I am looking at a photograph, a street scene of turn-of-the-previous-century San Francisco. Men and women are crossing the street, walking on the sidewalk, some carrying lumber, some of them parcels. There is horizontal motion and there is the vertical element to match it. These folks have backs. Why? Because they need them. Chairs in many homes are a luxury. And in many homes and businesses, benches, maybe even stumps, suffice, or simply squatting. Slumping was not an option. It spoke too meaningfully of one’s place in society, and that place was not very high.
Our posture today, yours and mine, is saying something too. We live in the default position of hips forward with our backsunder our fronts. It says many things. It says I’m cool. I’m sexually available. I can get down. It says I am slated for serious back trouble at some point in my life. You can do better. Me too. We can get some backbone, some support from our spine. We can let our backs remain back. Here’s how to begin.
Stand with your back toward a wall, a wall without bumps or crannies. Let your heels be equidistant from the wall, 4 or 5 inches away from it, maybe more if your derriere is more blessed than mine. Agree that at no point are you going to press your back or any other part of you against the wall. Now, as though from a sail between your head and ceiling, a nice large one, let the wind in that sail float you back to the wall from the ankles. Wherever you meet the wall is okay. Just rest there a moment and fully receive the support of the wall. Give up your holding in your ankles, in your hips. Let your back lengthen and widen.
Now here’s the heart of the matter. Let’s do the whole thing again. But wait. In a moment you’re going to bend your knees, send them forward, but not yet. First free your hips by melting the leg away from your torso. Develop a conversation within your pelvis, back speaking to front, front to back. Free it. Think the knee going forward and then slowly, very slowly, comply.
You may find that as your knees go forward, the torso begins to slip down against the wall. That’s perfectly all right. Or, as you free your hips, you may find you can send your knees forward while your torso remains briefly in place. You’ve created space in your hips. You’ve freed your legs and you’ve got your back. What a gift! You were expecting maybe a Ferarri? This is much better, a living asset. Now go find yourself another wall. Merry Christmas. Happy Chanukah. Brighter days. They’re all in the cards if your back stays back. Back back! Need I mention this is a great exercise for your studio, your class, or your office.