Standing Out Front

A positive outcome of living for several weeks with people in their eighties and nineties is an appreciation for good health. As I watched the elderly move around the building, riding scooters, pushing walkers, and the lucky ones leaning on a cane, I realized there was an aspect of my health I was ignoring: my posture.

“Stand up straight” was something I heard frequently as a teenager, often accompanied by a sharp pull from behind at the shoulders. But the solution to poor posture is not a verbal directive or external manipulation. 

The solution starts inside, with a feeling of safety and self-worth. The safe, confident person doesn’t bend forward defensively or thrust outward aggressively.

When I’ve worked on my posture previously, I’ve imagined a string attached to the top of my head, pulling me up like a marionette. But I have a different thought process now and this one works better for me:

  1. Lift my shoulders up and tuck my shoulder blades into the back pockets of my jeans. (This was a description the mother of a former colleague gave to her very tall son.)
  2. Draw a breath from the sun into my heart.
  3. Engage my core.

The first time I practiced this posture while walking Leda. I noticed that I felt exposed, more vulnerable. More than standing up straight, I was standing out front.

I also noticed my new posture changed the way my hips supported my body, and that my hips weren’t moving. My legs went forward and back but my hips were locked. I told myself to relax my hips and it took a few steps for my body to remember how to sync hips with legs.

But then I noticed that my toes were tight. Not the bigger toes toward the middle but the little ones on the outside. My toes were clenched just as my hips had been. I flexed my toes in my shoes and told myself, “It is safe for me to engage with the earth.”

As I walked, I repeated the phrase and the words landed with my steps. Safe for Me to Engage with the Earth. Safe. Me. Engage. Earth. 

But there is more to engage with than just the earth. I thought of the air that I was breathing. So I changed the last word from “earth” to “world.” But then places came to mind (opium dens!) that I don’t want to engage with. The last word changed to “life.”

Safe. Me. Engage. Life.

Safe. Me. Engage. Life.

Safe. Me. Engage. Life.

Later that day I was cleaning off my bookshelf and came across a little red notebook. I couldn’t remember what was inside. There were notes from a 2017 talk by Joan Halifax. My notes said, “strong front, weak back is driven by fear” and “the body conditions the mind.”

When the student is ready the teacher appears, sometimes more than once.

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Chewing the Cud of Good

There were three editors that were especially helpful as I was sorting out the spaghetti bowl of my story. They share their knowledge and wisdom on blog posts and podcasts. I sent them an email to thank them for their virtual help and included my Gladiator story analysis as proof of learning. They wrote back. They were enthusiastic. They said the work I had done demonstrated that I had “turned pro.”

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