Hi, I’m Emily Agnew, and excited to share my posture journey.
I first attended a weekend Gokhale Foundations course in 2016, to address a painfully stiff neck. I loved it. I also found it intense. To incorporate all I was learning about body mechanics, I had to concentrate so hard that I'd emerge from class feeling like my brain had overheated. On top of that, I was rather sore in unexpected places, from using my muscles in new ways.
Long story short, I was happy knowing I was doing the right thing for my body. But I hardly had the bandwidth to notice any unexpected mood changes that might have been happening. This fall—eight years later—I had a notably different experience. I took the next step in my posture journey by completing the Alumni PostureTracker™ and Advanced Glidewalking courses. This time, I knew the basics, so I had much more attention available to notice the effect the work was having on how I felt. Wow! It has been dramatic.
For one thing, I notice that my moods are better, but the change is even deeper than that. I feel more grounded. I experience an abiding sense of well-being. I see now that all this is the “affect effect” of graceful, open, and erect posture.
Before I began studying the Gokhale Method, my concept of erect posture was actually tipped forward. This created tension in my legs, lower back, and neck (left). As I’ve refined my tallstanding, I feel more balanced, tall, and relaxed.
What’s more, these positive results have set in motion a virtuous spiral. To my amazement, this grounded, open state of well-being has become my “default setting,” and it is naturally self-correcting. The moment I compress, scrunch, squinch, or tighten up, my body says, “No thanks!” It wants that great open feeling, and it lets me know instantly if I’m doing anything to compromise that.
No doubt, pain is an effective “stick.” Pain motivates us, and many of us come to the Gokhale Method because we are in pain. Now I’m seeing how powerful carrots are, too. The “affect effect” functions as a carrot, to complement the “stick” of pain or discomfort. I can feel my posture progress speeding up as I become more and more aware of this seamless feedback loop between discomfort and positive feelings. Any pain acts as a guardrail, and the positive results motivate me to keep my eyes on the road.
I’ve seen and felt this synergy at work in several areas recently, leading to spontaneous and wonderful changes in four areas of my life:
1. A happy neck and back while reading and journaling
I’ve always been a bookworm. Unfortunately, even a short reading session would leave me feeling like the Hunchback of Notre Dame, with a tight neck and sore back. After completing these recent courses, my body said, “No more.” I fashioned a couch setup that allows me to stretchsit properly and I pile pillows on my lap to hold my heavy hardback novel. I can read pain-free. Most importantly, that feedback loop is working: my neck lets me know instantly if I’m hunching.
A small investment of effort in arranging my body well with cushions brings huge dividends of comfort for reading.
I came up with a similar supportive setup for my office couch, where I sit when I want to write in my journal. I’ve struggled to maintain healthy posture while writing and would end up bent over like Quasimodo. Now I use supports to stretchsit, and once again, my neck and back give me continuous feedback so I can adjust as needed.
2. Deeper peace and stillness in meditation
I’ve meditated for over 30 years. Sitting cross-legged on my zafu cushion, I’d fight to stay erect. My back would get tired and sore as I tried not to give in to the urge to bend forward. Once again, I’ve felt the “affect effect” at work. My newly aligned body flatly refused to give up that wonderful open feeling. That was the carrot, and the discomfort of forward scrunching was the stick.
In this case, I simply added a support cushion on my zafu to ensure my pelvis stayed anteverted. Now, I can comfortably stacksit in that position for over an hour. This has transformed my meditation practice. I’m able to access a new level of depth, groundedness, and stillness.
This Buddha statue lives in my office. I feel myself embodying its stillness and centeredness more and more as I relax into my increasingly grounded posture.
3. More vitality and groundedness walking around the house
My partner and I each lived in Hawaii in the past, where it's a sign of respect to leave your shoes at the door. We don't wear shoes in the house. I had no idea how much this was affecting my walking until I submitted a pair of videos for our glidewalking class. In the first one, which got a thumbs up from teachers Esther and Doreen, I’m striding along outside in my hiking shoes.
However, in my second video, Esther and Doreen were puzzled by my apparent backsliding. Then it hit them: I was walking around on our polished wood floor, wearing socks. You can see how much more tentatively I’m moving, not being able to push off against the floor:
My improvised indoor traction solution? Swim shoes. Again, I was amazed by the effect this had on me. Not only was I not slipping any more: I felt different in myself. I felt more energetic, more confident, and more grounded—another example of the “affect effect” of good posture and body use. My outside walking feels confident and strong too.
In the Advanced Glidewalking classes, I learned how to activate my feet to grip the floor and push back. As soon as I switched from wearing socks to swim shoes, I could push back without my feet sliding out from under me.
4. More stillness and presence working with clients
With my refreshed and upgraded understanding of what it means to “keep my behind behind,” I adjusted my office chair seat upwards so I could comfortably stacksit with my knees lower than my hips. I have a Gokhale® Pain-Free Chair, so this was easy to achieve with its waterfall front and built-in grip.
I’m much more comfortable sitting for an hour at a time with Zoom clients. To my surprise, I’m also more present. It’s similar to the feeling I described above when I meditate: a greater sense of groundedness, stillness, and openness. This, for me, is the “affect effect” of sitting well. When I’m moving, the groundedness is there too, but with added energy and vitality.
I can now sit comfortably at the computer for extended periods, typing emails and articles or working with clients on Zoom.
The “affect effect” as a learning tool
I had an epiphany in the Advanced Glidewalking class this fall. I realized that affect and effect—that is, in this instance, my mood and my posture—are a two-way street. Each powerfully influences the other. I’ve always known that better, open posture makes me feel lighter, happier, and more energetic. Even so, as I’ve continued my posture journey, I’ve been amazed how much better I feel.
However, I hadn’t realized until now how much I could influence my posture by exposing myself to positive affects—that is, to images, music, and role models that inspire good posture. For example, we walked to different music each week in class, and everyone in the class could sense the varying effects on our walking of each style and tempo.
I also found myself absorbing in a whole new way the beautiful images Esther shared of women carrying baskets on their heads or bending to pick things up. It was as if I could experience their posture just by seeing it. Then I realized I’ve had posture models in my past. The most spectacular one was the principal oboist of the Chicago Symphony, Ray Still, my oboe professor in graduate school.
Distinguished oboist Ray Still (1920–2014). I was fortunate to study with him when he was performing in the Chicago Symphony, which is considered one of the greatest orchestras in the world. Image from Wikipedia
Mr. Still inspired me as a musician, with his intensely expressive sound and style ranging from lyrical to electric. He demonstrated for me how to invoke a grounded, erect, open posture by sitting with my feet quite far apart, then positioning myself so I could slowly, smoothly stand up and sit back down—all while playing. I was struggling with a lot of anxiety at the time, and this postural intervention had a dramatic effect on my affect. I became a different, more confident person.
I didn’t have the understanding or the practices then that my Gokhale study has given me, so I didn’t know how to generalize this “affect effect” into the rest of my life. But experiences like the one with Mr. Still launched me on my posture journey, showing me how powerfully my posture and my mood influenced each other. I’m grateful that my journey is still unfolding.
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