Posture & Vitality Supreme | Bernarr Macfadden Podcast

Welcome to the Inspirational Living podcast, brought to you in part by the kind financial support of listeners like you. You can become a patron of our podcast for less than a cup of coffee a month. To lend us your financial support, please visit LivingHour.org/sponsor. Today’s podcast was edited and adapted from the book Vitality Supreme by Bernarr Macfadden, published in 1915.

The great need of today is the same as it ever was. We need stronger, more capable men; healthier, superior women. Force is supreme — the driver of all humankind. And it is force that stands back of efficiency, for efficiency, first of all, means power. It comes from power, and power either comes directly from inheritance or it is developed by an intelligent application of the laws that control the culture of the physical body.

The value of efficiency is everywhere recognized. The great prizes of life come only to those who are efficient. Those who desire capacities of this sort must recognize the importance of a strong, enduring physique. The body must be developed completely, splendidly. The buoyancy, vivacity, energy, enthusiasm and ambition, ordinarily associated with youth, can be maintained through middle age and in many cases even to old age.

If your efforts are to be crowned with the halo of success, they should (whenever possible) be spurred on by the powers that accompany physical excellence. As such, the great value of maintaining the body in a proper position cannot be too strongly emphasized.

Human beings are the only animal that walks erect. We are the only animal in whom old age brings a forward bending of the spine. The hanging head, which is the attitude of hopelessness (and which is caused to a very large extent by the mental attitude that goes with approaching old age), no doubt does a great deal to quicken physical decline.

Therefore it would be wise to remember the very grave importance of a straight, erect spine. Each day of your life should be, to a certain extent, a fight for the best that there is in life and a struggle to hold the spine as nearly erect as possible. If you are sitting in a chair, sit up straight, head back, chin in. If you are walking or standing, the same rule should apply.

It is not necessary to make extraordinary efforts to hold the shoulders back or to arch the chest. The head and chin in proper position will accomplish all that is needed. The chest and shoulders will naturally take care of themselves. Furthermore, it is well to remember that this attitude in itself has a tremendous influence upon both your physical and mental well-being.

The mind, for instance, is affected to an extraordinary degree by this position. It quickens the reasoning capacity, helps to clear the brain of “cobwebs” and unquestionably adds to one’s courage. The person who is afraid hangs their head. The individual who is void of fear holds their head erect, “looks the world in the face!”

There is no question that if a person without fear were to assume the position of fear, with a hanging head and shrinking body, they would quickly find themselves stirred by the emotions associated with such a posture. They would soon “get scared!”

In fact, the attitude of the body has so much to do with one’s mental and emotional state that the question of self-confidence or lack of confidence may often be decided simply by throwing your head up and back and assuming the general bodily posture that goes with confidence. It not only expresses confidence: it also develops confidence.

There is a great truth here that psychologists and those who write “self-help” books have not sufficiently understood or emphasized. When you feel discouraged, the best way to overcome the sense of depression is to “brace up” physically — for it will help you to “brace up” mentally. Try it the next time you are feeling in the dumps.

Then there are the definite physiological results of maintaining an erect spine. The mechanical arrangement of the spine itself is such that if it is held erect the important nerves that radiate to all parts of the body from this central “bureau” are able more perfectly to perform their functions. Where there is pressure on these nerves there is bound to be imperfect functioning. The affected organ will work lazily, indifferently. In fact, the entire science of the osteopath and chiropractor is based almost wholly upon the value of spinal stimulation and the remedying of spinal defects.

There is another way in which an erect carriage has a direct physical influence: namely, in maintaining the proper position of the vital organs. When the body is held erect, the chest is full, round, and somewhat expanded, affording plenty of room for the heart and lungs. This, in itself, is conducive to vitality as compared with the flat-chested attitude.

The stomach, liver, spleen, pancreas, and intestines all tend to drop or sag below their normal position when the body bends forward. In maintaining an erect position all these organs are drawn upward and held in their natural position, and this means greater vigor and better functioning on the part of each. This particular consideration is of special importance in the case of women, and it all goes to show the truly wonderful value of maintaining the spine in a properly erect attitude.

The sitting position usually assumed is far from what it should be in order to insure health. As a rule, we sit humped forward, with a decided bend in the spine, ultimately developing splendid examples of what we call “round shoulders”. The spine, while sitting, should be held as nearly straight as possible.

The position of the head, to a very large extent, determines the general posture of the body. As nearly as possible the chin should be held inward and downward. I will admit that this position is almost impossible when one is using old types of chairs. An extraordinary effort is required to sit properly in the conventional chair.

Furniture of this sort should be made to fit the body in the same way as our clothing does. The back of a chair should be made to fit the backs of those who are to occupy the chair. The chair-back should, at least to a reasonable extent, approximate the normal shape of the spine. If the chair, throughout its entire back, cannot be thus shaped, then it should be cut off even with the waist line of the occupant. Such a low-back chair will usually allow one to sit erect without serious discomfort.

Many people are inclined to slide forward in a chair, with the back bent over and the shoulders humped forward. Once again, the fault really lies with the construction of the chair. The back of a chair does not fit the human back, and the seat is not at the right angle to rest the body.

Why is it that people commonly like to tilt a chair backward on the hind legs? Why do people instinctively prefer a rocking chair as a source of comfort, even when they do not rock? The fact is that it is not the rocking that makes a rocking chair comfortable, but the position of the seat of the chair, with its downward slope toward the back.

The rocking chair is comfortable for just the same reason that the ordinary dining chair is made more comfortable when a person tilts it back upon its hind legs. The reason is that in this position one does not tend to slide forward off the chair, the weight of the body naturally carrying the hips to the back of the chair, where it is supported naturally.

In order to avoid the “sliding down” character of the conventional chair, a change should be made in the incline of the seat similar to that found in the ordinary rocking chair and in the chair when tipped back in the manner I have described.

To improve some of the chairs in my own home, I once sawed off three or four inches from the back legs — thus elevating the front part of the chair and lowering the back part, giving the seat an incline toward the rear which more comfortably accommodates the body. This position approximates that of the ordinary swivel desk chair tilted back by business people when they are not leaning forward over their desks.

This suggestion can be adopted very easily and cheaply in almost any home, for any ordinary chair treated in this manner will be very greatly improved, and far greater comfort will be experienced as a result of the change.

Most men and women spend such a very large part of the time in a sitting position that the bodily posture when sitting down greatly impacts bodily welfare and health. Special thought and study, therefore, should be given the question of the sitting posture. Unfortunately, this particular subject seems to have been ignored absolutely for hundreds of years in the making of our chairs — though things have improved recently with new ergonomic chairs.

It is just as harmful to sit all humped over as it is to stand in such a position. The nervous system cannot be maintained at its best unless the spine is held reasonably erect. Whether sitting or standing, therefore, it is important that you should make a never-ending struggle for a straight spine.

If the back of the chair in which you sit is not properly made, then it is better (in most cases) to ignore the back altogether. Sit slightly forward from the back and maintain an erect position, with the chin held in and downward. In this position you should sit well-balanced, as it were.

The chest should occupy the same relative position as when standing erect. If you will hold the head in the position I have indicated it will help you to keep the chest and back in the right position. As a general thing, it is a much more simple matter to maintain this erect position when sitting, if either one foot or both feet are drawn back under the chair. When both feet are stretched out forward upon the floor, a person is inclined to sag backward in a partially reclining position upon the chair.

By holding one foot underneath the chair in such a manner that you could rise to a standing position if desired, without lurching forward, you will find it easy to maintain a well-balanced and erect posture.

If at any time you find yourself slumping forward or slouching in your seat, it is good to stretch your arms high above the head, or to expand the chest and draw your shoulders backward in the position commonly assumed when yawning and stretching. Either of these stretching movements will give you an erect position, and you can maintain it thereafter by keeping the head in the right position, with chin inward and downward. These stretching movements will be equally effective for improving the carriage when standing.

The same complaint that I have made against the ordinary chair can be registered with special force against the desks used in the schoolrooms. There is no question that a great deal of spinal curvature in childhood, to say nothing of round shoulders and flat chests, are directly the result of the improper sitting posture in the schools which is enforced upon the children because of the unsuitable character of their seating arrangements. Thus we practically begin life hampered by an unsatisfactory environment, so far as our sitting posture is concerned.

As I’ve said before, the chair back or the desk chair should fit the human back. It should favor and not hamper one in assuming a normal and straight position of the spine. When you get up in the morning, exercise yourself a little in straightening the spine, with chin in and downward.

When you walk to work or when you go about your duties, keep the same thought in mind. Force the head back. And remember that in fighting for a straight spine you are fighting for youth, health, life, energy, courage and enthusiasm. You are fighting for everything that is best in life, and you should strive and struggle with all the energy you possess to win the rewards associated therewith.

Each day of your life will bring difficulties, worries. Life at its best is not a bed of roses. All these various influences are inclined to make you hang your head. You may have moments when you are hopeless, when life seems forbidding and cheerless. Fight against such inclinations with all the power you possess. Struggle against such discouragements with all your might and main, not only through your mental attitude but through your determination to maintain an erect spine.

Hold your head up and look the world in the face. Don’t shirk your duty. Don’t deviate from the path along which your best impulses and highest ideals would lead you. Life is worthwhile. It is filled with glorious opportunities. Reach out and grasp them as they come up. Hold your head up and be a man or a woman to the fullest extent of your abilities.

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