An Enviable Position

A long time ago, a good boss told me that if I want to meet multiple deadlines, I need to bear in mind two rules: 1) Start early, and 2) Start writing. Productivity is the sine qua non of successful author-dom.

So when I saw an article, about how body position and posture can affect mood, recall, self-image and other brain functions, and particularly how hunching over a cell phone or screen can make us more anxious, dull, and down, I sat back–from my computer screen–and bethought myself: I really tend to slump in the early afternoons. Physically and otherwise. I’ve noticed this particularly since I had to get a new computer, a Surface (which I do not like), because my old ASUS crashed without warning (which I hated).

The Surface has a smaller screen, the resolution and illumination aren’t as effective. Long story short, I tend to be “hunchier” when I’m writing these days. In addition to twiddling the computer end of that equation, I decided to take action on the Grace-end.

I inserted into my day several gratuitous expressions of a few power poses, including the “pride” posture . This is the way we present ourselves, arms up and outstretched, chin lifted, often a leg lifted as well, when we’re spontaneously exhilarated by achievement. Even blind people, who have never seen an end zone dance or watched Usain Bolt take the victory lap, will adopt this posture when celebrating a great accomplishment.

The results for me have been positive. I  stand in the kitchen, feet apart, hands on hips, Wonder Woman-style, as the microwave is heating my tea water, and my confidence centers. If I do my victory lap around the living room when I’m picking up cat toys, and I find I’m naturally inclined in those moments to think more upbeat thoughts, even if I do look silly. I open up my sitting position, fold my arms behind my head, and I’m not a self-employed author slogging through a book’s middle, I’m the executive director of my own literary empire.

There has to be something to this. Drill sergeants, band leaders, grandmas, and life coaches all tell us to sit up straight, to own our space, to stand tall. The advocates for good posture come at us from many perspectives, and similarly, the advocates for bad posture–the bosses who want us hunched over the screen sixty hours a week with no OT, the politicians who don’t care if schools have up to date classroom furniture, the prisons that cram full grown men into cots sized for boy scouts–aren’t served by our confidence and self-possession. I suspect putting women in four-inch stilettos might also have an ulterior agenda besides… though, really, what IS the point of teetering around in stilettos?

I don’t know how this train of thought will find its way into my books–it’s too good not to use–but I am glad that article caught my eye (while I was hunched over my computer).

If you were going to work some power poses into your day, where would you start? Or are they already there? Did somebody encourage you to develop good posture earlier in life? To one commenter, I’ll send a $50 gift card.

 

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52 comments on “An Enviable Position

  1. 1
    Susan Gorman says:

    Wow!
    This hit home! I work on a PC with 2 large screens. I notice that around 11 that my neck and back hurt- I get up and walk to the rest room, down an aisle or to the cafe to re heat my tea.
    I usually walk at lunch and feel better- a break from the desk and fresh air does wonders.
    I would start with a power pose at home before heading out to work.
    Rose ( my kitchen dog in training) probably won’t notice a wonder woman pose or two!

  2. 2
    Make Kay says:

    I’m a slumper when I sit at work, but fortunately I’ve got a sitting/standing desk, so I stand at least half the time. And yoga is great at reminding you to mind your posture!

    • 2.1

      My sister swears by her standing/sitting desk. She likes it partly because she can change postures, but also because it’s one more way she’s not locked into somebody else’s idea of ideal screen height and so forth. And yes… yoga!

  3. 3
    Teenie Marie says:

    I have to have good body positions in my work–as a singer, I gotta stand up straight to sing those high B-flats and as a conductor, I need to look like I’m in charge (’cause I am). It’s especially important to *look* like I’m in charge as a WOMAN CONDUCTOR.

    In my everyday life, such as writing at my laptop etc. I have noticed I slump and I can feel when I’ve had too much time in front of the screen. I do some ballet stretches (I am a former ballet dancer so I’ve ALWAYS stood up straight)and use some of my Alexander Technique training.

    Did you hear of Alexander Technique when you were in music school? Alexander was an Australian Shakespearean actor in the beginning of the 20th century who often lost his voice and for years, struggled with how to prevent it from happening. He came up with the idea of body alignment and and breathing to prevent tension and…the rest is history. One of my sons, who is a pianist, took an Alexander course in music school. My undergrad voice teacher was an Alexander Technique teacher and my current voice teacher also uses his techniques. Check it out; it’s not just for performers!

    • 3.1

      I did come across Alexander Technique, also Dalcroze Eurhythmics (before the group stole the word). Anything done bodily was nearly impossible for me in early adulthood (crushingly self-conscious), but now I’m not so bashful.
      There is a class in dressage called musical freestyle, where you ride the horse to the music of your choice, demonstrating certain movements according to your own choreography. Some horses REALLY take to it… maybe some day.

  4. 4
    Mary T says:

    Well, with both hips and one knee shot, it is hard for me to stand up straight at all anymore – but I still try.

    When I look at the kids bent over their I Phones I think of their poor necks. I was somewhat of a slumper when I worked at my desk during my working years, especially after we converted to PCs. The first place that I noticed arthritis was in my neck in my mid fifties. I’m betting they are going to feel it waaaay before then.

  5. 5
    Margaret says:

    It’s an old story that people probably don’t believe, but my grandmother really did make me walk around with a heavy book on my head. To this day, the people that catch my attention in a crowd are the ones with great posture and confidence. I slip up all the time, but I try to remind myself to sit or stand tall and to both lengthen and relax my neck–not always easy to do! And since I drink tea all day long, I have to get up to use the necessary often enough that I don’t get too crumpled when I write for a few hours!

    • 5.1

      Riding does good things for my posture, which might be part of the reason why it does good things for my mood. It’s a core-body sport, meaning you have to wrap your middle in muscle to do more than be a passenger, but it’s always a surprise how SORE a good riding lesson can leave my tummy.
      Maybe I should practice sitting at my computer with a book on my head?

  6. 6
    Carol Wagner says:

    Since I retired, I spend most of my time at home. I start my day with stretches before I get out of bed. Once I’m vertical, I strike the Wonder Woman (also after bedmaking, kitchen tidying, etc.). To make the most of bright desert sun light, all of the hallways in our house end in full length mirrors. I make a point of standing tall and striding purposefully as I move toward one. Each time I rise from a chair, I stretch tall. Small things, but I think each contributes to my well-being.

  7. 7
    Marianne says:

    Grace, buy a screen, a keyboard, and use that Surface as a hard drive. You will still have it to haul around with you when you change position.

    I was recently diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome, which among other things mimics carpal tunnel, de Quervain’s, tennis elbow, the upshot of which my hands go numb and I drop things. My “exercises” are called physical therapy and I’m supposed to do them twice a day.

    And I often work or read on an iPad, after which both the physical and massage therapist tell me, “You’ve been working with your head down…”. (A heavy bustline is also a liability.)

    • 7.1

      I have a remote keyboard, mouse, platform… the Surface is pretty much a screen sitting at my ideal height. What I dislike the most about it is the unrelenting invasion of privacy that comes with it, and its absolutely crap tech. The day of purchase blue screen is a thing with the Surface, as is its lousy bluetooth interface. It’s simply bad workmanship, but I was within shouting distance of a Microsoft store when my ASUS died… so.
      This too shall pass.

  8. 8
    Denise Morris says:

    My Dad always reminded me to “stand up straight” and all through my life when I catch myself slouching, I hear his voice. I was very conscious of my posture during my working days to sit straight and to have the proper chair height, otherwise I did suffer from neck and arm pain. Today I have balance issues and walking tall helps alleviate my fear of falling. Interesting post.

    • 8.1

      It’s interesting that there have been lawsuits about women refusing to wear high heels to work, but never a lawsuit because a woman could not work comfortably at her computer. GRRR.

  9. 9
    Diane Sallans says:

    My lower back certainly feels better if I sit up straight, and my breathing is better if my shoulders are pushed back! It also feels good to do a big stretch reaching my arms up & out and bending a bit backwards to curve my spine out.

    Even tho I’m tall I’ve never been much of a slumper, and I’ve rarely worn very high heels, especially in recent years.

    I’ve been going to PT recently for a medical issue I had early this month. There was a lady there being treated for a back issue. As she was leaving she was talking to the receptionist & was kinda curved over leaning on the tall counter. The therapist called to her to straighten up & watch her posture (reminded me of a Mom).

    • 9.1

      The posture police… On the one hand, I don’t want anybody telling me how I should appear. “Stand up straight!” is as offensive to me as, “You should smile more!” But there are health consequences to chronic slumping, while the only consequence of not faking a smile is honesty… I hope.

  10. 10
    Sarah says:

    I try to keep my core muscles engaged when sitting (especially in the car) and walking. When your core is strong, back, neck, hip etc. all work better and I find even my mood lifts when I am not slouching. Having had pregnancies with large babies, my abdominals do not stay strong without conscious work and if my abdominals start to weaken I can feel it in a tight painful back right away. I know I should be more regular with the exercises but it is one of my goals to enter the 50’s this fall with a more reliable exercise routine.

  11. 11
    Sue Feller says:

    I have been working on my posture since physical therapy school. My frustration is that I can’t convince the teachers in the school I work in to take the concept seriously when setting up the classrooms.

    • 11.1

      Oh, that is priceless. Physical wellbeing for the patients, but not for the healers. What’s wrong with THAT picture? I hope when you graduate, you can somehow leave them a point to ponder in that regard. Being a PT is hard work. That you’re not supposed to train in a comfortable environment is a grand irony.

  12. 12
    Glenda M says:

    I’m on my feet most of the day and often strike a modified Wonder Woman pose while talking to customers. Modified beause I have my hands in my jean’s pockets so I don’t hurt someone talking with my hands. 😉 It does help me stand taller and breathe better. However, one of the, erm, joys of management is the huge amount of paperwork that goes with the job, so I get to spend a fair share of my time at the computer as well.The days that I am doing reports and more emails than usual, seem to take forever to go by because I am sitting hunched and staring at the computer screen for so long.

    While I have know a few women to whom strapping on the stilletos is akin to putting on armor – in part because it makes them phyysically more able to stare a man in the eye – I feel that the whole purpose is because men enjoy looking at women wearing them. Possibly in part because of the lack of easy footing those of us who do not wear them all the time experience. Probably also because they haven’t experienced having the sharp heel of one scraping down their shin and driven into the top of their foot when a woman who has taken self defense classes uses that move. (Also, a reason for some women to consider them armor.)

    • 12.1

      And heels give us a greater hip-sway when we walk. They make us slower when we need to run. They do all sorts of things that–if you’re not the person wearing the heels–make us better suited to the aims of patriarchy. Fortunately, sales of high heels are falling, while sales of flats and low heels are picking up. I think we’ll regard high heels one day the way we now look at extreme Victorian corsets: Why on earth would anybody….?

  13. 13
    Karen H near Tampa says:

    My Mom always told me to stand up straight. Being near-sighted and wearing glasses since age 12, and reading voraciously since age 7, I have been a slumper all my life. And now I have osteoporosis, I am getting a hump and have lost almost 3 inches of height! The computer does make it worse. But I do try to sit up straight periodically and have added a reminder on my computer to “get up” every 30 minutes. However, I don’t always pay attention to it. I am looking for a stand-up desk that I hope will help, too. I’m going to try to work in the power poses you mentioned (so thanks for that)!

    • 13.1

      I’m not really a slumper by nature, but I have lost about an inch and a half of height.I attribute to spinal compression caused by trying to ride big horses, but who knows? I spend a LOT of time at a computer, and that cannot be good for my posture.

  14. 14
    Anne Egger says:

    I have always been a sloucher. Ballet class was helpful, but usually I am not mindful of my posture. Power poses? Maybe Harry Potter?

    • 14.1

      Nobody has better posture than the dancers… though that business of turning out doesn’t strike me as so good for the knees and hips. I once saw a woman dislocate her knee in a class during petite allegro. NOT FUN. But the pull-up? The leg strength? The core strength? The arms in self-carriage? I’m good with all of that.

  15. 15
    Chris L. says:

    I have terrible posture when I don’t work to counteract my natural tendency to slouch. Two things I’ve done that have made a difference recently are lying flat on my back to fall asleep and resuming my yoga practice. I began the new year with a 30-day yoga challenge by a YouTube instructor whom I really enjoy following. She has put out a 30-day challenge for the month of January for the past several years. This year, I made myself take the leap back into practice despite really tight hips (and all sorts of other excuses), and I haven’t regretted a day since. I have three days left, and I notice improvements in all sorts of ways – fuller breathing even off the mat, strength in my arms, better balance, so much more calm and quiet in my mind, and much better posture. My favorite power pose is quiet mountain where you stand straight and tall and send energy up your front body and down your back body, connected to the earth and sending your awareness up toward the heavens. Equal parts stillness and awareness are at the essence of this posture, which I find liberating.

    • 15.1

      I have NEVER come across somebody in the hands of a competent yoga instructor who didn’t find the practice beneficial. Glad you are feeling better, and hope the benefits continue to accrue!

  16. 16
    Bethany DeMaster says:

    In my aerobics class they teach us to pretend there is a string pulling us up. I have to try and remember that more often. I do hunch over my laptop because as I get older the smaller the print.

    • 16.1

      Bethany, you can enlarge the print on the screen by hitting control and the =/+ key at the same time. You can make it smaller by hitting control and the -/– key. I work at about 170 percent magnification for most things.

      • 16.1.1
        Margaret says:

        OH MY GOODNESS!!! What a wonderful tidbit of information – thank you!!!!! I almost never return to read comments, but I’m waiting for something right now so I took a peak. Your advice works on my Mac- I just hit “command” instead of control. THANK YOU!!!!

  17. 17
    Danna says:

    This is really thought provoking! I could definitely adopt this habit in the morning while I’m waiting for my coffee to brew and quietly in the evening right before I start the battle of bedtime with my preschooler and toddler.

  18. 18
    Judith Clark says:

    I was in the Navy. . . .survived boot camp . . .AT-TEN-TION!!! The government issued the most comfortable shoes I have ever worn; even at At–en-tion!
    Was in an accident and went to physical therapy ~ more keep your spine straight (more at-ten-tion).
    Stopped wearing heals because I have a tendency to topple (no tippling). Moccasins are wonderful!

  19. 19
    Cathy Worthington says:

    Ths is great! I have really good posture when I’m on my feet, but let me set down and it’s all over. Partially aided by the fact that I’m so short my feet never reach the floor. So up go the legs, back rounded and nose in whatever I’m doing. Oh, and often, like not w, carpt in lap at weird angle. After all the cats position is more important than mine, right? LOL i need to get up and move a lot more often when I’m home! At work I’m on my feet for 6 hours, so home is my problem.

    • 19.1

      Not having feet on the floor is apparently a problem, so a foot rest would make sense for you (like Whistler’s mother). In the weather we’re having now, that would also keep your toes from the worst of the floor-chill. A fine idea, methinks.

  20. 20
    karyn spertzel says:

    I watched a TEDTalk years ago when I was going through a lot fo fear riding my mare and the suggestion was that you do a ‘starfish’ for 2 minutes and you would have more confidence. I looked silly in the tack room but it helped. Starfish was basically stand up straight and put your arms and legs out (a bit like Usain Bolt’s victory). If I’m nervous about something, I still do it.

  21. 21
    Shannon says:

    I grew up as a military officer’s child, so correct posture was expected and enforced. Now I am a professional equestrian, in which the posture lessons really pay off. I found that elevating my computer screen helped with the tendency to hunch when spending hours at the computer. However, I will definitely try the power poses you describe. It sounds like a great way to affirm success and re-energize.

  22. 22
    Shelly Hickenbottom says:

    This is very informative. I love your books

  23. 23
    Peggy Wright says:

    I did change my work position, because I have to be in one area for several hours doing a repetitive chore. I added another monitor to my computer years ago, before the desk lift one became popular, mine allows me to stand while doing that task looking up at that screen while I work with hands outstretched before me. I have my arms in a potato peeling position like over a sink and that used to be something impossible for me to do because of a back injury. I step around in a small circle when doing my chore. I may look like a maniac but I’m fast and I’m moving. Now I’m also 69, and I’ve slouched too much in my life, in chairs, not when walking but while sitting, unless in public, I was curled in a chair. Bad habit. I now have a noticeable hunch on upper back, wish I’d not slouched in that chair. I wheel around a mechanic size bottom tool chest when working on my computer, register, printer equipment and the drawers hold all the cables I need and tools to work, the best news is everything I work with is now smaller. Do you remember how heavy those monitors used to be? Standing there holding that baby while attempt to work on the wires took some doing. They never built anything that allowed you to get to the main stuff easily. I can use the flat top of my roll around box to move the stuff, but it stills needs to be in place to make it go. LOL! I’m on the floor tracing wires less than I used to be, cause it’s much harder to get back up. I’m more apt to ask for a hand, than I once was, always felt it was my job so I should do it. But truly, it is smart to use a buddy when available if you need it. I’m ready to push some carts for mental health at times, cause I don’t have to think about correcting some bookkeeping error, but I need some weather that is good for that, I used to have to pick the hottest part of the day to do that because that is when my free time allowed me to do it.Right now with the Vortex, I’m thinking of those hot days on the pavement with a bit of longing, not much, but a bit. We do what we can, when we can, while we can, as long as we can. Time for Amaretto over crushed ice with some sugarless Peach sparkling water. One other thought, when I feel overwhelmed it helps to get something accomplished, then I feel energized to go to the next. I’ve been a winner since I found your first book. Now when going through a hard spot, sometimes I go looking for a new one and you know I know when your next book is out,still I’m looking hoping for a miracle early release, but I’ve got you backlist to take up the slack…Thank you very much, Peggy

  24. 24
    Karen Devin says:

    I was told all the time as a child to stand up straight. I didn’t know how others did that so easily until I finally was diagnosed with mild scoliosis. But the person who finally helped me obtain better posture was my doctor this past year. After some back problems, she showed me how to periodically arch my back as much as possible (especially while at my computer) to ease the discomfort and sit up straight. It works! I told her that whenever I catch myself slouching, I imagine she’s sitting on my shoulder, telling me to sit up straight!

  25. 25
    Katie Van De Weghe says:

    I love the thought of power poses! It is something I can get up from my desk and do along with some stretches to improve my staying power through out the day. I love that your background is child welfare. I was a child welfare worker for 24 years and took a desk job a few years ago. The stres is so different. With child welfare I rarely was sitting at a computer all day while that is all I do now. Wouldn’t change one bit of history.

  26. 26
    Molly R. Moody says:

    First off, I would love to read that article, would you care to share a link to it?
    I remember being told to stand up tall while growing up. However when I outgrew most of the girls I had as friends I started slumping.
    I noticed a few months back that I tend to walk hunched over when using my rollater walker. Since I now have a different brand/style of walker I’ve noticed I’m not as apt to hunch over it.
    I’ve also noticed I stand up taller when working in my kitchen whether I’m washing dishes, cooking, or feeding my cats.
    I also sit up straighter on this walker than I did on the old one.

  27. 27
    Becky P says:

    I love how you share your accomplishments. You make me think.

  28. 28
    Donna Chance says:

    No one ever encouraged me about posture, because I have scoliosis or curvature of the spine. There is nothing I can do to correct it, but I can try to sit up straighter when I work instead of purposely slouching.

  29. 29
    Samantha Niemeyer says:

    I too am a sloucher. My mother would absolutely pop me upside my noggin if she could see me. Try as I might, I start the day in good form, and within an hour or so, I find myself hunched over my keyboard like Gollum over the one ring. Maybe this will remind me to sit up and sit better.

  30. 30
    catslady says:

    My mom was always yelling at me to sit up straight. Alas, I never did and still don’t. It was never comfortable for me. I hate confrontation so maybe it suits me but with age I have learned to speak up somewhat. Mostly in a round about way (like my posture) but get me to that certain point and look out lol.

  31. 31
    pearl says:

    I find that the obus forme back cushions have been a Godsend in terms of keeping back pain away, it helps with the posture, but I am exploring other options that are more active. In the meantimer, the idea of the victory lap is definitely appealing.

  32. 32
    Mandy Miller says:

    My chorus teacher in high school and my dance teacher in middle school always advocated standing as if you had an invisible string attached to your head and your chest pulling you upwards to improve posture and keep airways open. It does work, I’ve found to reduce strain in my back and be cognizant of how my posture affects my mood.