ACTIVE AND PASSIVE POSTURES
It's way past breakfast time and I'm idling at the dining room table—I’m slouching at the table. My pelvis is tucked under, my lower back is compressed and my chest is sunken, exactly what I encourage people not to do in chairs. Here’s my excuse: in The New Rules of Posture, I drew a distinction between active and passive sitting. My idea was that when you sit to do work, your alignment is more critical than it is when mind and body are relaxing. I’m reading a novel. I’m passive!
THE REAL WORLD
But the book gives me a wake-up call. In it two characters disagree about whether one’s perception of “the real world” is a factor of class. (It’s a British novel.) One of them says, "it seems self-evident that everyone lives in the real world—we all breathe real oxygen, eat real food, and the earth under our feet feels equally solid to all of us."
That last phrase snapped me out of my trance. Because I don't think the earth feels equally solid to everyone, or even equally solid to anyone from one moment to the next. Me, for example. In this moment, I only seem to be relaxing in the chair. In fact I'm in a state of procrastination and my to-do list looms in the air about three feet away, slightly off to the right. Because I work for myself, there's no official start to my workday. I’ll read just one more chapter, I decide.
How solid does the ground feel to me at this moment? Although my feet are on the ground, they are in fact poised lightly in my slippers, nearly weightless. My buttocks and back lean on the chair but my weight doesn’t fully rest into the wood. It almost seems as though the legs of the chair don’t rest into the floor, as though the chair and I are hovering, drawn toward the to-do list even as my eyes scan back-and-forth across the book’s pages. My blood seems to be running uphill. I’m neither here nor there—not really resting, but not starting the day either.
Of course I know that blood courses in all directions. Those urgent uphill sensations are generated by my nervous system. How many times do I need to notice this? I know how to reverse the flow of my sensations, how to find the weight of my bones, how to rest into the security of the ground. The rub is: if I feel grounded, I can’t continue to procrastinate.
BE HERE NOW
Sitting posture (or any posture) isn’t just about active vs. passive, work vs. relaxation, sitting up straight vs. slouching. It’s about how truly and thoroughly present we are in any moment. In full relaxation mode, I can slouch for a while without harming my body. But when I’m divided within myself, part of me ready to engage with the world and another part reluctant and making little inner deals to steal time—“just one more chapter”—then my body is revving in neutral. Regardless of whether I’m sitting well or poorly, muscles tense, fascia thickens and nerves are irritated. The breaks I take in such a state fail to nourish or revive.
Ram Dass said it so well: Be Here Now. Our bodies are always asking for that.