Do posture exercises work? Yes — if they help you march upright (balanced and aligned). Some exercises work better than others. However, all exercises are more effective when you understanding the forces and principles that affect the upright body.
Instincts and obstacles
Standing and walking are instincts. As children, we learned them relatively quickly and adequately. However, marching is more than getting from point A to point B without falling. It is about doing so with uprightness — beauty, efficiency, clarity and control.
Good marching demands better than average posture (and vice versa). It isn’t enough to “fix” the body like an appliance. Good marching methods will constantly refine our standing and moving instincts, progressively correcting bad habits.
Posture is created by movement habits that are imperfect at best and crippling at worst. We commonly suffer from chronic tension, swayback, neck and shoulder tension, weak feet, incorrect pelvis and head position, caved-in chest and a loose abdomen.
How do we “fix” these problems? We stretch, stand up straight, pull the neck up, roll the shoulders back, tuck the pelvis under and roll the head forward, lift the sternum, tighten the abdomen — and then try to relax and enjoy marching.
There are many other effective remedies to the aforementioned problems. Among the most effective are Feldenkrais (“Awareness Through Movement”), Tai Chi Chuan, The Alexander Technique, Racewalking and some kinds of Yoga. Even the best exercises, however, can give rise to thoughtless postural habits and chronic tension. It’s wise to think about the principles that make our exercises work. Here are a few.
“Posturemovement” — Standing (like moving) doesn’t require “assembly”; it requires coordination. Posture is more fluid than we recognize. Posture influences movement and vice versa. When you move, take note of your posture. When you stand, take note of subtle movement.
The Head Bone — The head is part of the body in more ways than one. Good marching is higher-brain activity; it requires study. We must be mindful of our exercises and equipment, studying how they make the body feel — discomfort/pleasure, tension/ease, asymmetry/balance. Feeling is important information. Posture and movement exercises are more productive when the mind is involved with the feeling of movement.
Practice Makes Permanent — When we exercise, we increase strength and speed by effort, but we also set our limits according to our quality of movement. An old saying among musicians says, “If you can play it slow, you can play it fast.” Never be in a hurry to develop posture or movement. Coordinate — don’t “fix.” Don’t concentrate on one area to the exclusion of any other. When “building” posture, coordinate for structure, balance your effort, exercise for strength — and “remodel” often.
The Upright Goal — Uprightness is our goal in standing; there is nothing more effective, enjoyable and impressive to see. Two things are required for uprightness: balance and alignment. If you can maintain uprightness while (1) lifting an instrument, (2) walking and (3) altering momentum (starting/stopping/changing direction), you will have mastered posture, and prepared yourself for good (upright) marching.
Problems — Bugles, drums and ancillary equipment are our most immediate challenges to upright marching. This is most evident in the marching of our buglers. For many, lifting is an upper-body affair — lifting with the torso and bending at the lower back. Too often, the upper body alone accommodates the added weight of the instrument. The hips sway forward for balance, and the chest and shoulders collapse…
For the rest of this article and much more, pick up a copy of the January 2004 issue of Drum Corps World or subscribe by clicking on the link below.