency, no access to joy. Both of these extremes are an injury waiting to happen and resist an authentic experience of the ebbing and flowing that molds the creative life.”
So it seems that being too toned and not toned at all is not so good. What happened to just, you know, moving like you?
“There is a definite art to our own unique posturing,” she told me, sharing with me the delight one can have by seeing someone we care for walking towards us in their own, unique manner. There is an artfulness to each of us as we stand in the world. “And, like any other art,” Ann said, “It is about conscious intention and practice that desires mastery. We get feedback constantly from our body: bones moving as we breathe, the variable pressure of our hands on the steering wheel. Many body awareness programs, like Pilates and yoga, pay attention to this feedback and should help us awaken our own body intelligence.”
There are also emotional feedback loops which inform this “body intelligence.” In order to access them, we must train ourselves to tune into the messages inherent in, say, a tight jaw, the “butterfly” stomach, a heaviness in the chest.
Tuning into the present moment of the body will, according to Ann, “encourages us to move towards the artistic and away from the mechanical experience of the body.”
The “art of posturing”—as opposed to merely “posturing”—means that we must “allow our body to move easily from one moment to the next and not get frozen in one mode of expression, one attitude.” Dr. Michael O.L. Seabaugh is a licensed clinical psychologist with a psychotherapy practice in Santa Barbara. Comment at firstname.lastname@example.org and visit his web site/blog at www.HealthspanWeb.com for more information on the topics covered in this column.