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How to stand without hurting yourself

How not to standThis year, I decided I want to live for­ever or die try­ing. That means learn­ing how to be healthy and con­sis­tently choos­ing healthy behav­iors. Lots of that has noth­ing to do with the sub­ject of this blog, so I won’t bother to dis­cuss it here. One aspect of health that’s applic­a­ble to paint­ing is posture.

There are two basic posi­tions for painting—sitting and stand­ing. For oil paint­ing, I gen­er­ally find it best to stand. It’s in the nature of paint­ing that you stand in one posi­tion for long periods.

How do you stand com­fort­ably for hours at a time? Mil­lions of peo­ple in West­ern coun­tries suf­fer from back pain, in large part because of poor pos­ture. It’s impor­tant to avoid stand­ing while paint­ing in a man­ner that con­tributes to your own back problems.

Here are some basic prin­ci­ples to keep in mind:

  • Slouch­ing for long peri­ods will even­tu­ally wreck your back.
  • Stand­ing up “straight,” with your back mus­cles at ten­sion, is uncom­fort­able and you will stop doing it as soon as you are no longer pay­ing attention.
  • Instead, you’ll need to develop a stand­ing posi­tion that keeps your head over your spine, your spine over your hips, and your hips over your heels. That keeps your body in align­ment so that stand­ing does not place undue pres­sure on your spine, back, hips, neck, or other parts of your body.

How do you do that? Stand up. Feet fac­ing for­ward, about shoul­der width apart or a lit­tle wider.

Now feel your hips. Many peo­ple in West­ern coun­tries habit­u­ally tilt their hips back­ward. This leads to a rounded back and hunched shoul­ders. Instead, tilt your hips for­ward. Your waist­line should be at an angle down­ward, so that the buckle of your belt (if you’re wear­ing a belt) is a bit lower than the back of the belt.

Don’t overdo it to the point that you feel ten­sion in your lower back. The idea is that you are stack­ing your spine so that it bends cor­rectly and is bal­anced directly over the hips.

Stand­ing with your hips tilted for­ward tends to pull your shoul­ders back, but if you’re used to rolling them for­ward, make sure they are aligned back­ward. If you’re a woman, that means boobs up, ladies. This makes breath­ing eas­ier by expand­ing your lung space. You should feel your spine align itself over your forward-tilted hips. This is a posi­tion in which your spine can be at rest while you are erect.

Your head should also be aligned straight, with your neck over your hips. Mov­ing down­ward, your weight should be bal­anced over your heels, not your toes.

This is a com­fort­able stand­ing posi­tion that can be main­tained for long peri­ods. If it’s not your habit­ual way of stand­ing, then you’ll need to train your body to do it. The hard part is that paint­ing takes so much focus that it’s very dif­fi­cult to also con­cen­trate on pos­ture. One way to do that is to start paint­ing in this posi­tion, and make sure that every few min­utes you take a few steps back from the paint­ing and look at your progress. That’s very good prac­tice when paint­ing any­way so that you don’t get tied up in fussy details. While you do that, attend to your  posi­tion and when you go back to paint­ing, make sure that you’re stand­ing cor­rectly. Over time, you’ll catch your­self in the cor­rect posi­tion with­out hav­ing assumed it con­sciously. Your back will thank you for it.

For more infor­ma­tion, read Esther Gokhale’s excel­lent book 8 Steps to a Pain-Free Back. Even if you don’t usu­ally have a sore back, do your­self a favor and get a copy of this book. It’s that good.

Later on, we’ll talk about how to paint in a seated posi­tion with­out hurt­ing yourself.

Caveat: I have no cre­den­tials that sup­port giv­ing health advice. Please don’t assume that I know what I am talk­ing about. If you have any rel­e­vant health prob­lems, con­sult a pro­fes­sional before doing any­thing I suggest.

Posted in art technique, painting, personal.

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7 Responses

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  1. Jose Romero says

    Thank you so much for that great advice! I’ve ordered the book, hope it’s going to be very helpful.

  2. David says

    Jose,

    Hope you find it use­ful. I cer­tainly have.

  3. Jane Taylor says

    What you are talk­ing about is a basic pilates stance. I was hav­ing quite a bit of back pain until I started doing pilates. Not only did it teach me to stand cor­rectly, it also strength­ened my core mus­cles giv­ing my spine more sup­port. I highly rec­om­mend it for any­one who stands for long peri­ods. Make sure you have a good instruc­tor! Thanks for the good advice, David.

    • David says

      Jane,

      I’m not so famil­iar with Pilates, but of course the prin­ci­ples will be the same.

  4. John says

    Hi David, Love your blog, espe­cially the sol­vent­less approach to oil paint­ing.
    I find stand­ing much eas­ier when I have good shoes. I am old enough to see flat feet occur and took some advice and got work shoes with a rock­ing, curved sole(I think two com­pa­nies make these). Very com­fort­able for long stretches.
    My shoe of choice before that was a Keen walk­ing shoe—worn every­day on cement floor for two years, until they fell apart.
    Good shoes with proper arch sup­port are a must.

    • David says

      John,

      Glad you like the blog.

      I myself am a big fan of min­i­mal shoes. I think that shoe sup­port, like any pros­thetic device, weak­ens the body part that it sup­ports. I go bare­foot or with a shoe with a very thin sole almost all the time. As my feet have got­ten stronger, this has worked well for me.

  5. Darius says

    hi , as a secu­rity guard i need to stand a lot and i can do very few moves at my job. so do u have any trick or advice how to do that with­out killing my back ? thank you



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