Straight Up

Lose ten pounds instantly. I’m being straight up with you, you can look like you’ve lost ten pounds by doing one, simple little thing. Improve your posture.

Earn a million dollars instantly. I’m being straight up with you, here, too, you can feel like a million dollars by doing one, simple little thing. Improve your posture.

I was getting ready to go have lunch with my girlfriends today. I have known them most of my life, they’ve seen me through thick and thin, quite literally. I changed my clothes a few times, settling on a maxi skirt and a form-fitting tee shirt. As I turned and looked at myself in the mirror, I was a little dissatisfied. The past few weeks have been sort of tough on my diet and work out routine; vacation in Alaska, then my daughter visiting and our “Nor Cal Chicken and Waffles Tour”. I haven’t exercised in over three weeks, and I’ve been eating more and worse than I like to. It is beginning to show. As I regarded my reflection in the mirror, I could see that little bit of extra weight on my back, squeezing out ever so slightly over my bra, behind my armpits. I hate that! I stood up straight and drew my shoulders back and reevaluated my reflection. The little bulge was gone and my waist slimmed right before my eyes. What a difference! It was like losing ten pounds instantly.

I think I have good posture, I think I practice sitting and standing nice and straight, but now and then, when I see myself in a mirror, or reflected in a window, I notice that I am slouching and my tummy is sticking out. This seems to be what most of us do “naturally”. Slouch. And slump. It takes a concerted effort to maintain good posture. It takes practice.

I took ballet as a girl. One of my classmate’s moms had a ballet school. She lived around the corner from me, still does, as a matter of fact. All the girls in the neighborhood took ballet from her. Her ballet school was in an old Victorian house, downtown, and if I remember correctly, it was white with pink trim. I vividly remember the smell and can still hear the creak of the wooden floor. The bedrooms had all been converted into dance studios with barres along the wall and wall to wall mirrors on one side. Beginning lessons were upstairs and were taught by the oldest daughter or another long time dancer. We learned the basic positions and simple floor work. There were performances, now and again, and our parents would all come watch us dance. We’d have to buy certain color leotards and tights for the different numbers we were to perform. To this day, I still get a little rush of excitement when I go to a dance apparel store; Capezio, Danskin, all those wonderful things! I still have ballet shoes.

As you gained skill, you would move into more advanced classes. Everyone was thrilled when they finally got to go to class downstairs, in the living room, where my friend’s mom actually taught. I remember her as seeming strict, she was ballerina thin and had, I assume, very long graying hair, which she always wore in a bun, perhaps giving her that heir of strictness and severity. She may have carried a stick that she would tap out the beat with, on the wooden floor. Or this is an image from some distorted, post traumatic stress syndrome type dream I’ve had about her. Though, really, she is quite kind and nice and compassionate. I think she was just one of those grown ups you kind of feared when you’re a little kid. She would always harp on us to suck in our tummies, to stand up straight, and she would try to give us good reasons to do so. I remember her saying things like “hold in your tummies, you don’t want your husband to pick you up by  the waist some day and have it be all soft and mushy.”  Perhaps this is where some of my Cinderella-Like fantasies of love and marriage and men who like to dance come from! My husband never once tried to pick me up by the waist. Nor did he dance. I think I only had one boyfriend, ever, who really, truly loved to dance, and he came out of the closet some time later. A coincidence, I’m sure, but ironic, nonetheless.

What I really learned from my ballet teacher, though, was that we don’t naturally stand up straight, we don’t naturally hold in our tummies, it is learned. In years of fitness classes and training, I’ve heard the term “muscle memory” used. We have been told to vary our work outs so we “confuse” our muscles into working harder. Many athletes rely on muscle memory to perform feats, like the long jump and triple jump, or gymnastic maneuvers or diving. Practicing the same move over and over and over until the muscles remember it and do it “naturally”. Posture is the same, it relies on muscle memory, which we must practice over and over and over.

Another thing about good posture, it doesn’t just make you look like you lost ten pounds, instantly, it also makes you feel like a million dollars. When you sit up and stand up straight, you look and feel more confident, more alert, more engaged, more focussed. When you slouch and slump, you adopt that same attitude mentally; lazy, lethargic, limp, listless. As an example, when practicing active listening, which we should all do, you sit up straight and lean slightly towards the person you are listening to. This engages you with the speaker, you actually hear and remember better what is being said by physically altering your body position and language. To paraphrase; by sitting up straight, your are more engaged and focused and it actually has a positive impact on how much of the conversation you’ll remember. How can that not translate to everything? If you practice good posture, routinely,  you will be more engaged and focussed, in general. We’ve already established that you’ll look better. So, by practicing good posture, resulting in looking better and feeling better, our self-esteem and self-confidence rise, our mental attitude improves. What a deal!

Start paying attention to people you know. Observe people who tend towards depression. How is their posture? How many super happy, optimistic people have you met that are slumped and slouched? I can’t think of any. In my experience, posture is a visible indicator of mental attitude. The people I know with the most positive mental attitudes are also the people I can cite that have erect posture. The people I know who are, to be blunt, downers, I always remember as having poor posture. It’s like the difference between Eeyore and Tigger! If you’re a Winnie the Pooh fan. Am I right?

So, I’m telling you, straight up, the secret to looking ten pounds thinner and feeling like a million dollars begins with standing, straight up!

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