Back in my inglorious days of thespian gadaboutery, a particular acting exercise haunted me for weeks. The inevitably rotund and chenille-wearing dance tutor, short and henna’d of hair, long and earnest of speech, made her underfed and overambitious hamlings circuit the cold room in pairs, one behind the other. The follower had to imitate the leader, slowly adjusting their body until they physically mirrored every tiny detail of hunched shoulder, clenched hand, stiff knee and tilted head. Then the leader would step back, and watch ‘themselves’ walk.
Kurtz didn’t know the half of it.
As I came to the quietly devastating realisation that I led with my chin, cranked back my head, arched my back, swung my arms like a gorilla and pulled a disturbing kind of smug-terrified hybrid half-smile, I realised that I’d taken the mantra of solicitous mothers everywhere – “shoulder’s back” – and turned it into a cartoonish parody of upright womanhood.
I looked like someone acting good posture.
The thing is, I was always a little paranoid about walking tall. When you’re six foot at fourteen, the last thing you want is an I-don’t-fit-under-doorways slouch, so it’s essential to cultivate a carriage that speaks of assurance and sass.
But the English philosophy of poise – stiff upper lip, book on head, and yes, shoulders back – is steeped in stress. Tension equates to grace. We’re trained to be perpetual puppet-masters, fighting every minute to prevent our splay-legged, belly-jutting savage within from collapsing uncouth in the dirt. It gives us stiff necks and aching joints and immovable backs, but hey, we look like we could wear The Collected Works of Wilde like a jaunty beret.
Back at drama school (oh, forgive me. I was young and knew not what I did), the inevitably wisp-haired and scarf-draped Alexander Technique tutor made me crawl for a whole term before I could graduate to sit, but I learnt nothing save the complex delights of the chewing-gum marquetry on the rehearsal room floor. It took until the start of this year, and a headlong dive into yoga, to understand how I could be perpendicular, healthy and hot.
Hot, literally. Bikram yoga, the infamous creation of an arrogant and mouthy LA-dwelling Indian, consists of two sets of 26 postures performed in a 40º C room, and although it feels like living hell, it sorts out your stature like nothing else. Bikram softens your hips and strengthens your pelvis, relaxes your shoulders and lengthens your neck, and creates a natural traction of the spine that allows everything to gradually realign.
The perfect posture for brittle Brits is undeniably the Standing Bow Pulling Pose, or Dandayamana-Dhanurasana (try saying that when you’re five gins to the wind) – an opening, elegant bodily arch that makes you feel like Darcey Bussell and does all kinds of good stuff to your frame.
I’m still a messy beginner, but I’m not half pleased at the structural improvements so far.
Follow me now, bitch. Just you try.