A Leaning Nation

Standing Posture
sketch of tower of pisa

I observe people. A lot.

I have always enjoyed people-watching, even as a young child. As an Alexander teacher, I am trained in the art of observation of self (and others). So, it’s hard not to observe people. Occupational hazard, I guess.

Some students ask me when I am out in public if I am constantly judging people’s posture and Use. I’d say I am more of a curious observer than a critic. I wonder a lot about what people do with themselves and why. People and their Use are an endless source of fascination for me.

One thing that I have observed a lot recently is how most people don’t stand on their own two feet. Instead, they lean.

couple leaning on luggage

Fig A: we can come up with an endless variety of ways of leaning on things!

They lean on anything they can. Walls, partitions, countertops, luggage, tables, and chairs. And if there is nothing to lean on, they lean on themselves.

woman standing with weight in left hip

Fig B: a common habit of leaning on yourself-collapsing down into one hip.


woman standing next to broken down car

Fig C: another common habit of leaning on yourself-leaning back and sitting down into your lower back.

I have my own hypotheses about why this is so. One is that as adults when we sit, which most of us do most of the time, we don’t practice sitting upright and balanced, supporting our own torsos. When we sit down, we lean back against the back of the chair or lean to the right or to the left supporting ourselves on an armrest.

Because we spend so many hours sitting and leaning we take the same leaning behavior into standing as well.

We get good at what we practice.

I go to a local Chipotle restaurant about once a month. I have been to many Chipotle restaurants over the last few years. Like most chains, the interior of the restaurants is quite similar. And in this chain, they tend to have a low wall, about 3 ½ feet in height that people snake around as they wait in line.

What I enjoy a lot about going to Chipotle (besides the food) is watching how people wait in line. I’d say most of the time about 75% of the people are leaning against that low wall in some way or another. And the variations of leaning seem endless. And some are quite creative! The remaining 25% that are not leaning on the wall are leaning into one hip or the other, or are standing with their knees locked, pelvis thrust forward and literally are leaning back and down onto their lower backs.

Observing others is often helpful when learning to observe yourself. Watch how other people stand. What percentage are leaning on objects or on themselves? How do they lean? Do you observe any of these habits in yourself?

Picture Credits: Image of Leaning Tower of Pisa courtesy of TeddyBear[Picnic] at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig A: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig B: Image courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at FreeDigitalPhotos.net; Fig C: Image courtesy of Witthaya Phonsawat at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

4 comments… add one

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  • Bickey Bender June 24, 2015, 9:32 pm

    Enjoy your posts. Interesting observation of people — I am trying to watch my posture better after the chiropractor said my head is about 2 inches forward!!!!Not good.

    Aunt Bickey

  • Dom July 13, 2015, 6:29 am

    I’m just writing on this leaning phenomenon myself. I call leaning lying down as with a bit lean on a back rest it is more like bed rest than sitting which actually requires strength and balance.

    • Lauren Hill July 14, 2015, 9:03 am

      Hi Dom,

      Thanks for your response to my post. What I find fascinating is that (at least in my Western culture) after about age 4 we get away from what I call sitting actively (on our sitting bones without back support) which as you rightly mention requires strength and balance. Very young children sit actively when the sit easily on the floor and play with their toys but when we get older, when we sit we always tend to lean on something. Same in standing. So we don’t give our bodies the chance to get strong and learn what it means to balance. You get good at what you practice and most of us are very good at leaning!


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