In 2015, my left knee gave up the ghost, and I prepared for a total knee replacement. The hospital held a required presurgical “knee class” in which you were told what to expect. The nurse leading the orientation demonstrated how we walked now…bumping along like arthritic cowboys who had weathered too many cattle drives.
Then she demonstrated how we would learn to walk with our new joints — she glided across the floor, head held high. Her gait was smooth. Her spine was straight. We were transfixed, heads swiveling like cats as we watched her sail back and forth. Her grace, her ease, her…posture.
I think that’s when it clicked for me — the power of posture.
As I rehabbed post-surgery that year, taking longer and longer walks, getting to know my new knee, I would envision myself tall and light on my feet, mile after mile. And the pounds fell away. About 80 of them.
Then, life intervened. Or, in my case, death. In the fall of 2016, my beloved older sister died after a bout of bad health. I succumbed to a long winter of grief — and ice cream. Lots and lots of ice cream. My walks diminished as my self-pity grew. And you know what happened next: weight gain. And I can regain with the best of them.
So one day not long ago, sitting slumped in my armchair with my laptop, I received a call from WW. Would I write an essay about practicing perfect posture? I sat up. Yes, I would. It was like a sign — time to stand up. Straight.
How to begin? Where we all begin, Google. I found pretty much what you’d expect when it comes to practicing good posture: Stand straight, shoulders back. Keep head level. Suck in your gut. Place feet shoulder-width apart. Balance weight evenly on both feet.
And more tips for sitting: Adjust chair so feet are flat on the floor. Don’t cross legs. Stretch top of head toward ceiling and tuck in chin slightly. Keep back and neck comfortably straight. Keep shoulders relaxed, not hunched or rounded.
One site also advised checking out your posture in a mirror. No, no, no, no, no. I’m allergic to mirrors. I hate mirrors. So I nixed that one.
Then I went out for a walk. I envisioned myself striding tall. (Well, I am tall, but I imagined myself stretched tall, owning all 5 feet, 11 inches). When thoughts crowded in and I started to brood, I found myself staring down at the ground. So I lifted my chin, looked ahead, and, I swear, the thoughts lifted as well.
After a walk, I like to sit on a bench overlooking the Hudson River where my little urban Jersey town sits. I try to meditate, to sniff out whatever cosmic wisdom may be blowing in the breeze off the water. One day I found myself slumped, legs akimbo, distractions pecking at my peace. Wait, I remembered…sit straight, feet on the ground, hands on knees, head up. I closed my eyes. I waited. Eventually a word wandered across my consciousness: patience. I walked home that day, tall and calm.
Practicing good posture entered my life on a daily basis. I work at home and one day, ready to jump out of my skin from a day at the desk, I thought: I. Must. Move. I went downstairs to the small gym in my building and climbed on the elliptical machine.
The thing about an elliptical machine is that for someone who will never run again (my new knee would not approve), I can pretend I am running. So I soared through the rotations, focusing on landing on the balls of my feet, taking long, even strides. I imagined that I was a gazelle bounding across the savannah — without a lion about to bite me in the butt.
I found countless ways to think about posture, to practice it over those 30 days. From descending stairs in a careful, dignified state — not hunched over or hurried — to driving in urban traffic, a perfect time to notice if shoulders are hunched and tense (try rolling them up and back, sit up, not peering defensively over the steering wheel). Or after sitting for long periods, to stand and stretch for the sky, then let spine, neck, and shoulders settle in a relaxed but aligned state.
For visual inspiration, I look at the family pictures on my bookshelves, generations of Southern women who loved to hold themselves gracefully standing or sitting. To them, it was all about bearing. They admired each other’s bearing. For all those years I rebelled against keeping my knees together when I sat or crossing my ankles, I had to hand it to them, those ladies looked fabulous.
So here is one thing about posture I have decided: Even though it’s a physical adjustment, it’s also, dare I say it, a spiritual one. The notion of embracing yourself as upright and graceful and worthy. We are all entitled to a regal bearing no matter our weight or lack of a crown.
And the other thing, despite the title of this essay, my posture was never perfect. In fact, I’ve never done anything perfectly in my life. I’ve given up on perfect. But my posture sure became better. My awareness of it heightened. And who knows? I may start looking in the mirror again.