The time had come. My first table had just sat down. And the air I breathed was thick with anticipation.
It was fall of 2015 in Austin, Texas. And I was working as a waiter at Longhorn Steakhouse.
Mostly, it was a typical day on the job.
Except it wasn’t. This day was different.
That’s because, just twenty-four hours prior, I had finished reading Power Cues by Nick Morgan. And it was here in this book something piqued my curiosity.
From what I gathered—better posture was supposed to act as a catalyst towards two things:
- Making the world perceive you as more assured and confident.
- Making you perceive yourself as more assured and confident.
I emphasize that second one, you see, because…
For most of my life I struggled with social anxiety.
As a kid I was sensitive and shy.
By itself, though—it wasn’t much of a problem. For the first ten years of my life I had friends and got along fine in school.
But then something happened that shifted my trajectory.
- My parents started homeschooling me.
- I became addicted to video games.
It was here I found myself inhabiting an entirely new world. Mornings, I did schoolwork. Afternoons, I finished and excitedly made my way to the computer.
You see, video games opened up a new world to me. Being naturally shy, it felt too good to be true… living in this intoxicating reality where friends existed through the ether. For me, it meant I no longer had to leave the comfort of my room for companionship.
It was heaven.
Hell awaited me every time I left it.
I quickly found, with each passing year, my isolation increased.
And this—the alchemical nature of being shy, combined with increased isolation—spelled a new struggle in my sphere. Every time I ventured into the “real world”—it felt like a life-or-death ordeal to simply socialize with another human being face-to-face.
Which is why, flashing back to this otherwise normal day of work, I was excited.
Standing before me was an opportunity to change an aspect of myself I had combated with for over a decade.
That’s when the moment of truth arrived.
My table had just sat down. And with my “strategy” firmly in mind, I walked up and went through the beginning steps—greeting them and grabbing their drink order.
And to my surprise?
This time it felt different. Radically different. Somehow… going through the steps felt more fluid.
And for me—that’s saying something. Because even though I had waited tables for five years—yes, five years—I still felt self-conscious around people.
Now don’t get me wrong. At that point I waited tables proficiently and made it through my shift most times without much trouble. Going through the motions thousands of times had certainly improved my social intelligence.
And yet—a subtle discomfort still lingered within. Deep down, I felt deficient. Surely someone with a past like me—with my many shortcomings—wasn’t worthy.
And yet… on this day of work?
Those feelings began to diminish. And the resistance I felt to the present moment started to melt.
What do I owe this pivotal moment to?
The Power of Posture
Who knew that posture affected—so massively—how you feel?
I mean, growing up, I had always heard good posture was important. But as a kid? It was simply another trite saying adults said.
However, after hearing it explained so eloquently in Power Cues—that’s when I inserted a “stop order” to my brain’s default functioning pattern. I knew, without a doubt, I must give this whole “posture thing” another look.
Especially with a history like mine.
If I ventured a guess—from age 16-23—more than a third of my life was spent sitting in a chair. In ’08 and ’09 alone, I logged more than 200 days of in-game time in World of Warcraft.
Then, in 2010, I turned professional in Starcraft 2 (more twelve-hour days in a chair).
Just like the frog who sits in increasingly warmer water until he’s boiled to death…
…I sat in my chair day after day unaware of how my posture was contorting into something far from customary. Anterior pelvic tilt, hunched shoulders, lower back pain—I had no idea the impact it was having on me.
And then—I discovered better posture and the power it had to change my perception of the world.
The Body’s Bedrock
I don’t know how it works. I don’t know why it works.
I just know that, for me, it works.
Standing tall, straightening my body, and feeling structurally aligned—it triggered a subtle, yet profound, shift in the way I saw the world.
It created a “centering” within me.
What do I mean?
Well, you can liken this concept of “centering” to that of the construction of a building. When builders erect, for example, a home, where is the bulk of attention focused? On the foundation, of course. Without a sturdy foundation—it won’t bear the weight of the home and withstand the elements of nature.
Therefore, the more stable and centered the foundation—the more able it is to withstand the chaos of life.
Good posture, I’ve found, is similar. It acts as a foundation to your physiology. With your body structurally aligned—it centers you inside yourself. And when operating from that center—suddenly you’re more able to absorb the “shocks” in life.
That’s what I discovered that day on the job. With better posture, my ability to cope with being the center of attention expanded. And staying grounded in my body—without being drawn away into negative thoughts such Are these people judging me?—became a much more feasible task.
The Magic Cure?
Now… do I believe better posture will fix your life and make it magically more manageable?
No. I don’t.
At the heart of social anxiety lies various things—sexual repression, body shame, trauma, feelings of inadequacy.
So something as simple as standing with better posture surely won’t solve these deep-rooted issues.
I do believe better posture is a fantastic stepping stone, and practical way, to begin taking back control of your life today.
Your body holds so much power. And how you show up in the world—with your posture—has an undeniable effect on your sense of confidence and capability. It impacts, massively, how you feel about yourself and how others feel about you.
Tweaking Your Posture To Perfection
Everyone exists at different points on the continuum. For some, their posture will be like mine—bent out of shape from years of sitting. For others, they won’t have quite the mess to untangle.
And yet, even if you consider your posture to be good—I’d urge you to question that and explore it further.
Develop awareness of your posture when alone, and contrast it to your posture around people. Notice subtle shifts that occur when you feel anxious:
- Does your spine collapse under the pressure?
- Does your chest cave in, causing your breath to shorten, amplifying your fear?
- Do your shoulders protract forward, closing off your heart, preventing you from feeling emotion?
- Does the energy in your body shift forward on its axis, causing an intense attachment to the way people react to you?
Observing how your body acts and reacts, and building that muscle, is invaluable. Through conscious awareness—your unconscious behavior is exposed to the light. And that’s when “errors in your code” get sourced and remedied.
Defining Good Posture
So, what is good posture?
The best definition I’ve discovered is in a book called The Right to Speak by Patsy Rodenburg.
The natural way of standing is based on achieving balance, ease and feeling centered.
- The head sits balanced on top of the spine.You look out to the world at the point of the horizon, neither below nor above it.
- The jaw, a great zone of useless tension, should not be clenched, jutted forward or pinned back. It should feel loosely hinged and mobile.
- The shoulders are neither braced up nor slumped down, neither increasing nor weighing down the head with useless tension. In fact the shoulders just hang naturally like a clothes hanger. They should be free and floating like the head.
- The upper chest should be opened and untensed so that breath circulates freely. Avoid pulling it up or caving it in.
- The spine should be up and strong in the center. Neither snaked nor slumped like an attenuated “S” nor rigid like an “I”. The vertebrae of the spine need to evenly stack up one atop the other.
- The lower abdominal muscles are a place where a tremendous amount of useless tension is held in retention. The muscles should be unheld without being pulled in or pushed out in a bloated effect.
- The knees must always be unlocked for voice work, the legs in a position almost ready to spring or sway in any direction. Too many of us use our knees rather than our feet to support the full weight of the body. The stress can be too great for these joints.
- The feet must take the full weight of the body evenly and not just on the heels, on one foot more than the other or the balls of each foot. Firmly planted feet is the ideal.
Embodying Good Posture
Definitions, of course, are only so helpful.
What matters most is taking those definitions and learning to feel and embody them so they become engrained into who you are.
To do that? Here’s what’s helped me:
Something I frequently did starting out was to stand against a wall, making sure my head, butt and heels all touched the wall, with a slight bend in my knees.
As I continually “checked in” to this position—I began to impress this feeling of good posture into my body and psyche. And over time, as I internalized the feeling, it became easier to lock into and hold this posture more permanently.
For most people—sitting is unavoidable. Ideally, yes, we should sit in chairs as little as possible. But in the modern age? Sitting for less than a few hours a day is mostly unrealistic.
Stretching is a powerful way to negate some of the negative effect sitting has on your posture.
I’ve found this 5-minute stretching routine, every morning, to be effective for postural realignment.
- Third world squat
- Shoulder retraction
- Downward dog
- Arm swings
- Neck stretch
In life, our bodies become prisons of our own design. The more we’re subjected to trauma, anxiety, repetitive movement patterns and stationary body patterns—the more tension we accumulate. Our bodies become like tightly tangled balls of yarn, preventing the natural and free-flowing expression of our energy and spontaneity.
For our purposes today, though, we’ll focus on removing tension that builds in the body from stationary patterns—aka sitting.
You’ll find, if you’re like me, tension has piled up in these two areas:
- Upper back
- Hip flexors
Without a chair that provides your back with stability, or mindfulness to hold good posture—tension has probably built in your upper back.
As you lean forward to type, as you eat food, as you look at your phone—these activities (again, unless your mindful) cause you to lose thoracic extension. Your shoulders round forward, your chest collapses. And your upper back muscles overcompensate—in your rhomboids and traps—causing strain and increased tension.
An unavoidable aspect of sitting is that your body gets put into an “L” shaped position.
In this position, your hip flexors can’t help but tighten. And, the more tension that builds over the years, the more forward your torso will sit over your pelvis (anterior pelvic tilt).
Removing the Tension
Luckily, tension in both these areas can be worked out with a simple solution:
A lacrosse ball (or tennis ball).
With that—you can deep-tissue massage the tension out of these muscles.
Caveat: The more tightly wound your muscles are, the more painful it will be (at first) to “ease out” the tension. That’s why starting with a softer tennis ball, and working your way to a harder lacrosse ball, is smart.
When you don’t have a wall to stand against, and when you find your posture slipping, it’s useful to have cues that remind you what good posture feels like so you can quickly return to center.
For that? Two cues have helped me:
- Invisible rope
We all have a picture in our mind of what a soldier looks like at attention—erect, alert and standing proud.
Because our mind has this picture, it’s easy to envision yourself being a soldier and embodying those same qualities.
So when your posture slips—think “soldier” and stand like one (minus the stiffness in the shoulders).
Another powerful cue is to imagine an invisible rope that stretches from your tailbone to the back of your skull. When you hold your attention in this way—it naturally aligns your spine, one vertebrae atop the next.
Now It’s Your Turn
I want to hear your thoughts:
Has better posture affected your life in a powerful way?
Or maybe you have a question still?
Either way, let me know in the comments below!