and then my faith in external advice shattered
About five years ago I heard some advice detailing “the best way to breathe is X!!”. And after I heard this I thought “Hey I wanna breathe the best way!”, so I consciously made this “best” way of breathing into my default habit.
I thought I was doing the right thing!
Anyways, separately, in 2020 fall I began to have problems with the mobility of my neck, shoulders, and upper back. On a few days I could barely turn my head, for example. Seeking remediation, I attended physical therapy and did the assigned exercises consistently, and while my mobility and pain improved, it didn’t improve all that much. I’d say it went from roughly ~7/10 badness to ~5/10 badness.
So I was carrying persistent tension in my upper back, and it wasn’t getting much better. The PT exercises helped, but soon their effects plateaued and it was clear that the exercises weren’t addressing the root cause.
Anyways, separately, in the midst of my 2022 depression I was meditating while on a hike, and I watched my attention wonder to that persistent tension in my upper back and neck.. It was in in this moment that I thought, What if I use my breath to expand the part that's tense and cramped? And I did. And so for perhaps the first time in years I breathed fully. I couldn’t remember the last time that I had breathed with full attentiveness to how all of my body felt in the present moment.
I was then surprised to notice that I felt somehow stronger and more powerful breathing this way.
Next, I thought, What? This was possible the whole time? But I just wasn't *feeling and paying attention*?? I had been relying on some heuristic for how to breathe “properly”— a heuristic that I had picked up from I-don’t-even-remember-where— and now this heuristic had been decisively shattered with a mere single application of my focused attention!?
So I kept paying attention to this. I was meditating again a week after that hike, this time I focused on my standing and walking postures, and here I had a few broader realizations about my posture:
"good posture" isn’t a thing that I can look in a mirror and figure out from outward appearances, as I previously had thought
so I can’t, for example, go "oh I need to put my chest up, oh and adjust my shoulders a little bit in this way, put my hips like so,…"
Rather, “good posture” is something I find by nothing more than gradient ascending on the result of asking questions like "what feels best?" and "what makes my body feel the strongest?"
“good posture" isn’t a static and legibly describable state of body position, but instead a dynamic and reactive function with countless inputs.
And now that I've seen how this works, I can’t imagine ever learning "proper posture" from someone else. So all forms of object-level "do this to have good posture" advice have lost credibility for me.1,2
And, yes, in the time since, my neck-back tension has subsided further from ~5/10 badness to 3/10 badness or better. (It’s still not perfect, but I suspect the rest of my work to do here is much more mental.)
All of these realizations were surprising to me at the time because I used to look for the outside world for advice about myself. For example, I might do a youtube search for "what's the best way to breathe/ stand/ move/ talk/ interact/ think/ ... ?", or read books on topics like that.
But now I know that doesn’t work. Fortunately, I’ve found a much better solution: "oh, I can just feel what's going on inside of me and then figure out solutions just from that."
So yeah, no one else could have told me the best way to use my body and my mind. No shit.
Last revised 2023-03-04.
This isn’t to say I don’t think there’s value in "try doing (X : conscious/object-level posture movement) and see if you feel better after", though. I orient to this now as “I use external advice as an aid only to initial exploration, but not to longer term exploitation and not as an oracle of what’s right for me.”
So how can I ever expect to learn good posture if not from other people? Well, fortunately this function seems to exist innately in intuition and so there is no need to try to ‘teach’ it.