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Posture Mantra: Tall, Proud, Ballerina-Turtle Book

By Thegenaboveme @TheGenAboveMe

Posture Mantra: Tall, Proud, Ballerina-Turtle Book

Photo by Scillystuff 
via Creative Commons

I have met many people with issues created by having an incorrect posture for years, even decades. An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure.  A very small adjustment to the position of your head, neck, shoulders, arms, back, hips, knees, or feet can prevent future pain and even prevent the need for surgery.

This post strives only to raise awareness about issues with posture. If you have questions about any problems with posture—from head to toe—please see a licensed medical professional—particularly orthopedic surgeons who can diagnose and then refer to a physical therapist.

I met a retired elementary school teacher in my Tai Chi class years ago in Shepherdstown, West Virginia. She talked about how she spent 30 years standing in a way where she locked her knees. She was learning Tai Chi as a way to address problems from her back all the way down to her feet—all caused by improper posture.

Since 2004, I have been practicing yoga, but it wasn’t until I started seeing a series of licensed physical therapists that I received detailed, customized instruction on how to further improve my posture.

Here is a mantra that I have developed, based on advice from three different physical therapists over the last eight years as well as some advice from a handful of yoga instructors over the last twenty years.

I try to recite this to myself at least once every hour to help me adjust my posture, primarily for my upper body:

“Tall, proud, ballerina-turtle book.”

Do I imagine that I am some bizarre oversized book that is shaped like a turtle in a tutu? 

Let me break this down.

Tall: Elongate my spine.

Proud: Roll my shoulder blades back and down.

Ballerina: Position my head and neck.

Turtle: Tuck my chin.

Book: Push my biceps back.

Try A Video!

Here is an instructive video. I haven’t talked about core, thighs, knees, or feet position. My two decades of yoga have helped me with that, so I did not include those reminders in my mantra. You might need to adjust your posture in your lower body and/or your upper body. My challenge comes from the top third of my body, so this mantra focuses there.

If you want more detail about any or all parts of my posture mantra, I have elaborated on each of these words.  

Tall: I first extend my spine so that it elongates.I have gained height at my annual checkups with my general practitioner. I used to measure just under 5 feet. Now I easily achieve 5 feet with that little black measuring tool for height that is attached to the doctor’s scale. And I am in my early 60s.This is good news for someone who might lose the ability to drive if I lose too much height.

I learned through yoga that the spine can move in seven directions: bend left, bend right, bend forward, bend back, twist right, twist left, and LIFT UP! I also imagine air or water between each vertebrae, giving me a floating sensation.

Proud: I lift my shoulder blades up, roll them back, and then move them together as if they are “kissing” each other.

I had a diagnosis of weightlifter’s shoulder in 2016 (AC joint impingement). I worked with a physical therapist to put my shoulders in a better position. I was a candidate for surgery, but I was able to use physical therapy to gain the correct position and eliminate the pain between my shoulder and neck on my right side.

Ballerina. I think more about the relationship among my head, neck, and chest when I say this word. Here, the concept is confidence and not being self-conscious. I am regal!

I used to worry about pushing my chest out too far, but I don’t think that’s possible. (Again, see a licensed therapist.) I observe runway models and dancers who really put their scapula back, down, and together. When putting my shoulder blades into position, I always double check that I don’t sway my lower back. I need to keep my buttocks tucked under. I imagine myself as a member of a ballet troupe, dance-walking onto the stage in proper position.I usually imagine myself in a tiara as well. Why not pretend to be the prima donna?

I also think of putting my head and chin back and up like the letter “J.” I slide my chin back and up at the same time. Another image I gained came from a yoga clinic I attended circa 2007. I imagined as if I had a horse’s bit in my mouth that pulled back and up. I like the ballerina image better, but the movement like the letter “J” is instructive.

Turtle.I just recently (June of 2023) got a diagnosis of a pinched ulna nerve on my right side. A lot of the origin of that problem stemmed from my jutting my chin too far forward. Physical therapists instruct people to tuck their chin like a turtle. I also think about achieving a Winston Churchill or Alfred Hitchcock impression. My ears should be over my shoulders. 

I also visualize lining up the top part of my spine above the rest of my spine like spools of thread stacked on top of each other. (Well, there are some slight curves in a well-positioned spine. Again, consult a physical therapist.) Nevertheless, I tend to jut my chin forward to see the computer screen, the phone screen, a book, the road (while driving), etc.

In fact, I think that I have a mindset where I am constantly trying to propel myself into the future or propel myself to succeed, so I stick my head and chin way too far in front of my chest, causing me problems with my shoulders and arm.

Book: This word is a late addition. I was following the advice of Drew, the physical therapist (PT) who I have most recently visited. I developed the “Tall, Proud, Ballerina” mantra, and I was demonstrating that for him when he took both of his hands and held my upper arms, pushing my biceps back into a position next to my chest. It was as if he were opening a book whose binding was too stiff.


After that little “fine tuning” by my PT, I have added “Book” to my mantra to remind me to double check the position of my upper arms in relation to my chest and shoulder blades.

Even though I have a mantra that works for me now, I am sure that I will find ways to fine tune my posture even further.

Afterall, it's never too late to stand up straight. 


Shoulder Pain and Ageism

It's Never Too Late to Stand Up Straight

Gym Rat at Sixty

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