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Taylor Record
November 20, 2020

We asked a Holistic Movement Coach about posture, presence, and what a movement session looks like.

“Holistic Movement Coach” is a job title that may not have existed a decade ago.

But with jobs going online and more people working from home, our less-than-ergonomic work setups aren't doing us any favors. That’s where someone like Johanna Miller comes in.


As a self-described “movement lover” and a holistic movement and body coach trained in the Alexander-Technique, she helps people discover their individual way to move with ease and be more relaxed.


Twice a month, Johanna Miller is running her Relax Your Back Office Hour for betahaus members who are ready to move more freely and feel more relaxed during their workday. If anyone can advise on what makes for healthy posture, Johanna is certainly the person to do it.


As someone who has always felt like half of my body is in a knot, I was curious about the process. So in addition to the interview, I holed up in a meeting room for a Zoom appointment with her on a Wednesday afternoon.

I asked her about the good and the bad sides of posture, why it matters, and how she works with coachees in her holistic movement sessions. Then she showed me where I might be overcorrecting. Here’s how it went.


MEET JOHANNA MILLER

Johanna Miller is a self-described “movement lover” and a holistic movement- and body coach trained in the Alexander-Technique. After a back injury of her own, she pivoted from civil engineering to open her own coaching business. Now she helps people discover their individual way to move with ease and be more relaxed.


Photo by Nora Tabel

FIRST THINGS FIRST. WHAT MAKES BAD POSTURE?

“In my terms, bad posture is using the parts of your body e.g. head and spine in an inefficient relation towards one another. Being trained as an engineer, an even more technical description comes up in my mind: Bad posture is when you use your joints and body parts in such a way that they are unfavorably positioned in relation to each other in respect to gravity. 


You could break it down to: bad posture is when your whole body is not in it’s natural balance.


Most of the times the body not being in balance goes along with unnecessary tension to “hold together” the body parts so that they can still conquer gravity.  Imagine a shaky Jenga Tower you try to keep standing by adding drawstrings to every single element and attaching them to the ground.


Sounds weird? Well we are trained to believe slouching is bad posture. And I would agree, it is certainly not the healthiest way to sit or stand. 


But I’d say it is a not so good posture as it implements that we shorten and tighten our chest. 


So what most of us have learned is that to get out of slouching means pushing the chest forward and up. Which needs a lot of muscle activity in the area of your shoulder girdle. 


We  are trying to change tightening the body in the front by tightening the body in the back. So there is a lot of effort involved. Which is exhausting and tiring plus giving you stiff shoulders.


Additionally it easily leads to shoulders that are pulled backwards. And this means, you are out of balance. Because in relation to your pelvis your shoulders are too far back now. So to not tumble backwards  you need to activate some traction in your front part of your body to somehow create an equilibrium again. Remember the shaky Jenga Tower?



If  some of your muscles are constantly working to push and pull your body parts to secure them in the position you stacked them over one another and make sure you don’t collapse, this is a lot of effort. 


You notice that when you notice that you get tired, that you can’t stay in that posture you try so hard to achieve."

Photo by Nora Tabel


WHAT IS GOOD POSTURE, THEN?

“When you’re balanced nicely and your spine has an easy job to be upright and support your head. 


This is what our bodies are designed for. We all had it once. Just look at pictures when you were little. Like up to 4-5 years of age. We all sat and stood with ease and a nice long and wide back. 


It gets lost, when we start to try to copy others or listen to grownups telling us “Chest out, belly in”. So unlearning all of these things will lead you to a good and healthy posture. This posture requires much less effort than you are used to.


In the example of slouching this would mean: unlearn to shorten and tighten the area of your chest. Getting out of the habit of trying to reach ease in the body by pulling and pushing yourself. 


Instead allowing your chest and shoulder girdle being wide at the same time.”


WHY DOES IT MATTER?

"Posture impacts so many things! 


Your organs have the space they’d love to have. Your digestion system can do their job nicely and smoothly because there is space. 


Your breathing can be free and vivid which helps in concentrating and staying calm even though you might have stressful tasks to do.


A balanced posture also helps your voice. As when your head and spine are in a nice and free relation to each other the area around your larynx is in ease. Which means you have much better conditions to use the full range of your voice without a lot of effort. 


Another thing is that posture impacts how we are perceived. People “read” people - all the time - no matter what. Your mirror neurons perceive the pose of your counterpart. And vice-versa. So if there is a lot of tension in your body - or an especially low amount of tension - this will be noticed. 


People who make good use of themselves - which means they use their body in balance - are generally perceived as having a good posture. They have poise. 


This has nothing to do with power posing or an especially “straight posture”.

Those may create a certain effect, but I am not a fan of them.


On one hand because these aren’t honest and true healthy and good postures. They are more like a costume you put on. Which is totally ok to do for certain moments, but no way you will be able to wear a costume like that 24/7! It is to heavy, and it costs to much effort. People will perceive that you are trying hard to be able to wear it. 


As soon as you find your way to be in balance, to trust your spine, to have a good connection with gravity, you will have a nice presence that seems naturally in ease."


WHAT IS A HOLISTIC COACHING SESSION LIKE?

"In my coaching sessions I guide my clients to getting to know their very own movement habits, find out which one of them can be harmful and learn how to prevent those. 


I teach a lot about the physiological function of the body. My aim is to give my clients the insights about their body and movement abilities that they need to know to move better and with more ease.


The sessions vary a lot as I alway focus on which movement my client is interested in today. According to my motto “I don’t care what you do. I care about you improving how you do what you love to do.”

Photo by Nora Tabel


"If there is no special topic you bring along for a session, we work on basics like standing, sitting, walking or getting in and out of a chair. The latter is actually a pretty complex movement. As it involves your whole body. All of the major joints (ankle, knee, hip, head neck) are involved. And I can detect a lot of habits here that are worth taking a closer look at. 


Whatever you take away from this, you will be able to adapt to other movements as well. 


During the session with my guidance - verbally (and also manually when in the studio) – you and your body will experience new options of movements. 


Mostly with the discovery that it can be so much easier than how you’ve been moving so far. For most clients this feels confusing at first because it is so different from what they know. And so much less effort. But at the same time also very appealing, relieving and just a very comfortable feeling in your body. 


To get a first impression, just have a look at this video.



In general, it is all about learning how to release unnecessary tension. And also not letting them come back again. My  clients learn how to release tension they have lived with, often for years. These tension patterns have become so “natural” that they are just there, like dusty windows. Only when you decide to give them a nice cleaning, you realize how great it is to have the sunlight filling the room “unfiltered” again. 


In a movement coaching session, you basically learn how to do less and at the same time feeling more at ease and moving lighter."


ABOUT MY SESSION

I can't be the only person who always feels like something is just the slightest bit off, can I? The idea that my way of moving could be to blame was a completely foreign concept to me. But also an extremely interesting one.

Since we were having our session during Corona times, we met up over Zoom. The session started out with me sitting and explaining any discomforts. We went through some breathing exercises, and then Johanna had me stand and move from across the room so she could observe the way I was holding my body (and where I could improve the way I was holding my body). In just 30 minutes, I gained a better understanding of where I'm overcorrecting and how awareness of how I hold myself could actually transform more than just how I sit.

Just a couple of hours after we hung up, I noticed myself hunched over in my chair, legs crossed, and my head arched downwards to see my screen. I took a moment to notice the way I was feeling and to realign. Just like anything, this method takes sustained practice, but I can certainly see it being a transformative tool for anyone who experiences persistent pain to gain a new awareness of themselves.

Thanks to Johanna for sitting down with us and explaining her work as a holistic movement coach! If you have any questions, you can schedule an appointment through her website or at the Relax Your Back Office Hour.

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