Correct Posture


I remember thinking as a first grader that sitting up straight was somehow an important thing for me to be doing. At the time, it was primarily a matter of what I thought the teacher expected of us kids. But now, after practicing Aikido Kokikai for a number of years, I've realized that correct posture is far more important than it seemed back in grade school, when I sat in my little wooden chair with my back straight and my chest out. (Until, after a few minutes, I got sick of it and went back to slumping.)

We've all heard that the mind leads the body. This is an important realization; that by changing what you believe, you can actually change what your body is capable of doing. But to bring things around full circle, it's critical to understand that the body leads the mind, too. Stand up straight, walk tall, and you will actually think and feel better.

But actually, it goes a lot further than that. The fact of the matter is, when your posture is correct (and we'll talk about what we mean by "correct" in a moment), you are already doing a good job at that strange, mysterious, and elusive ki principle of keeping One-Point.

Now isn't that cool? Having correct posture actually helps you to be calmer, more relaxed, more physically and mentally stable. Hard to believe maybe. But you can actually put this to the test.

We said elsewhere in this site that when you are keeping one-point, your body is more stable. We showed that if someone gently pushed your body when you were keeping one-point, you were less likely to lose your balance. So let's test you for one-point, without even thinking about one-point. We'll only think about having correct posture.

Stand up, feet side by side, weight on your heels, shoulders kind of slumped. Have someone touch just below your collar bone and gently push toward your spine. Pretty unstable, right?

Now stand again with your feet side by side. Only this time, put your weight on the balls of your feet, so your heels just lightly touch the floor. Push your chest out slightly. Hold you head upright and look straight forward. Lean ever so slightly forward from your hips. Then have your friend test you again in the same manner. Any better?

Chances are, you were more stable the second time around. In fact, you probably tested about as well as you would have had you been thinking about keeping one- point. Well, that's because when your posture is correct, you are naturally keeping one-point. Neat, huh?

Now all of that was just to show you the importance of correct posture. It isn't about improving the way you look (although it does), or some strange kind of self- discipline. It's about helping you find a better mind/body state. Finding correct posture actually feels good.

So lets talk about what's correct for a few different postures. And then we'll show you what's correct with our cool Shockwave and Quicktime VR movies. (If you haven't got the Shockwave or Quicktime plug-ins, now would be a good time to download them.)

Okay. So how about just standing? I can't tell you how many people I see standing around that I know would feel so much better if they just changed their posture slightly. (And this really is about feeling better.) So here's what to do.

Natural Stance Instructions

  1. Stand with your feet side by side, about shoulder width apart.
  2. Raise up on the balls of your feet.
  3. Now gradually lower your heels until they just barely touch the floor.
  4. Push your sternum out slightly.
  5. Tuck your chin in a little.
  6. And, this is going to feel a little weird, lean forward ever so slightly from your hips.

(Roll your cursor over the photo at the left for a few additional tips.)

There. Now you should feel completely stiff and unnatural. Which, of course, is not our goal. But the point is to help your body feel something a little different. Maybe even go a little too far in our adjustments. Then you can gradually make changes and find what is truly correct for you.
The way to make those changes is ki testing - having someone gently push your body from various angles to see if you remain stable. And we said gently! Here's how to have your friend push:

Tests for Natural Stance

  • Touch just below the collar bone and gently press toward the spine.
  • Touch the lower back and push directly forward.
  • Hold an ankle and lift up.
  • Grasp a wrist and lift directly up toward the shoulder.

If you move a little, make a slight adjustment to your posture then have your friend test you again. Don't try to resist her push! This is just to find out something about your current posture. If you fall over, fine. Change something and try again. But test in a spirit of cooperation. If you feel frustrated by the tests, then tell your friend not to push so hard.

Seiza is a wonderful posture. Just sitting in this manner gives me a wonderfully comfortable feeling of one-point. But this posture is certainly not part of the typical Westerner's "posture repertoire". So don't be surprised if it's a little hard at first. (Note: If you have bad knees, this is probably not for you.)

Seiza Instructions

  1. Kneel on the floor with your knees about three fists apart.
  2. Sit so that your bottom touches, but does not rest on, your heels. (Your thigh muscles have to do a little work here.)
  3. Place your palms on your thighs, right near your pelvis.
  4. Sit up straight, so that there is a slight concave curve in your lower back.
  5. Push your sternum out slightly.
  6. Tuck your chin in a little.

(Roll your cursor over the photo at the left for a few additional tips.)

How are you doing? Can't wait to get up? Though sitting in seiza may seem like punishment, if you can get past the initial challenge, it really does begin to feel great. (Just to be clear here: I don't mean it will feel great today. I mean after a couple of months. Sorry - but it really is worth the effort.)
Once again, having someone test your posture will help you make the right adjustments. Here's how to have a friend test you. (Remember: Gently! We're not trying to upset someone's posture here. Rather, we just want to give that person a little feedback so he can make his posture more stable.)

Tests for Seiza

  • Place both hands high on the chest, just below the collar bone, and press forward and slightly down.
  • Place one hand on the lower back and press forward.
  • Hold under the knee and lift up.
  • Hold a wrist and gently lift up.

Sitting in seiza for just a few minutes a day does wonderful things for your mind/body state. If I do nothing else that's ki-related in the morning, if it's too late to do any ki exercises or stretching, I will still sit in seiza for a few moments. It changes the whole character of my day.

(Drag your cursor over the photo at the left to see Seiza from all directions. If the QuickTime VR file of Seiza didn't download automatically, you can get it now.)
Here's another seated posture - one that is probably more familiar. But you may be surprised at how you can make it feel better and be more stable.

Sitting Crosslegged Instructions (And you thought you already knew how.)

  1. Sit on the floor and cross your legs.
  2. Let you knees drop to the lowest level that is comfortable.
  3. Make your back relatively straight (in this posture, there will not be much curve to your lower back).
  4. Push your chest out slightly.
  5. Tuck your chin in a little.
  6. Look forward.

That's not so bad, is it? (Kind of a little reward for all you people who just tried sitting in seiza.) Now, of course, when you're in any of these postures, you can also think about keeping one-point, being relaxed, and feeling positive. But the point is, you don't have to, because finding correct posture, by itself, reinforces these feelings.

Here are some tests for this posture. (It's kind of interesting: Though the posture is easier, the tests are harder to pass.)

Tests for Sitting Cross Legged

  • Touch high on the chest with both hands, just below the collar bone, and push forward and slightly down. (Test very gently. With this test, most people have the stability of a Weeble.)
  • Stand behind, and place the palms of both hands on the upper back by the shoulder blades, and push forward.
  • Here's the toughest one to pass: Hold under the knee and lift upward.

(That last test is almost impossible. Keep practicing, keep one-point, and gradually, you will feel more stable.)

This is a good posture for sitting in when you're watching TV. (In case you find it hard to enjoy your favorite show when you're sitting in seiza.)

Now, you can check for correct posture no matter what activity you are involved with. Morihei Ueshiba, the founder of Aikido, helped Sadaharu Oh find the correct posture for batting, and therefore helped him to become the Japanese Home Run King. There are photographs of Koichi Tohei Sensei in one of his books helping a golfer find the correct posture for his swing. Determine what postures are important for you, for your sport, and for your life.

Do you spend a lot of time working at a computer terminal? Holding a child? Standing behind a counter? This time can be spent in ki training. Ask yourself, how can I make adjustments to these postures the way I did for natural stance and sitting on the floor? Try making these adjustments. Do they make you feel better? This is an important question to ask yourself.

Then, have someone test you. One of my students was a kayaker. She said that when the water was rough, it made kayaking much harder because you had to work hard to maintain your balance. So I had her sit on the floor in the same posture as she would have had in her boat, then tested her from the front, the back and the sides. In this manner, I simply provided the same ki tests that the wind and the water did when she was in her boat.

Have someone check the various postures that are important to your life. Make changes. Then consistently apply those changes to your daily life.