I’ve been ranting on about breathing for a few weeks here and have yet to mention posture and its effects on breathing and learning. So, let’s talk posture.
First, picture a typical kid and how they sit. I bet you’re picturing something that looks a bit like one of these…
Am I right? Now, take away the desk and maybe put a noisemaker in the kids’ hands… You get a music student, especially the image on the left. So how does slouching affect breathing, and learning? Let me tell you…
Poor posture restricts air movement through the body by restricting the lungs’ ability to properly expand, the trachea’s ability to let air in and out, and the blood vessels’ ability to move oxygenated air through the body.
So first off we must ask what good posture is. One of the best references to figuring this out is to take a look at babies and toddlers. Why is it that the youngest among us seem to be the best references for healthy behavior? Because they don’t know anything else. Babies and toddlers breathe, sit, stand, walk, and eat in the way their bodies, and ours, are designed to do all these things. They have not been taught that good posture is “uncomfortable” or “tense.” No one has told them to suck in their tummy so as to not look fat when they breathe. They just do what comes naturally and the slouching and shallow breathing are taught to them later by our bad examples. Check out the comparison…
See how the standing baby’s spine and hips are aligned? See how straight the seated baby’s back is? They are both demonstrating good, natural posture. These are both ideal learning and breathing positions. This is what we’re shooting for– well aligned spine and pelvis for optimum alertness and lung/abdomen expansion without tension in the neck and shoulders.
So how does bad posture affect breathing? Poor posture such as seen in the first two pictures compress the lungs, throat, and abdominal areas. This is obviously bad for breathing because that’s where good breathing takes place. With the chest and abdomials compressed the balloons that are your lungs can’t expand properly because they are limited. With the throat compressed it is more difficult for air to even get down to the lungs to fill and empty them. But when in a natural upright position, either seated or standing, the lungs and abdominals are free to expand to the fullest of their capacity and with no kinks in the throat and trachea air is able to move freely in and out. When students are in an upright position and breathing well their minds are clearer and they are less prone to day dreaming and drowsiness thus increasing attention spans and involvement in learning.
I think it’s obvious how this helps in the music classroom, but the resounding question is how to teach and enforce proper posture to support breathing. Many music classrooms are equipped with “posture chairs” that are made to enforce upright posture when seated with the back and bottom against the back of the chair and the feet on the floor, but do these really promote the best posture for breathing? The answer is sometimes. If students sit in them properly and have their music stands at a proper height they can help promote better posture and therefore better breathing. But there’s a lot of “if’s” in there, IF they sit properly, IF their stand is at a proper height, IF, IF, IF…
As a teacher one of the best tools in your toolbox is your example. If you sit while you conduct demonstrate good posture. If your students ever see you sitting at a desk, sit properly, when you are standing stand upright, not hunched. if your students ever see you play demonstrate good posture and music stand height. While teaching enforce good posture rigorously. Insist that students sit properly in their posture chairs, or if you don’t have those insist that they not slouch. Make sure they are placing their feet flat on the floor, no crossed legs or ankles, and help them find proper stand height and position so they don’t have to hunch to read their music. Teach students stretches that help improve posture as well. These can be done as brain breaks, just like breathing exercises.
Here are some great stretches:
While seated extend one leg forward and lean the torso forward at about a 45-degree angle with the spine straight, hold for 30 seconds and switch legs.
While standing turn the palms forward and stretch the arms downward.Standing or seated clasp the hands behind the back and stretch the arms upwards to feel a stretch in the chest and arms, hold for 30 seconds.
There are many more stretches that are excellent for posture, but some aren’t exactly easy to do in a classroom, unless your classroom is a gym. These are just a few that are easy to do with limited space.
Good posture leads to better breathing, better attention, less drowsiness, and less day dreaming thus creating a better learning environment and more music making in your music classroom.