by Scott Forrester, GCFP
The idea of posture as good vertical standing is familiar to most everyone. The word “posture” originates from words that mean position or station and may be used to imply a static position. Although vertical posture is an important concept, Moshe Feldenkrais did not feel that the word was the best description of human function. He coined the term “acture.”
What is it about human movement that makes it worthwhile to suggest another term? It turns out that humans have a unique way of standing, as well as unique qualities pertaining to our movement. In all the animal kingdom, there is not another animal who stands with such vertical alignment over a small base of support with such a comparatively high center of gravity, and ease of turning around their vertical axis. These qualities taken together make humans unique among animals.
Think about it: four-footed animals have a large stable base of support due to having four feet on the ground. It is not impossible, but it is extremely difficult to knock a bison off its feet. Four-footed animals could be likened to a sturdy workbench. Humans, on the other hand, our feet close together, and center of mass high off the ground, are more like what you would experience if you tried to balance a long dowel on one end. A dowel would fall over with the slightest disturbance with even a tiny movement of air. Humans are not designed for static standing. Stand up and attempt to stand very still. If you pay attention to the small details, the sensations in the muscles related to your ankles, legs, and trunk, you will notice that you are making very fine adjustments to your standing continually to stay upright in one place.
There are advantages and disadvantages to the unique human form. The primary disadvantage, is of course, the lack of inherent stability. The main advantage is the effortlessness in which movement can be initiated in any direction. Almost no energy is required to initiate movement in the forward direction. Stand tall and allow your entire postural column to tip forward. Just a slight release in the ankles is enough to start the process; just the thought of allowing your center of gravity to move forward and you will begin to move. Just as the dowel can fall in any direction, the human center of gravity contains potential energy ready to be released with a slight fall from momentary balance initiating movement in any direction. This ability becomes a fundamental part of the definition of good posture as it applies to humankind. Good posture is in fact posture that allows movement in any direction at any time.
Other characteristics of good posture include movement that is begun without much prior preparation and movement that can be accomplished with minimum work and maximum efficiency. So, human posture is really about the ability to react to any situation at any time appropriately and without effort. It’s about all movement options in all possible directions.
Think of what this would mean to earlier humans of 10,000 years ago. With predators all around, the ability to initiate movement in any direction at any time would be of great value. Humans could turn very quickly to face a threat or to scan in any direction. Though humans are not the fastest or the strongest animals, it turns out that humans are capable of more kinds of movement than any other animal. If you don’t think so, watch the amusing but informative video of a chimp racing a navy seal through an obstacle course No other animal can run, jump, climb, crawl, throw objects of many shapes with great accuracy and speed, punch, block, dance, do gymnastics, headstands, and too many other things to list.
Isn’t it interesting that adaptability, the hallmark of being human, is represented so fully in the human framework, the skeleton, and the human way of standing? No wonder Moshe thought it appropriate to coin the term “acture.” What are the implications of this? There are several.
First, a posture, or acture, that allows movement in any direction without prior preparation is key to releasing human potential. It is consistent with the physical design of the human frame. It is ideal self-usage. But what we actually see with ourselves or others is the use of postures or actures that fall far short of what is ideal or possible during daily life. That means there is always room for improvement.
Second, what is already seen in the human frame is also true of the complex human nervous system. The signature ability of the human brain is adaptability: the ability to change to accommodate all situations, and all environments that are encountered.
What about the third characteristic of good posture, the idea that good movement is movement that is accomplished with minimum work and maximum efficiency. Do we experience all of our movements getting performed this way, with no real sense of effort? Again, there is much room for improvement, but the experience of maximum efficiency and no effort is real and can be experienced in anything we do. Functional movement is generally more comfortable movement. Since most of us have extraneous tension in our lives, learning to move, act, and be more efficient can have stress-reducing benefits, even therapeutic benefits. It is important to note that the end goal is not relaxation; the ultimate goal is efficiency because that allows us to do more of what is of value to us, more of what we love. You continually learn to do more of what you do with maximum efficiency so that you can do the tough things.
Two examples might be helpful. The first is from the world of trail running. Say you set out to run twenty miles through the mountains. If you run with poor form and move inefficiently, you may not be able to finish your run. If you have devoted time to refining what you are doing and to reacting well to the terrain you are on, your chances of completing your run feeling well are much higher.
In the second example, you have developed an outer and inner posture which embodies a neutral sense of self-carriage in which you are ready to respond appropriately to any situation. You engage in a conversation with a family member, you remain poised and listening carefully. You question and understand what the other person is saying without interjecting your thoughts first. Now you are ready to respond appropriately. Cultivating the advantages of the human frame and learning and moving closer to correct acture is a powerful tool in cultivating strength in the inner environment. The way you stand is a powerful emotional statement. How is your posture, your acture, your way of standing in the world?
Humans can be adaptable, imaginative, and creative. They can move in any direction. They can find efficient solutions. The structure mirrors the capabilities of the organism. The idea is not that life will always be easy, but that humans are well equipped and can even find pleasure in overcoming obstacles as part of the process of living.
Scott Forrester is a Guild Certified Feldenkrais Practitionercm, author, keynote speaker, artist, and environmentalist. Scott has recently published his book, The Aware Athlete, How the Wild Origins of Our Human Nature and the Science of Neuroplasticity Are Redefining Fitness.