Friday, February 17, 2017

A Few Words about Posture

One of my first memories of self-improvement occurred in the basement of my elementary school. It was the hub of technology of its time: it housed the film projector science and social studies lessons were dispensed. We littles would descend the stairway into a big empty room with maroon and grey checkered linoleum. Our teachers would help us form rows where we would sit knee-to-knee next to our classmates, hoping we hit the jackpot in the sit-next-to-or-near-a-friend lottery.

That linoleum was hard. Especially for my bony little bottom. And those filmstrips flickered across the screen went on forever. I noticed that the longer the film played the more my back would ache. I was a ballet dancer, and I knew a few things about posture. Sitting on this floor, I exhibited the worse posture. To get my mind off the discomfort and the long-winded science film, I challenged myself to sit up straight for as long as possible. It took practice, but my back grew stronger and the film viewing became more comfortable.

Surprisingly, this habit stuck. I've maintained good posture. This school basement scenario rushed back to me as I sat in my office churning out end-of-year acknowledgment letters. It's a daunting assignment. Hundreds of gifts arrive in the final weeks of the year and my job is to prepare the letters in a timely manner. In his memoir, What I Talk about When I Talk about Running, Haruki Murakami writes about the similar stamina required to train for a long-distance race and to sit at a desk and write long passages.

This insight resonates for me. Each year as the letter deluge approaches, I strategize how I'm going to improve the process, so I am not frazzled by the end. 

In the past I'd noted that as my energy waned and fatigue set in, I would assume a deep slouch. On those days, my energy wouldn't rebound. This year, I employed good posture and would you believe, I never experienced the level of fatigue I had in previous years. Sure, I was tired at the end of the day, but I was able to produce a good number of letters every day.

One day for a brain break, I googled “health benefits of good posture.” At this blog site, I found an answer to my query and an explanation for why I was getting through this season's high volume better than in the past, “Sitting upright makes you more alert, concentrated, and productive. The reason is that when you slouch, your body takes in as much as 30% less oxygen than you’d take in with good posture. This means that when you slouch, it is much harder to keep your energy up.” As the weeks worn on and I cranked out more work, I corrected every time I felt myself starting to slouch.

Having a strong back requires having a strong core. As I sat at my desk, I could feel my core muscles engaged in ways I recognize when I'm practicing yoga on my mat. Strong core muscles are integral to a healthy, straight spine. As I wrote my “Dear Donor” letters, I felt a metaphor for life bouncing around in my mind.

My straight posture and strong core were demonstrating the positive effects of what my mind needs to weather the stresses of daily life. Hard things come our way all the time: difficulties and misunderstandings in relationships; longing to see friends who live long distance; idle time spent in slow-moving commuter traffic; a stone thrown through the screen of your kitchen window (this really happened this week, and the subject of a future blog post.)

What my body is teaching my mind is that approaching these difficulties with a strong mental posture prevents fatigue from setting in—even when I'm tired and I think I can't take any more. Yesterday, I finished the back log of letters. The final tally was 779. By the end of February I may hit 800 letters. While I am weary from the volume, I am not gutted with exhaustion. I have found a strategy that works—for my writing and my life.

I'm forging ahead poised with a straight back.


  1. Beautiful thoughts! I'm going to be asking God to help give me a stronger posture now! Blessings to you!

  2. I find it ironic that I clicked over to our post while sitting at the dinner table slumped over my computer. Oh man, my posture needs help!