12 Rules for Posture

Functional exercises to stand up straighter and escape screen-induced slouch

e’ve all been brainwashed to some extent by René Descartes’ “dualism.”

“I think, therefore I am.” — René Descartes

The Age of Enlightenment cleaved mind from matter — overemphasizing the cognitive realm at the expense of the physical body. The West’s collective crisis of confidence arguably comes from our loss of a kinesthetic tradition, i.e., a culture of movement.

Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life supports this idea and hints at the coming of a great reversal — a recovery of embodied intelligence, starting with improved posture.

Peterson’s first rule [“Stand up straight with your shoulders back”] is meant to help the beaten and broken-down bootstrap their way up in a ruthless and chaotic world. He links good posture with higher serotonin, status, and confidence, lower anxiety and illness, and a longer lifespan.

Conversely, bad posture creates a vicious cycle:

Scott Alexander of Slate Star Codex makes the point in his review that it’s not so much what Peterson says (largely motivational platitudes) but how he says it that makes him such a powerful voice.

“When [Peterson] says that God is the force for good inside each of us, you can feel that force pulsing through your veins. When he says the Bible stories are guides to how to live, you feel tempted to change your life goal to fighting Philistines.”

– *Book Review: 12 Rules for Life*, Slate Star Codex.

In other words, he’s already doing it. Peterson’s YouTube videos exhibit a man who practices what he preaches, and his words carry authority because of his physical poise.

Although not a man of great physical stature, Peterson’s prophetic qualities enable him to teach you about lobsters and dominance hierarchies in nature and almost inexplicably motivate you to change your behavior.

But… How?

Still, Peterson leaves a gap.

Standing up straight with your shoulders back is a good description of empowered posture — a “stance of ready engagement with the world.” But it falls short of a prescription for recovering good posture permanently.

In addition to weakened muscles, most of us have bad habits that cement whatever problematic postures we might have picked up by submitting to the lower rungs of dominance hierarchy.

Some of us may even be growing a bony spike in our skulls as a result of too much screen viewing.

We didn’t get this way overnight, and there’s no instant fix either.

SAID Principle: The Most Important Idea in Functional Fitness

Bad habits develop from the mismatch between our evolved posture and a more “adaptive” technology-induced slouch.

How many of us have jobs that require looking at a computer a certain number of hours per day?

From an energy standpoint, hunching over is in fact the most efficient posture for looking at your phone/computer screen.

In fitness lingo, slouching can be considered a specific adaptation to an imposed demand (SAID), much like stronger muscles result from intense exercise.

Motivational slogans are just the first step to overcoming the inertia of our sedentary lives. We must adopt certain postural best practices, such that carrying our body properly becomes subconscious and natural, i.e., habitual.

Standing on the Shoulders of Giants:

After reviewing various systems for improving posture — from the well-known (like yoga and Pilates) to the more obscure (like Feldenkrais, GMB, ELDOA, and the Alexander Technique) — I’ve found the most applicable insights from the Gokhale Method.

The founder, Esther Gokhale, notes that our bodies evolved in motion and are designed to move in an unstable balance — not to stand rigidly. She helps people restore “primal posture” by mimicking specific populations whose non-technological lifestyles have preserved robust, upright spines.

Ideally, we would imitate the natural movements that were demanded of our ancestors. However, we don’t need to go back to a hunter-gatherer lifestyle to recover upright posture and all of the benefits that come with it.

A Hybrid Method for Naturally Good Posture

There is no single “correct” technique. My method employs 12 simple rules to make postural awareness habitual. Check it out:

I have to confess that I break my own rules for good posture several times per day, but that didn’t stop me from making a video to remind myself of what I should optimally be doing.

My first rule — “Lead with your heart out” — is a variant on a suggestion from the Alexander Technique to envision a fountain of water welling up inside of you, rather than picturing some imaginary “correct” posture, or thinking of your body as something that you have to lug around.

Metaphors like these can be more powerful than formulas and exercises, but you need a balance of practical tips and motivation.

After a period of intentional practice, it becomes unconscious and you no longer need the method.

The MovNat book lays out the 4 stages to getting there:

  • Stage 1- Unconscious incompetence — We don’t even realize how poor our posture is compared to our ancestors.
  • Stage 2- Conscious incompetence — We become aware of our bad posture, but it is still poor.
  • Stage 3- Conscious competence — We frequently remind ourselves to make changes.
  • Stage 4- Unconscious competence — Finally, the awareness becomes automatic and natural.

To get started:

  1. Set a timer for 25 to 45 minutes (download the Chrome app).
  2. Get up from your desk each time it goes off.
  3. Pick a movement or series of movements you are comfortable with.
  4. Lather, rinse, repeat.

RESOURCES: More movement models to follow

From Esther Gokhale we get…

The Alexander Technique gives us Five Simple Tips (to avoid text neck)[VIDEO]

MovNat offers 6 Natural Movements Worth Doing Every Day.

Finally, check out my highlights of Overcoming Poor Posture: A Systematic Approach to Refining Your Posture for Health and Performancea short book by the creators of GMB Fitness.

This book makes the same points about the importance of habit and the dynamic nature of posture/movement; the final section features images and explanations of stretches and exercises to strengthen your whole body.

If you want to simple inspiration incorporating all of the above, check out the video — reverse your slouch, and keep fighting those Philistines.

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