A Different Way to Fix Your Posture

Have you ever learned a musical instrument? A dance? How to drive or ride a bike? You'd probably agree with me that these are all skills that take some time and practice to learn.

Improving your posture and how you move is no different. It's a skill, it's nuanced, and it takes time and practice.

If you've been trying to pull you're shoulders back and hold them there and that's not working, it's not because your posture is inherently terrible. It's because you need a different strategy. What does work is simple, but involves more subtle adjustments.

Often we're not tuned in to how to make subtle adjustments, so we go from one position that we don't like to another one that isn't comfortable.

There is another way, but it takes some focus and practice. Once you start to get it though, you'll find it's a lot easier and more effective than trying for the quick fix.

Here's something to start to notice so that you can begin making some subtle adjustments. Start to pay attention to where your eyes are. Do you tend to look down a lot? Strain to look at the computer? Odds are that your head follows your eyes. If you're pulling your head back, forward, or down a lot of the time, this can be one of the main sources of poor posture.

Give that a try and check out my lessons and classes to learn more.

How Your Butt Affects Your Posture

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Did you ever think that your butt had anything to do with your posture, how you move, or the body language you convey?

How do you feel about your butt? Do you change how you stand and move based on how you perceive it? Or the opposite...Is your backside an area that you're not so kinesthetically aware of because you don't see it easily?

Last week I spoke with writer, Heather Radke on this topic...butts and our bodies in general...how we feel about them and how our physical response to these feelings affects our posture, movement, and how effectively we connect and communicate with others.

Heather talks about the importance of "having a reality-based idea of where your body is space and how your body looks...to move it in a way that is more functional"...and which can help you feel better about yourself!

So when I say "butts", I'm not just talking about whether or not you've worked you glutes in your last work-out. It's more like how you feel about your butt or any part of your body that you might think is too big, too small, or attracts too much attention.

When we try to hide part of our shape we tend to unconsciously move our bodies into another shape. This new shape may be tense, compressed, and restrict healthy posture and movement.

Heather is a writer living in NYC and she's working on a book on the cultural history of the female butt. Check out our conversation below.

And...check out my workshop for women on posture and communication...Posture Under Pressure: Command Your Presence for Effective Communication,

What does "take up your space" really mean?...and how do you do it?

"TAKE UP YOUR SPACE!" What does that mean?

Recently I've been writing about words and phrases that we often hear relating to confidence, how we come across, and how we hold our bodies.

If you missed my last one, click here to read my take on the often uttered phrase, "Fake it til you make it".

Today's phrase of the week is, "Take up your space." This is one I'm very fond of and use a lot when I'm teaching, but often I see it is misused when applied without guidance.

Have you ever heard this phrase or tried to "take up your space"? What did you do to try and make that happen?

The funny thing is that see a lot of folks taking up less space when they are trying to take up more. It's very similar to the knee-jerk response that people often have to being told to "Stand up straight!"

Here's an example. Jane is told that she should take up more space so that she "commands the room" (another catch phrase) when she speaks, so she lifts her chin and her chest and pulls her shoulders back. Try this in front of a mirror, look from the side and see if you can observe the following: When assume this position, you are pulling your head back and down and you're tipping your back back and down. Jane in our example is actually making herself shorter and pulling away from "the room".

In this example, let's say "the room" could be an audience of 1,000 or one person. This may seem like a small movement, but our posture, breathing, and body position effect how we come across and how people feel around us

What else?

By holding this posture, she's throwing her weight back, which disconnects the font part of her feet from the ground. Less connection to the ground makes her feel unstable and like she has to tense things like the neck, shoulders, and back to hold herself up. The stiffness she's creating in her body also makes her short of breath.

So, why is lifting the chest and the chin and pulling the shoulders back the common go-to for fixing posture, taking up space, and commanding a room?

The short answer is that we tend to be very aware of the fronts of our bodies, so we do something with the front, unaware of how we're actually moving in three dimensions. Slouching is feared and very visibly happens in the front, so people want to pull in the opposite direction. It's a quick fix that doesn't work and might have the exact opposite effect of it's intended purpose. They end up "hiding" the slouch in the back and affecting their ability to be really present...because they are literally moving away from the person or people they are engaging with.

Truly taking up your space means taking up your space in all directions...top, bottom, front, back, sides. It means being grounded, relaxed, and able to breath freely.

Here a few tips for how to start taking up your space:
1. Locate the top of your head. A tap with your finger will remind you that the top of your body isn't where your eyes are.
2. Imagine arrows on the sides of your shoulder pointing out to the sides. Just imagine them. Don't pull them or over-focus on your shoulders. Just bring up the image of taking up space out to the sides. Avoid pulling the shoulders backwards or forwards.
3. Sense your feet on the floor. A simple background awareness of your feet on the floor can help you to feel more grounded and stable and in command of the room.
4. Make sure you're breathing while you do this!

Want to learn more about how to take up your space and command a "room" or conversation? Check out my workshop called Posture Under Pressure: Command Your Presence with Effective Communication.

What does "Fake it til you make it" really mean?

I’m sure you’ve heard the expression, “Fake it til you make it.”  I can appreciate it on one hand as an introvert who has developed skills for interacting outside of my comfort zone.  (My comfort zone used to be 1:1 interactions and ideally not with anyone particularly gregarious.)

But...I really don’t like the word “fake” in there.  What’s meant by “fake”?  Are you supposed to pretend?  If so, how exactly?  Maybe you don’t think you’re an actor….

I was an actor and as a young student, I learned that acting is actually the opposite of pretending.  It’s easy to tell if someone is pretending.  We pick up on all sorts of cues that tell us that, whether it’s someone speaking to us or on a stage.  

Rather than learning to pretend, actors learn how to refine they’re ability to sense and make choices.  Sensing and making choices is what we all do in life more or less unconsciously most of the time.  We sense (receive) information, make choices, and respond.  

In a conversation, we are responding to verbal and non-verbal cues and we respond with our voices, breathing patterns, hands, shoulders, eyes, and how we shift our weight and in countless other ways.  These choices and actions affect whether we feel or come across as awkward, confident, pushy, intense, reserved...they affect the impression we give and how people respond to us.  We pick up the same types of cues from others.  Conversation becomes a series of actions and reactions bouncing back and forth.

The way we use our bodies is nuanced and it takes practice and often guidance to tune into that. As a young actor, I was aware of this, but the way I was using my body and voice, the way I was responding and making choices was so habitual and automatic that I didn't understand how to change it.  How can you change something that you aren’t consciously aware of?  

Given my lack of nuanced awareness when I began acting school, all I could do was pretend…I would just try to do something exaggerated, while still hanging onto my old habits, kind of like when people try to hold themselves up straight.  It comes off as forced or stiff.  If they actually changed the nuanced habits causing the forced posture, they’d seem relaxed and present.

When I first took an Alexander Technique class, I opened the door to nuanced awareness.  Suddenly a wide range of choices were available to me and not just in a scene from a play, but in life in general as well. 

Over the years I’ve honed my ability to interact with all sorts of personalities and engaging groups of people.  My comfort zone is still 1:1, but I can choose to be effective and comfortable in many zones.  I used to feel carried away by the bouncing back and forth of conversations.  Now I feel more in charge of how I respond.

There’s a reason why Alexander Technique is taught at many prominent acting schools and it’s not just to help actors stand straighter and project their voices.  It’s to help them be in conscious command of their physical presence, choices, and actions so they can behave in an authentic way and not just stick a layer of "pretending" over a bunch of habits.    

Anyone (not just actors) can learn these skills, whether they want to use them to change their posture to avoid back pain, or to be more effective in the way they communicate.  It's ok to "fake it til you make it", but only if you can fill in the crucial missing piece in that statement, which is to learn what exactly to do to "fake" it so that it's not fake.

Do you ever struggle with adapting to different people and situations?  Do you want to feel more present, effective, and in charge of how you present yourself and communicate?  Check out my workshop, Posture Under Pressure:  Command Your Presence with Effective Communication. 

Click here for more information on the course.  The next workshop will be on Sunday, October 6.  

Your Posture Needs Your Attention!

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Want to know how poor posture often develops?

Last week I was going through security at LaGuardia airport in NYC and discovered the same issue I encountered three months ago in the same terminal of the same airport...not enough trays...

This might sound like a routine airport annoyance, but it's what happened due to this one little thing that consumed my attention for about 30 seconds that makes this story interesting...and relevant to how you might be developing poor posture.

Since there weren't any trays in my line, I started taking some from the next line. As I was picking the trays up and spreading them out on the table with the people behind me and pushing some over to the person in front of me, I put my iphone down...and then a moment later no iphone.

I had just had it.

I rustled through my backpack and looked under the items in my bins.

No phone.

I asked the people behind me if they'd seen it and they shrugged as saw the woman in front of me go through the scanner. I realized that it may have ended up in her bin, which was already on the belt heading through the x-ray machine.

I managed to get through the scanner and catch the woman ahead of me just as her bin was coming out. Yes, the phone was under her stuff.

So the point of this story could be something like don't panic and tighten your neck and shoulders when something stressful happens, which is a good idea not to do...but what I thought was really interesting was that I got so distracted by the bins that I didn't remember where I'd just put my phone as it disappeared from under my nose.

One of the main reasons reasons people have trouble changing their posture is because they stop sensing in their bodies and unconsciously hold harmful positions for long periods without noticing until something feels awry. Where's my iphone?...How about what was I doing with my right shoulder for the last hour?

It's a lack of attention, not the kind of attention you'd need to do algebra, but a kind of sensory numbing or switching off. During these switched-off moments, you are probably ingraining these unconscious habits so that your muscles and your brain remember them as normal.

In my lessons and classes, I teach people how to be more conscious in their bodies. It may seem challenging at first, but the more you practice, the more automatic it is and it can actually be quite fun, leaving you more energized after a long day of work for example.

Set an alarm on your phone to go off every half hour at work and take a moment to notice what position you've gotten yourself in or how you're moving. Just noticing can start to make a big difference!

Practice To Improve Your Posture

Do you ever wish you could wave a magic wand, find the perfect device, app, chair, or one easy exercise that would just fix your posture once and for all? All of these tools may offer you some benefit, but they won't necessarily change your habits...except for maybe the magic wand. Did Harry Potter ever learn that spell? Posturoso Leviosa! Actually, I take that back...I think the magic words are Expecto To Practice!

Expecto To Practice because changing your posture is about changing your habits. First step is learning what and how to practice so that what you're practicing is effective. Once you understand what to do, then create a manageable routine.

Here are three examples of how to begin to change postural and movement habits by becoming mindful of how you use your eyes, head, and shoulders in three common activities.

Lifting and carrying
Phone, kid, bag...and sometimes all three! Keep the shoulders level and use the arms and the back to lift. Bring the child toward you with your arm instead of leaning far back and resting her on your hip. Don't hike your shoulder up to hold the bag and don't squeeze it in to hold the phone. And finally, as you look down at the phone, move your eyes first and then gently tip your head down.

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Typing
Reach for your keyboard and notice what happens to your shoulders. Do they tense up? Pull in? Do you constrict your breathing a little? As you reach for the keys, keep your shoulders wide even as your hands and arms move in. Start the movement slowly so that you can pay attention. Keep resting your back on the back of your chair to help you not pull your shoulders forward. Move the chair closer to the desk/table if possible.

A laptop's screen will not be at your eye level if it is at an ideal level for typing (arms parallel to the floor). You could raise your laptop up on a stand and use an external keyboard, but if you change locations often, then this may not be practical. (Don't raise the laptop and reach up to type on the laptop's keyboard. This may cause you to hike your shoulders up.)

If you need to look down at the screen, use the same strategy that you used with the phone. Look straight out and then lower your gaze and gently tip your head slightly down as pictured. Don't drop your head or stick your chin out.

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Reaching
Reaching for something high? As this is an action often performed in the kitchen with sometimes heavy, fragile objects, take a moment to make sure you feel your feet planted on the floor before you reach up. Look up with your eyes and let your head follow and tip back gently. As you reach, lead with your fingers, not with your shoulder. You're shoulder should lift last if you are reaching for something high up like the teapot in the photo. If reaching on a low shelf (like where the plates are stacked) there would be no need to raise the shoulder, or very little depending on your height.

Changing your posture for the better isn't just about positioning. It's more to do with becoming more mindful. As you replace the habits that are causing poor posture, the new habits eventually become more automatic. I recommend taking lessons and classes, but also Expecto To Practice! It's not a magic wand, but it works!

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How Screens Affect Posture - It's not just about tech neck

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Screen time is a big issue these days. I sometimes cringe when my iphone informs me how much time I've spent looking at it in a given day, or I'll check how many steps I've taken and how many stairs I've climbed on my phone's health app. The 22,177 steps that I took yesterday were all with the company of my iphone. I wasn't looking at my phone during my run, but it was with me "just in case" and I do feel justified as a parent to have my phone on me for that reason even though many generations beforehand seemed to manage without the constant possibility of contact.

I've written often about the relationship between how we use our screens and our posture, but here I'm going to take a slightly less direct approach and perhaps a more candid one. What really interests me about good posture is the way we achieve it and what it means about how we live our lives.

Yes, good posture can make you look more attractive and feel more confident. Standing taller may make you appear to have lost weight. It can reduce compression in the body and help with a pesky back ache or sore neck. It can make you less likely to get injured when you walk and run.

But despite the long list of benefits, the one that really resonates with me is that it improves how present you are. We could also flip it around and say that how present you are affects your posture...and presence affects quality of life and relationships and how you come off of a stressful day at work.

Are we really in the here and now living in our bodies, being our full selves if we're constantly attached to a device. I don't think so...and I'll freely admit that I rely on being online as much as anyone. So what's my point?

I began studying the Alexander Technique and working on my posture, movement, and presence 8 years before smartphones showed up and I had by that time developed a keen sense of how I was affected by what my attention was on. After spending hours working on spreadsheets at a day job, I'd leave feeling discombobulated and like I could hardly walk in a straight line. I've always been a daydreamer and very internally focused and looking at a screen amplified a sense of being sort of simultaneously lost in myself and not in my body. Sounds a bit contradictory, but that's what it felt like.

The thing is that I could feel what was happening and I got better and better about getting out of that state. These days I do rely on my phone and my computer, but I can tell when I start to loose myself in it in a way that takes me out of the present moment. It's like an internal alarm goes off. That internal alarm is one of the skills that I work on getting my clients to develop so that they don't come off of a day of work having absolutely no idea what they were doing with their body all day.

Think about your most recent day at work.
Were you tense or relaxed?
Slumped?
Stiff?
Breathing shallowly or fully?
Were you feet on the ground?
Was your neck strained?
Were you leaning to one side most of the time?

Simply being aware of these things starts to help you to improve your posture because you are starting to be present...to realize you have a body, when otherwise you might have only been aware of your thoughts and your screen.

And what about the smartphone that might be on you most of the day even if you're not looking at it all the time? Does the anticipation of the text, email, or alert distract you in some way? Are you lesson present?

Being away from cell phone service and wifi can seem like an annoyance at first, but I find that the initial annoying feeling soon turns to relief as I start tuning into myself, my surroundings and the people I'm with more fully. Have you had a similar experience?

If you spend some time away from work this summer and even time off-line, notice what changes.
Do you feel more relaxed?
Do you breath better?
Do you stand up taller?

Notice any positive changes and then see if you can consciously take some of your "vacation self" with you when you go back into work mode. We may not be getting rid of our phones, computers, and work stress, but we can learn to meet them with more presence and awareness and be more like our vacation selves during our work days. You can use a vacation to reset your internal alarm to notice whether you're present or not.

This summer I encourage you to work on your sense of presence and awareness of your body to improve your posture.

And if you're in New York City, check out my group class dates (the schedule during the summer is flexible) or take a private lesson.

How Your Feet Affect Your Posture

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Hey city-dwellers! Are you getting out of the concrete jungle this summer? Not only might time away from your computer be good for your posture, but your feet might thank you for a vacation from walking on concrete.

Even if you don't live in a big city, odds are that you spend most of your time walking on flat surfaces and a lot of time in shoes.

Did you know that each of your feet has 26 bones and 33 joints? If you're trying to improve your posture and the joints in your feet are stiff, you're missing an important art of the picture.

Wearing restrictive shoes, walking on flat surfaces most of the time, and even tensing our feet when doing sedentary tasks like typing or reading can get our feet acting more like fused blocks attached to our ankles. This affects how we stand, sit, move, breathe, and even how we speak. If our feet our tight and narrowed, we're not using their full surfaces for balance and then muscles further up (in the thighs, back, neck and shoulders) will often compensate to keep us from falling as if we were standing/walking on stilts or ice skates.

Try this check-in with your feet...
Stand in your bare feet and see if you can notice where you feel the most pressure. Is it spread out evenly? Mostly in the heels? The balls of the feet? Are you more on the insides or outsides of your feet. Is what you feel in your left foot the same as the right?

If you're mostly on your heels or the balls of the feet, the insides or outsides, then you're doing some extra work to hold yourself up.

I hope you'll be off to the beach at some point this summer or somewhere where you can walk barefoot in sand or grass...or even hiking with shoes on. Walking on varied terrain is good for our feet and good for our posture and movement. When you walk on something bumpy or uneven, all of those joints in your feet suddenly have a chance to wake up and move!

Communicate effectively without "putting yourself out there"

Does the following phrase resonate with you?

We like to think that we value individuality, but all too often we admire one type of individual-the kind who's comfortable putting [her]self out there.

Not that there's anything wrong with being comfortable putting yourself out there!...but there might be a problem when one personality trait is culturally valued over another.

I've been reading a book called Quiet: The Power of Introverts in a World that Can't Stop Talking by Susan Cain.  It talks about how, extroversion is an enormously appealing personality style, but we've turned it into an oppressive standard to which most of us feel we must conform.

Do you consider yourself and introvert and have you ever felt like you were living in a culture that wasn't designed for you?  I have!  Don't get me wrong, some of my best friends are extroverts and what I'm about to say isn't really about introverts and extroverts.  It's about how we communicate.

How do you feel when you hear the phrase, "putting yourself out there"?  Here are some words that come to mind for me:

  • Anxious

  • Queasy

  • Wanting to go home and hide under the covers (Yes, that's more than one word!)

The scene this phrase brings to mind for me is having to be charming in front of an interviewer, boss, large crowd, or other party guests while my guts twist as I try to imagine them all naked in order to feel less worried that they might not like me.  It sounds like I'll have to take up space in a way that feels uncomfortable or be loud, brash, and constantly smiling to gain praise and attention.

Let's reframe this whole idea of "putting yourself out there".   There's an inherent problem with this expression.  Why should we have to put ourselves anywhere?

What if we just stay put right where we are and look, listen, and respond.  What happens then?...Presence, connection and communication.

Regardless of your personality type or tendencies, if you are centered, present, and listening, you are ready to communicate.  This could be in the context of work, family, socializing...you name it.

When you "put yourself out there", you try too hard.  You step outside of yourself and leave what you most have to offer back in the corner, while you try to present what you think people expect.  Often we do this unconsciously as a habit and I work with people to help them notice and change these habits.  The changes can be both subtle and powerful.

Becoming more effective in your communications involves making changes from the inside out so that you don't loose yourself in the process, so you do put yourself out anywhere.  You stay right where you are.  When people feel good around others and say that they have a "certain something", it isn't magic and it isn't extroversion.  It's the ability to stay centered, which means staying relaxed and grounded, maintaining good posture and easy breathing. 

Centered-ness is contagious and people like to feel that way and to be around people who are that way, whether or not they can pinpoint what that certain something is.  It's not a talent that you have to be born with.  It's just something we get in the way of and can find again.

You can be a centered extrovert or introvert, but introverts might feel most in need of finding their centers so that they can learn how to be heard or how not to overexert and exhaust themselves by trying to be extroverted.  

Find out about my workshop, Posture Under Pressure:  Command Your Presence for Effective Communication, and learn how to communicate from your center.

8 Steps to Improving Your Posture When You're Communicating

When you communicate, are you aware of your posture?

I just offered a class on communication in Tokyo, Japan this week! We explored habits of posture, movement and breathing and how they affect our interactions and we saw that when each participant improved these things, their communication with their audience or the person they were interacting with improved. They came across more effectively. Keep reading to find out what we worked on.

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How can you start fixing your posture during a meeting, presentation, or social conversation? That probably sounds difficult and distracting and like it takes a lot of effort...and it is if you think of it as "fixing your posture"...so let's look at this topic from another angle...

Start with simply noticing. Mindfulness is a popular word these days and all it means is noticing. So don't try to fix your posture while your having a conversation. Don't try to hold yourself in the "right" way. You'll probably end up feeling stiff, tired, and maybe distracted.

Instead try noticing the following the next time you are conversing with someone or a group of people. Noticing what's already happening is the first step toward change. If you try to change without noticing first, you won't know what you're changing.

Ask yourself these 8 questions to begin your practice of becoming more mindful of your posture, movement, and breathing while you're interacting.

Mindfulness check-in for communication:

1. Were you aware of your body at all?
2. If you were, what were you most aware of?
3. Were you trying to hold your body in a particular way? If so, why?
4. What were you thinking? (For example, were you worried about what the other person/people thought of you?)
5. Were you aware of your feet on the ground or of feeling like they weren't on the ground?
6. Did breathing feel easy or did you easily become out of breath?
7. Were you aware of your movements?
8. Were you aware of your environment?

Answer these questions for different situations. Here are some examples:

  • Speaking with a close friend

  • Speaking with a co-worker

  • Speaking with a person you just met

  • Interacting socially with a group

  • Participating in a meeting

  • Giving a talk/presentation

  • Teaching a class

If the first time you do this, you're answer to question 1, "Were you aware of your body at all?" is "No", don't give up. Think of what you are noticing as information and you don't have to judge it. Simply by noticing that you weren't aware of your body at all might help you become aware of it in some way another time, even if it's a small way.

I’m offering a new workshop called Posture Under Pressure, a course on communication in a variety of contexts, not specifically public speaking. We will look at how each participant wants to work on their communication in life and work, both verbal and non-verbal, whether you address 1000 people at a time or 1 person at a time. Click here to find out more.

Posture and Communication Across Cultures

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Hello from Japan!

I've been here teaching classes for the past week and a half with another week or so to go. Teaching in another culture is a refreshing way to keep me on my toes, or keep my feet on the ground, as I'd prefer to put it!

I've been writing and teaching a lot about posture and communication lately and this week I'll be teaching a workshop on posture, movement and communication in Tokyo. Communication is the main topic for that workshop, but it's ended up becoming a topic for every class I've taught here so far. It's important in teaching in general, but it feels more heightened here. Here are a few examples.

here I’m Guiding movement and posture during the passing along of a business card.

here I’m Guiding movement and posture during the passing along of a business card.

Cultural Differences...Keeping my classes culturally relevant opens up an active dialogue and has been quite fun. For example, in the US I often work with people on how to move and use their bodies when they shake hands. Here I worked on handing someone a business card, which is done with two hands while bowing. There's a lot we could learn about posture and movement and how we come across to another person from this gesture.

Here I am with Isuzu, one of the translators here. Thank you for translating Isuzu and for teaching me some Japanese! Arigato Gozaimasu!

Here I am with Isuzu, one of the translators here. Thank you for translating Isuzu and for teaching me some Japanese! Arigato Gozaimasu!

Working with a translator...I've taught classes with translation going on once before, so I felt more prepared this time. Prepared for what? Prepared to wait. I can't rush. I have to divide up my sentences to give the translator time to translate. I have to simplify what I'm saying and avoid using too many idiomatic expressions that might get lost in translation. Once my words have been translated, I look around the room at the expressions of my students to see if the are nodding, look puzzled, or if they've begun what I've asked them to do. When I'm listening to the students, I'm staying connected with them, but I'm also listening to the translator.

While keeping my awareness all of these things, I am aware of the feeling of my feet on the ground. I'm aware of how where my head is, my hands, and how I'm moving and breathing. Not aware in a way that's distracting, but in a way that helps keep me centered.

The awareness is in the background and is connected to my awareness to everything going on around me. Often when people are involved in conversations, they are aware of the person or people in front of them and not much else. Having to be aware of what the person behind me (the translator) is saying while I'm listen to the person in front of me helps me stay centered, tall, and relaxed. The circumstances help me to better embody what I'm teaching about posture and communication.

Kinesthetic experience speaks 1000 words...
The classes I'm giving here are to Alexander Technique teachers and teachers in training. One of the main reasons that the Alexander Technique is so effective is because Alexander Technique teachers have been highly trained to use their hands to help their clients have a kinesthetic experience of changing their posture and how they move.

This is a very important aspect of how I work and how the technique is so effective for improving posture. Often when people receive verbal or written instructions, their habits get in the way of them following the instructions correctly. Part of what I'm working on with the trainees and teachers here are hands-on skills. Occasionally when the translator hasn't been immediately available, I've been able to convey what I need to convey just by guiding and demonstrating with my hands. It's a great reminder of just how unique the Alexander Technique is.

What's your "tone of body"?

"I suck!  I’m just no good at this!" That’s what I said to myself when I was getting no results as a young, socially awkward acting student.  

"I think my slouching is genetic."  This is a common statement I hear from new clients.  They’ve tried following instructions to hold their shoulders back, but have found it unsustainable. 

I have some news for anyone who has had this experience with trying to hold your shoulders back.  The problem isn't with you...it's with the instruction to pull them back...and slouching is generally a habit (not something you are doomed to) that can be changed with the right kind of practice and guidance.

How you hold your body, move and breathe all adds up to what could be called a "tone of body", just like you have a tone of voice.  Your tone of body consists of your posture, movement, breathing and how conscious you are about your own space and the space of the people with whom you are conversing.

Tone of body is deeper than what we typically called body language, though it affects our body language.  If we try to layer new positions and body language on top of underlying habits without addressing the habits first, it leads to more physical tension, wasted energy and exhaustion. 

What most people do to try to be powerful or more effective is to lift the chest and throw the shoulders back.  This actually throws the person out of alignment just as much as slouching forward. The first step to obtaining "proper alignment" is to realize that true alignment isn't a held position.  

There’s a cultural fear of slouching forward, but holding yourself up by lifting and pulling makes you lean backwards.  I call this "backwards slouching."  Holding this sort of position disconnects you from you body, surroundings, and other people and makes your breath more shallowly.  In trying to align yourself, you may be pulling yourself more out of alignment.

The more you learn to be truly aligned, you'll set a tone that is inviting, connected and direct and neither not aloof or pushy. 

I used to feel uncomfortable all the time.  I felt restless, ineffective, socially awkward, and pessimistic regarding my direction in life and career.  The more aligned I became in my body, the more clearly I could think and the more I felt like I had the space and time to connect with myself and my surroundings, rather than just acting and reacting habitually.  As I changed my habits, I realized that the problem wasn't me.  It was my habits...and I needed different instructions for changing them that were delivered in a way that would make sense to me.   Once I had that, my whole attitude about what I was capable of and what I could accomplish shifted.

In my new course for women, Posture Under Pressure:  Command Your Presence with Effective Communication, I’ll help you to command your presence by meeting you where you are and helping you address the habits that are getting in your way.  I'll then give you tools to access this sense of presence on your own.  This live weekend course also includes online support follow-up to help keep you on track!

This course can help you with how you come across at work, but it isn’t just for women who speak publicly and in the board room.  It helps with all forms of interaction (professional and social) and addresses posture, voice, and movement as an integrated way of being.

I'm now including part two of my two-part series featuring conversations with my friend Carly Clark Zimmer, BodyMind Master Coach, on the topic of alignment. Check out Carly's interview with me (above) on my new course for women, posture, alignment and body awareness and how important it is in terms of how you come across and interact.

In this video I also will guide you through a body awareness exercise that will help you start working on your posture right away.

Learn how I stopped cringing at videos of myself! Workshop for Women on Posture & Communication

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I used to hate seeing video recordings of myself.  I would think, "That's me???"  I could hardly look, because the recording never looked like what I felt I was doing.  It was really embarrassing even if I was the only person watching the video!

Has this ever happened to you?  Were you surprised to see how you moved, stood, spoke, breathed, held your hands, or fidgeted?  What you thought you were doing in that moment isn't what you're seeing on the video.  Yikes!

What you're most likely seeing on the video or in the photo someone took when you weren't paying attention (that may make you cringe) are your unconscious habits. 

In order to change our habits, we have to start actually being able to sense what we are doing with our bodies from the inside out, not trying to fix them by observing how they look from the outside in. Examples of the outside-in approach are holding a "power pose" or choreographing particular gestures.

When I first took Alexander Technique lessons, I was a 20-year-old acting student.  I noticing a lot in my body, but it was mostly discomfort.  I was a shy kid and was generally tense in social situations and at school.  I have scoliosis and wore a back brace for five years as a teen, which trained me to do some very inefficient and harmful things to hold my body up.  I felt both physically uncomfortable and awkward.

Despite being an introvert, I always wanted to act and I was accepted into the undergraduate drama program at NYU, where I quickly found I was having trouble doing almost anything that was asked of me.  My voice was wrong, my movements were wrong, my breathing was wrong.  I wasn't grounded.  I was trying very, very hard, but my teachers would just shake their heads. 

I thought I was no good.  I already lacked confidence and my inability to do what the teachers were asking in acting school made things worse.  I didn't feel my peers respected me and I felt bad for the other people who had to rehearse scenes with me.

In my third year of drama school something changed when I started taking an Introduction to the Alexander Technique class.  It was like a lightbulb came on.  Someone was actually showing me how I was suppose to feel standing, sitting, moving, and speaking.  I was given the experience of the FEELING I was supposed to have when my posture was good, I was moving well, and when I was breathing and speaking.  And I felt so much BETTER! 

The clear guidance from the teacher's hands and carefully selected words helped me to start to feel what was right.  I was learning how to sense my body position and movements  internally (not from the outside by observing in a mirror or blindly trying to follow instructions).

This experience made me feel at last that I wasn't hopeless, that I could learn and change...that I could be an actor and that I could be different in the world.  I became much more conscious of my movements, voice and breathing on a moment to moment basis.  I was no longer locked into habit and the benefits spread into many areas of my life.

I began to feel more confident socially and when meeting new people.  My introvert tendencies typically lead me to hide under a rock when I met new people.  I've learned to overcome that...not by holding a power pose, but by being more self-aware (not self-conscious). 

And I'm not just more aware of myself, but I'm aware of how conversations are living interactions and of how having a centered presence can benefit someone else.  It's a key to getting in the zone where things feel easy and like they're just flowing

Here's one of my favorite examples of what I'm talking about.  If I was at work or in school and if someone came up to me looking upset or anxious, I would freeze and automatically assume it was my fault and that I had to get anxious with them and frantically try to fix the problem.  Meanwhile, I got myself in such a tizzy that I could barely think straight and would forget what they said to me a moment later, leading to me to agitate them further by asking them to repeat what they'd said. 

One day I had a revelation when I was working as an administrative assistant.  Someone came up to my desk frantically needing something.  I just paused for a moment and realized that was their anxiety not mine and that my state in my body didn't have to match their state.  Actually the best way to help them would be to stay calm, center, and simply see what they needed.  That moment was life-changing.  It could be described as a change in mind-set, but I got to that mind-set change through my new awareness of how I felt in my body.

I teach and speak publicly, at times in front of large groups, without fear.  I didn't stop being an introvert, but I learned how to hone my tendencies and not let them overwhelm me, even at parties!  :-)  Also, I'm turning 40 this year, a time when people often say they are starting to feel run down and I feel so much better than I did 20 years ago when I was in college felt uncomfortable or in pain pretty much all the time. 

And going back to the original topic of watching ourselves on video...when I see myself on video now, I am neither surprised or horrified.  What I see is what I expect to see.  It's what I feel I'm doing.  Isn't that amazing that this is possible? 

I'm launching a new workshop for women called Posture Under Pressure:  Command Your Presence for Effective Communication for women of all ages who want more to be more effective and find more joy in interacting at work, when giving presentations, or in social situations

This workshop will be especially appreciated by women who would describe themselves as ambitious introverts...highly motivated, but easily stressed out or exhausted.

I'll addresses how we use our bodies and voices when we communicate and interact.  It will help you become more aware of your postural, movement, breathing, and vocal habits in work and social situations and give you tools for how to trade in your unconscious habits for the ability to come across in the way you'd like to and to be able to do it in the moment.  

What I'll be teaching is all based on the Alexander Technique, my experience as a performer, presenter (and introvert) and nearly 12 years as an Alexander Technique teacher working with clients on the nuances of posture and communication.

You'll gain tools to feel more balanced, centered, and present.  You'll learn how to be effective by accessing your power without having to "try hard" to be powerful

What to expect from this workshop:

  • This course is ideal for people who enjoy group learning and setting aside some time to really focus on getting feedback and making a change.  Also, if you would like to work with me, but don't have time in your weekly schedule, this is a good opportunity to learn a lot in one chunk.

  • You'll leave this course having had a new experience of moving, speaking and being in your body and what's happening when you converse with people.  

  • When the workshop is finished, you won't be on your own!  You'll have resources to help you practice and I will schedule 2 follow-up online sessions with all participants in the following weeks.

Are You Aligned?

What does the term "mind-body connection" mean to you? Is it something you actually feel or is it abstract and might body-mind be a more helpful description?

And have you ever thought that your physical habits and the way you hold your body might be all wrapped up in your attitudes, behaviors, choices?

This is the first part of a two-part series featuring conversations with my friend Carly Clark Zimmer, MindBody Master Coach, on the topic of alignment. Alignment in relation to posture isn't just a position to hold and neither is alignment of thought.

Carly is a Certified BodyMind Master Coach and Licensed Massage Therapist. She believes the root cause of stress and pain can be found by exploring feedback from the body and reconnecting to the inner wisdom that resides within all of us. Carly helps her clients listen to their heart so they can live an aligned, energized, and inspired life.

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As a BodyMind Coach, Carly offers an actionable approach to becoming more aware of you body, thoughts, and how you feel in order to have a positive impact on reaching you goals.

First step...start asking yourself better questions and start your questions with "what" instead of why?

I've done a lot of work over the years on learning to really live in my body and to be conscious of my posture and movement and as a result, I've become sensitive to cues that my body gives me. For example, in my previous post, I talked about how I was so mixed up in regards to my body awareness, that I didn't know how to listen to it or what to tell it to do. Now I hear those signals loud and clear, but I admit that I don't always heed their advice. I learned from speaking with Carly that I can take the signals I'm getting from my body more seriously and that I can make more conscious choices based on these cues.

Check out my interview with Carly below an then click on the link below the video to access a free resource that she's offering all of my readers...a guide to start asking yourself better questions in order to get better results. I answered the questions in my guide and helped sort out the source of some stress I've been having about an upcoming trip and teaching gig in Japan that I'm leaving for next week. By asking myself "what" instead of "why", listening to my body and not overthinking the questions I uncovered the source of my stress and created a plan to move beyond it.

Walk Yourself to Better Posture

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Are you ready to hit the ground walking? 

I'm just back from a fabulous and intense 6-days of continuing education on feet and walking gait in Santa Cruz, CA.  I typically work with everyone on walking to some extent, but I'm now making it an more integral part of my teaching as it's even clearer to me just how much how you walk affects your posture.  How you sit and stand affects how you move and how you move also affects how you sit and stand.

When I ask new clients when they are most aware of the changes they are making with their posture, one of the most common replies is, "When I'm walking...", usually because they're not distracted by work.  Let's make that productive walking time (in terms of your posture) even more productive.

Spending some time being a student again last week was great and here were my big takeaways....My toes can make more contact with the ground and my left hip can move more when I walk.  (And wow, does that feel great!) Yes, your big toe can be a big deal...but you might not notice that the toe is fully kissing the floor until you actually feel it doing so.  Why?  Because we adapt to our habits and what we get used to feels normal until we have a contrasting experience. 

Metaphor for habit (referencing the photo above):  If the lighthouse is tilted and I'm tilted too, I'll probably never notice that the lighthouse is tilted.  It will look straight from my perspective unless my perspective changes.  What does that mean?  Start to change your posture and change your walking and you'll notice that it feels different from how you usually do it, which will open the door for CHANGE. 

You can get started now.  Start by just noticing where you feel the most pressure on your feet when you stand.  Is it on the heels or the balls of the feet?  More on one foot than the other?  On the inner or outer edges?  The more information you observe about yourself, the more ready you'll be to improve your posture and you'll have a baseline from which to observe contrast and improvement.

6 things NOT to do to fix your posture

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Have you been trying to fix your posture?  Have you found it frustrating?  

Postural problems come from getting stuck in habits of how we hold ourselves up and move.  Often what people do to try to fix their posture actually creates worse posture and more discomfort.  

Here are some tips that you can put into practice right now so you can actually start improving your posture while you stop trying so hard to "fix" it.  

1. DON'T pull your shoulder blades back or lift up your chest - A cultural fear of slouching has developed.  Though slouching is a problem, holding yourself in the opposite position doesn't solve it.  If you pull your ribcage and shoulders back, you'll just end up stuck in another position and not a very sustainable one.  Have you ever tried to hold yourself this way?  Not very comfortable, right?  You might feel tense.  Your breath may feel shallow.  All signs that you're just holding another position.  I like to call this position "backward slouching" because when you do it you end up leaning back and creating a lot of tension and pressure into the lower back.  It's ok to move your shoulder back to open the fridge, start the lawnmower, do a pulling exercise at the gym, or hold a yoga pose, but these are movements and movements are temporary and not a way to hold yourself up effectively.

2.  DON'T try to not to stay perfectly still - What is the first thing people tend to do when they think of good posture?  After they've pulled their chests up and their shoulders back, they usually try not to move.   It's actually impossible to stand perfectly still and it's not good for your body to try and do so, unless there's a mountain lion in the bushes!  We are always balancing and rebalancing even when we think we are still. 

If you feel out of balance, try my audio guide for a floor exercise that helps you to  reconnect to the feeling of being in your body and to let go of some of the stress and tension you've been carrying around.  See if you feel a little more relaxed and balanced. When you get up, can be a little more upright and still without having to stiffen?

3.  DON'T hold your belly in - Sometimes people mistake holding their gut in for maintaining "core" strength.  Not only is holding your belly in not engaging your core, but it interferes with maintaining good relaxed posture, prevents you from breathing properly, and may adversely affect your digestion.  Good posture and staying active helps promote core strength, not simply tightening your tummy. 

And BONUS, improving your posture can make you look slimmer...not by clenching your belly, but maintaining length in your body and avoiding an overly swayed back (swayed back = belly forward).  Here's what one of my clients had to say on that topic:  

After 10 or so lessons, several people who hadn’t seen me for a while thought I had lost weight. It was simply the better posture that made me look slimmer and taller! - Katri Touri, Global Accounts Manager

4.  DON'T forget your head - Often "fixing" posture is thought of as having something  to do with adjusting the ribcage and pelvis.  The ribcage and pelvis are, of course, relevant, but what's way up on top of them is the head and the head is HEAVY!  And we tend to pull and drop our heavy heads around at our desks, on our phones, rushing on foot or driving through traffic. 

See if you can notice during your day if you're pushing your face forward to look at a screen or dropping your head down.  When you strain to look at something your probably tense your neck, which pulls on your heavy head and puts a lot of pressure down through your body affecting the ribcage, pelvis, and everything below.  And here are 2 easy ways to start changing these habits...

- Let what you're seeing come to you.  Don't strain toward what you're looking at.  If you're having trouble seeing what you're looking at (ie. your computer screen), move it closer to you are adjust the font size.
- Scratch or tap the top of your head from time to time.  This will help you be aware of the top of your head and just that sensation helps people sit and stand taller and more comfortably.

5.  DON'T forget your feet - Feet are easily ignored, but your feet are your base of support and although they may be touching the ground, they may be quite stiff and not making good contact with the ground.  Try to wear shoes that allow your toes to spread out, keep your feet on the floor as much as possible at your desk, and bring your attention to your feet from time to time.  Just that attention, can help you feel more grounded and supported and like you can better relax your upper body.

6.  DON'T forget to breathe - This is the fool-proof test of your posture.  If your breathing is shallow, you're either collapsed or stiff in your body.  (Remember #2...Don't try to hold still.  Breathing is a form of movement.)  Also, sometime people actively hold their breath to concentrate or when they feel stressed, which sets off a chain reaction of postural issues.  If you are trying to change your posture by stiffening and you're breathing feels restricted, then re-evaluate your approach.

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 7 - Sitting on the Floor

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  

Today I am launching my new audio guide for sitting!  Click here to try it out!

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I've talked about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggested simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  Thanks for following along!  If you missed the previous days, check them out here on my blog

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If you have a lot of trouble with slouching, you might not want to start with this position, but if sitting on your floor or bed is your default, here's how to set yourself up for success with your posture.  

By the way, I love working sitting on the floor!  I don't by any means consider this position a no-no.  You just have to know how to do it.  Here are the main points and check out the photo of me above.

1.  Sit on some pillows or a bolster - This will make your pelvis slightly higher than your knees, which reduces strain in the hips and lower back.

2.  Place your lap top on something to raise it up - a coffee table or some kind of low furniture like what you see me using.

3.  Use an external keyboard - If you're doing a lot of typing, reaching up to your keyboard will likely strain your shoulders.  Attach an external keyboard and place it on your lap.

4.  Stay balanced - Just tip your chin like you see me doing if you are looking a bit down at your screen.  If looking down at all leads you to slouch, then place your laptop on something a bit higher.

This is the last installment in my series on sitting this week!  I hope you've found this helpful and please reply to this email if you have any questions or would like to share your experience with trying out anything I've suggested.  

And don't forget to be one of the first to try my new free audio guide on sitting that I launched today!  Click here to listen to it.

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 6 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’m talking about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  If you missed the previous days, check them out here on my blog

Day 6 - Planes, Trains, and Automobiles

Today's topic is transportation.  I'll start with some suggestions for the local folks here in New York City (and other city dwellers) where many of us spend a lot more time on trains than the rest of the world.  Then I'll move on to cars and airplanes. 

Subway trains
In NYC, the seats tend to fall into two categories...

1 - The ones with the annoying dip/indent in part you sit on. (the orange and yellow ones)
2 - The seats with the bump on the back. (the blue ones)

The bump on the back is a sort of lumbar support, which I find very comfortable because, lucky me, the bump his my back in just the right spot, but heights and proportions vary so much that I hear more often than not from my clients that the bump hits their back in the wrong place.  The  other seats (the ones with the dip) are the ones that drive me crazy because I find my bottom keeps sliding forward.

What to do?  On the seats with the dip, I spend some time leaning back and then I switch to sitting on the edge of the seat for a little while and go back and forth.  I make sure to keep both feet flat on the floor to help prevent sliding. 

In regards to the seats with the bump on the back...If the bump hits your back in the wrong place, you could try sticking a scarf or sweatshirt behind you to fill any gaps.  If you don't mind carrying one, you could even bring a little cushion with you.  A cushion on the back is also helpful to reduce the depth of the seat if your feet don't touch the floor when you lean all the way back.

In the car
Car seats come in various shapes and sizes, as do we, so I'll just focus on a few main points...
1.  Leaning back on the headrest is fine, but make sure that it's not positioned in such a way that it's pushing your head and neck forward and down. (for drivers and passengers)

2.  Make sure you adjust the seat so that you can look straight ahead to see, you can reach the pedals comfortably, and hold the steering wheel without tensing/lifting your shoulders.

3.  Consider a seat or lumbar cushion if you find your lower back rounding.  A seat cushion like this one can help support your pelvis and lower back.

On the plane
When flying coach, many folks I know prefer the aisle seat for ease of getting up without disturbing your sleeping neighbor.  I do advise you to get up and move when in the air, but an advantage to the window seat is that even if the sit you're sitting on seems like it was purposely designed to be as uncomfortable as possible, you have the option of propping up a pillow and leaning against the wall.  I'll let you decide what to prioritize, but I just wanted to float that idea out there!  Otherwise a neck pillow, can help keep you more comfy when sitting up, especially when you fall asleep.

A few hours into a flight, I often start to feel some discomfort in my lower back and a feel an urge to move it around and fidget.  The fidgeting doesn't do much to help my lower back, so instead I do the following.  It's like a little meditation.  Your eyes can be open or closed.
1.  I sit all the way back in the seat with my bottom in the corner where the seat meets the back.  (Reclining the seat is fine.)
2.  Bring my awareness to the top of my head, to make sure that my head isn't slumping down.
3.  Place my feet flat on the floor
4.  Bring my attention to both of my hands and both of my feet.  Keep my attention on my hands and feet for about 10 minutes.  I make sure I'm not holding my breath and that I'm just putting my attention on the hands and feet.  I'm not tensing or moving them.  
5.  I relax and breath while maintaining this focus and resist the urge to fidget and move my lower back.
6.  Eventually I feel more relaxed and the discomfort dissapates.

Try it and see if it works for you!

Tomorrow I'll talk about sitting on the floor and I'll be launching my audio guide for sitting!

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 5 - The Couch

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’m talking about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  If you missed the previous days, check them out here on my blog

Day 5 - The Couch

Your living room couch may seem to be far from the ideal ergonomic workstation, but given the portability of devices, you probably spend a fair amount of time sitting on it if you work on a laptop.  Here are two ways to set yourself up for avoiding strain.

1.  Lean back and relax, but really lean and scoot all the way back so your bottom is where the seat of the couch meets the back.   You can put a pillow behind you for extra support or to keep your back supported if you want to lean back at an angle.  Sitting all the way back against a pillow or the back of the couch avoids the downward slide where you could end up practically sitting on your lower back (ouch!).  It may feel comfy at first, but after awhile, sitting on your lower will likely cause strain. 

Also, make sure you're really letting your shoulders relax back onto the couch.  If you tend to pull your shoulders forward when you type, see if you can type while simply keeping your shoulders leaning back on the couch.  Don't pull them back, just let them relax back as much as you can.

If you're laptop is on your lap, you'll have to look down a bit to see it.  Instead of dropping your head and upper body forward and down, gently tip your chin and just slightly nod your head.  

2.  Lie down and prop your upper back and head up with some pillows.  If you like working in this position, I highly recommend investing in a "Chill Desk".  You can use it if you work on your laptop lying in bed as well and it can also be used to turn your desk or a table top into a standing desk.  Check out this video on the chill desk here.

Tomorrow I'll talk about sitting in transit.  And stay tuned for the launch of my audio guide on sitting coming up on Saturday!

And check out what further topics to expect this week:
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor 

New Year's Guide to Sitting - Day 4 Backless Seating - The stool and the ball

To kick off the new year, I’m sending out a daily email this week, focusing each day on a different type of chair or way we sit.  At the end of the week, I will launch my long-requested audio guide for sitting!  

How we sit is more important than what we sit on, but...if your seating is working against you, you’ll be on a uphill battle to sitting better.  

Each day this week I’m talking about a form of seating, some common issues with each one, and suggest simple solutions to help with the most common problems.  If you missed the previous days, check them out on my blog.

One of the questions I'm asked most often is, "What about sitting on a ball?  Isn't that supposed to be good for your posture?"  The answer isn't a simple yes or no.

The ball is a great way to practice "active sitting" (ie. sitting upright without something to lean on)...but you actually have to sit actively, like this for it to be effective.  The ball can be especially effective because it moves.  Seating that's a little unstable makes you have to work a little harder (in a good way) and get the right muscles to engage to hold you up properly.

You could also end up sitting like this on a ball if you get tired and forget about your posture.  Slouching on the ball defeats the whole purpose!

So, what's the take-away here? 

1.  If you had never run more than a block or two to catch the bus, would you go out one morning and suddenly run five miles?  Probably not...or at least you'd think twice about it.  It's a similar idea with the ball.  If you're not used to actively sitting, you need to practice and start by doing it well for short periods of time.  When you get tired, stop and switch to a chair.  It's like couch to 5K for sitting.  Work up to it!

2.  Postural education is very helpful so that you know how to sit on the ball well (ie. take some lessons or classes) and so that you recognize the warning signs when you've been on the ball long enough.  

Take the same advice for sitting on a stool or on the edge of your chair.  I love sitting and working on my computer on a stool.  But even with all of the posture practice I do, I might get tired after an hour or so and want a little more support or at least a change of position.  

And check out what further topics to expect this week:

The couch
Seating in planes, trains and automobiles
The floor