This article is for anyone who wants to develop better posture habits. Since this is a calligraphy blog, I’ll be looking at posture through that lens, but feel free to substitute in what you do. These habits can appear in the body whether we’re seated or standing. Either way, we have an opportunity to notice them and make an adjustment. In addition to sharing my own posture, I asked my followers over on Instagram what they struggle with so I could address their habits here as well.
Calligraphy takes place in the body. The results we see on the page are more than just the interaction between the pen, ink, and paper. The person holding the pen made those movements, applied the pressure, and cultivated that steadiness. Just as we get our tools to work together, we can get different areas of the body to work together as well.
When the body feels better, the mind and heart feel better. This will translate to the page.
Posture Habits We’re Covering:
- Curving in the Lumbar Spine
- Crossing the Legs
- A Review of Helpful Posture Habits
- Creating a Supportive Work Area
Working with posture is not an invitation to be harsh toward yourself. Posture doesn’t indicate the quality of a person as a human being. We work with posture habits over a period of time (10 years and counting in my case). Sometimes things go well, sometimes they need adjustment. Shrug. Isn’t that true with so many things? So practicing my posture also improves my self-compassion when I notice I’m losing the battle against gravity. And it is always worth the effort, no matter how many times I have to correct it.
As you read, the headings are the things I continue to find myself correcting, followed by an adjustment for each part of the body.
Adjusting Posture Habits in the Torso
I did not want to take a picture of myself slouching! But here we are. My chest and shoulders are sinking toward the desk. This can mean that I am putting weight on my writing arm, so I have less mobility. Because of where my paper is positioned, I have to tilt my head to the side to see my work. This makes my neck and shoulders ache and I am unsatisfied with the calligraphy.
Adjustment: Use Your Breath.
Inhale and draw the lower abdomen in, neutralizing the lower back. Take that breath all the way to the collarbones as if you’re inflating a balloon in your chest. Even lift your chin slightly. Exhale, releasing the tension in the shoulders. Allow the shoulder blades to get closer to your hips. Keeping your spine in this position, hinge at your hips to get closer to your work. Make sure that you are not leaning on the table.
You may have to reposition your work on the table so that you can see it without tilting your head, like I am unfortunately doing in the photo.
Curving in the Lumbar Spine
If I don’t catch myself slouching, I catch myself curving my lower back WAY in, whether I’m seated or standing. I’ve been trying to unlearn this habit for most of my adult life. In this photo, my left hip is closest to the camera. Since my legs are crossed, I’m trying to balance on my right hip and support my whole body while I work. I am also digging my rib cage into the edge of the table.
Adjustment: Stabilize the Hips and Abdomen
If your legs are crossed, uncross them and place at least one foot flat on the floor or something stable. To keep my legs uncrossed, I sit toward the front edge of my seat (more on that below). The lower abdomen is between the hip bones. Gently firm these muscles. This action creates a lift in the upper chest as well. Again, use your inhale to expand your upper chest and your exhale to release your shoulders.
But there’s more to correcting posture habits than developing an awareness of the torso. Read on to see the major role the hips and legs play in supporting our posture!
Adjusting Posture Habits in the Hips, Legs, & Feet
The legs and hips have the largest muscle groups of the body — for many of us, they support our posture and movement. The spine is designed for mobility. If we haven’t created stability in the lower part of the body, then the spine and sometimes the shoulders try to compensate for that. This then limits the mobility of the shoulders and joints in the arms and hands. Cultivating better posture allows for better results in calligraphy. Here are a few examples of how that can play out in the body — and how to correct it.
Crossing the Legs
The most challenging part about this habit is that it’s unconscious. I don’t notice it until the discomfort has worked all the way up the chain to my shoulders. My body thinks these pretzel legs are stable, but if you’ve made it this far, you know that’s the opposite! I also find that I sneak one of my legs underneath me to elevate my seat. After awhile, this bothers my knees.
When I do this, my hips are no longer level and my spine, neck, and shoulders start to suffer.
Adjustment: Steady the Legs and Hips
I learned from Paul Antonio (@pascribe): Both feet should be touching the floor, with at least one of them flat. Having both feet touching the floor grounds you and tells your nervous system that you’re supported. As you lean forward toward your work, your feet catch you. Try to have your feet pointing the same direction as your knees as well so you’re not tweaking the delicate connections around your knees.
I also learned from Paul to sit toward the front edge of the chair. When I sit like this, I feel more active and engaged in my work and I don’t cross my legs. From here, you can make sure the hips are level and establish your posture in your torso.
A Review of Helpful Posture Habits
- Sit toward the front of your chair with both feet on the floor.
- Keep your hips as level as possible with a neutral or slight lumbar curve.
- Draw your lower abdomen in; lift your upper chest, and relax your shoulders.
- Lift your chin slightly and hinge at your hips to get closer to your work.
- Be kind to yourself as you teach your body to hold itself up.
Support Your New Posture Habits with Your Work Area
- Keep your workspace clear of anything you don’t need. This allows you more freedom of mental and physical movement.
- Make sure you have enough lighting so you can properly see your work. Try to have your light source coming from the opposite side of your writing hand so there are no shadows over where you are actively writing
- Move your paper as you write so that you don’t have to look around your hand to see what you’re writing.
- Adjust your seat so you are close enough to the height of the desk that your elbows just graze the top of it. Use a cushion or a towel to raise the height of your seat to your needs. You can use these same props as something steady to place under your feet if they don’t reach the floor.
Take breaks from sitting, no matter how comfortable you are or how much progress you’ve made with your posture habits. The body still needs to move and take a rest from writing.