When I begin working with a new client, they will almost invariably put on their “best posture,” or, if not that, will tell me what awful posture they have. The truth is I really don’t care about what their posture looks like. I care about how their individual body segments function as a unit, and, more specifically, how well their entire body supports them during their activities.
Unfortunately, our understanding of what constitutes “good posture” is almost always visually-driven. There are two major problems with this approach: 1) it pushes us to assume a particular posture based primarily upon the look it conveys rather than its ability to support our bodies, and 2) it assumes that everybody – irrespective of their movement needs and body histories (injuries, etc.) – should stand or sit in the same way.
Aston Patterning® takes a different view, moving past an external idea of posture to a more individualized sense of functional alignment. This method assists participants in developing an alignment that draws its strength and support from a balanced relationship between the skeleton and muscles/connective tissues of the body; an alignment in which the muscles are free from unnecessary tension, and the skeleton is allowed to utilize its full dimension front to back and side to side.
In a visually-driven approach to posture, one might correct a tendency to slump by simply pulling the shoulders back. In Aston-Patterning, we would investigate the cause of the slump and work to establish better structural support for the entire shoulder girdle. The visual approach provides a quick fix to the immediate problem, but ends up adding another layer of tension to the body. Aston-Patterning, however, addresses the root cause of imbalance and assists the participant in finding the best alignment for their unique body. This is the great posture we should strive for: one that allows us to relax into the natural balance that our structure offers while also providing for optimal function.
How functional are your current postural patterns? Does your posture (either in sitting or in standing) put undue strain on your body, or does it offer support while still allowing your joints and muscles optimal range and flexibility? This is a very complex question, but one that we should ask ourselves if we want to cut down on needless muscular stress and enhance our musical performance. Thankfully we have, in our breath, a useful tool in determining how well our current postural patterns serve us.
Why the breath? Plus, isn’t that just important for wind players and singers? The ease with which we can simultaneously move our breath into the lower back, sides and upper chest can help us assess the amount of tension being put on the ribcage and, by extension, the spine. When the ribcage can easily expand front to back, side to side, and high to low (as through the upper chest, in raising the sternum), it generally points to a ribcage that is able to inhabit its full dimension. This bodes well for the functionality of one’s alignment as a whole, because a balanced ribcage (and the spinal column which supports it) can offer the best support for the shoulder girdle, neck and head.
For the musician, this can translate into not only optimization of lung capacity, but also better structural support for the weight of an instrument; greater range of motion through the shoulders, elbows and wrists; improved finger dexterity; more direct transfer of weight through the shoulders, arms and hands (for pianists, percussionists and string players); and, with the increased flexibility and responsiveness experienced through the musculoskeletal apparatus, increased resonance (for both singers and wind players). In short: improved performance with less effort.