Is Improving Your Posture Just A Matter Of Relaxation?

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“So if a person is permanently stuck in fight/flight mode how does one release this to return lungs to normal position therefore improving posture? Is it just a matter of relaxation?”

This question popped up in response to the blog I wrote a couple of days back (I’ll post the link to that one below), and I thought we could pluck it out and discuss it separately because it raises a lot of interesting points.

The first is, it’s impossible to be permanently stuck in fight flight mode. Your nervous system is always flipping and changing, and even though it might appear like you are always in fight flight, there will still be times throughout the day when you are functioning in the parasympathetic.

In my work, we consider instead what is the dominant mode of functioning (and the same applies for our horses). So if we are more than 50% of the time functioning in the sympathetic system, we say that is dominantly sympathetic. And the reverse is true for the parasympathetic system.

If you are dominantly sympathetic, or fight flight, chances are you also have a dominant mode that you are more likely to operate from (fight, flight, freeze or collapse), and this informs both the structural positioning of your body, and behavioural patterning also.

If we stick with our discussion on posture and consider the fight flight nervous system, it’s important to understand:

  • The fight flight system is a system of reflex
  • Each of the fight flight reflexes (fight, flight, freeze, collapse) have structural positions that the brain organises the body in to maximise the capacities of that survival reflex

This is something that we all share. For every single one of us, the structure of our body from the inside out arrange itself in an identifiable reflex pattern that corresponds with the different sympathetic states. Once you learn to read structure, you can understand where someone’s nervous system is sitting by their structural positioning.

The other thing to understand is that this positioning is always a choice of the unconscious brain. Your parasympathetic and sympathetic systems are part of your autonomic nervous system, meaning we can’t consciously decide our way into a fight flight reflex, and we can’t consciously decide our way out. We can only influence the brain to make a different decision by increasing the amount of sensory feedback it has available to it (a discussion for another day!). Organ positioning is, of course, a part of this also.

If we take the second part of this question:

“…how does one release this to return lungs to normal position therefore improving posture? Is it just a matter of relaxation?”

The position of lungs (and all organs) are immediately influenced by what nervous system state we are in. In the parasympathetic system, the top of the lungs sit high in the neck tube, pressing on the deep front line of fascia and supporting the cervical vertebrae.

In the sympathetic, the drop down into the torso and wrap around the heart as part of a protective mechanism.

Again, this is not something we can influence consciously. We can only seek to provide the unconscious brain with more sensory information so that it is able to accurately respond to the situation it finds itself in.

{Side note here: when we are “stuck” on a dominant sympathetic template, we lose nervous system adaptability and are no longer accurately responding to the reality of our moment. My interest is in re-establishing this adaptability and developing, again, accurate responsiveness).

Relaxation is an interesting concept because it’s a subjective one. Our idea of a relaxed body is very different to a vital body. For most of us, we “feel” relaxed when our body sensations are absent or neutral, and we feel in control of things. This is not the same as a body in optimal functioning.

I flag this up because our attachment and association with a defined experience of relaxation gets in our way. A vital body is one full of feeling, sensation and sensory feedback. And in my experience, acclimatising people to this reality is one of the most challenging things in creating the nervous system adaptability we just talked about.

So as with most interesting questions, the answer is kind of yes and kind of no. And maybe. One of the key ways you activate the sensory system is through novel movement. I also have specific practices I work with in JoyRide, and I discuss a lot of the relationship to movement on nervous system function in Season 2 of my podcast. I’ll post some links for you below!


❤️ Jane

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