Ever catch yourself slouching when seated at the table talking to friends? Notice your shoulders relaxing into a more rounded position than they ought to be? We are a culture that is becoming far more used to focussing on screens and generally being hunched for more hours a day than our forefathers. So how do we prevent our posture from suffering and causing long term damage?
Our posture is what holds us upright; holding our bodies correctly comes in two formats – dynamic posture and static posture. Dynamic posture is when we are in motion, our action posture if you like, and static posture is how we hold ourselves when we are still. The key part of our overall stance is, of course, the spine, how we control this determines our posture. Everything from our head to our hips should be in alignment incorporating our three natural curves; one at the neck, one half way down our back and the third at the base of our back. These need to be kept at the correct curvature – not becoming less or more arched.
Incorrect posture can be the cause of a variety of health concerns: it can cause the spine to become weaker, increase the likelihood of skeletal pain, and so our flexibility can become compromised as can our balance. As well as the musculoskeletal system being affected, our inner organs can also become constricted making digestion and breathing more difficult. It isn’t just the negative effects we ought to be focussing on – good posture increases our ability to function well. We are more adept at sports if we have good posture and therefore balance. Being off kilter carries through in our general performance.
Thankfully, posture is something we can work on and alter for the better (or maintain) and the importance of doing so is definitely something to consider as we age; it isn’t necessarily at the forefront of many people’s minds when it comes to keeping healthy, however it is a huge part of our constitution.
How to achieve good posture
First we must consider what good posture actually is, as we don’t want to be correcting that which is not wrong. We just want to ensure that we keep ourselves in line. We should be evenly balanced from head to toe; our chin parallel to the floor, our shoulders level, our spine in neutral – not arched nor slumped, arms equally straight when relaxed at the sides, elbows facing behind, our core strong in support, hips straight and even, knees directed forwards and level and weight should be distributed evenly between each foot. All this applies when seated, except of course for the legs being bent – knees and feet should be kept evenly facing forwards.
Think straight: The first battle when it comes to regulating our positioning is to be aware. Making ourselves mindful of the way we carry ourselves is the first step to achieving good posture. Consider how you are sitting, standing or moving and ask yourself whether your posture is correct. If not, correct it!
Take the weight off: If we are overweight our structure is going to struggle, joints suffer, core muscles become weaker, the lower back struggles with the extra weight and our alignment can become altered. Keeping a healthy weight is an important part of maintaining a good posture.
Surface level: Whether sitting or standing ensure that the surfaces you work on are appropriate for your posture; if working at a desk make sure the height suits your body and allows everything to remain level, for example. Take note of this in everything you do, whether it be making dinner, working, or any motionless activity.
Sensible shoes: This may sound like something your grandmother would have told you back in the day but that is some sound advice. We need to wear shoes that contribute to our balance rather than throw it off and force us to compensate (high heels for example).
Keep moving: Exercise of any kind is good for us but there are specific workouts that can improve our balance, and therefore posture, (more of that to come), but to focus on the core will strengthen our support of our skeleton. Stretching exercises also promote healthy posture; yoga is an excellent example of this when practiced correctly and consistently.
Better seated posture: as we are often in a seated position we need to ensure that we practice the following in order to prevent our posture from being affected; shift positions regularly, make sure you take a moment to get up and walk around for at least five minutes every half an hour and stretch whilst doing so in order to relieve tension, never cross your legs and have your feet flat on the floor facing forwards, make sure your spine, thighs and hips are fully supported and parallel to the floor, keep elbows close to the body and keep shoulders level and relaxed in the correct upright position.
Exercises to promote good posture
The bridge: Lay on the back with your feet flat on the floor, knees bent and arms straight out at your sides, palms down. Now lift your pelvis keeping your back as straight as possible – contract your glutes to do so, and lower. Repeat.
Tension release: Remain in the same position and move your chin down towards your chest and hold for 10 to fifteen seconds, repeat ten times. Stand straight and move your chin as though trying to pull it backwards without lifting or lowering, hold for a few seconds and repeat up to ten times. Relax your spine and facial muscles and turn your head from side to side keeping eyes level.
Core strengthening: sit on the floor and bend your knees, lift your feet just off the ground and now rotate your upper body and elbows from side to side. Do this daily for increased energy levels. Beginning in a lunge position – one knee on the floor, leg extended behind you, the other at a 90 degree angle in front with foot flat on the ground – engage your core and gently lunge forwards stretching out your hip and leg muscles. Repeat on both sides. Hold full plank for at least thirty seconds to strengthen your core.
Chest opener: To counteract the slouching that we may be used to we need to open our chest to increase our lung capacity, constant slouching will cause restriction and compression. Stand straight, feet hip distance apart and clasp your hands behind you. Pull gently to open the shoulders and the chest, bend over and allow the arms to hang. Hold for twenty seconds in each pose. Sit or stand with a neutral spine. Shift your shoulder blades to the back. Lift both forearms to a 90 degree angle at your sides. Pull your shoulder blades closer together, as if you’re squeezing them, while your arms naturally extend backward. Complete three sets of twelve repetitions.
Decompress organs: For this you will need a firm foam roller; lay on your back with your hands supporting your neck and place the roller horizontally underneath the rib cage. Now extend your spine over the roller and hold while breathing deeply. Inch slowly upwards and repeat. This will improve circulation and aid with healthy digestion.
Tree pose for balance: Stand upright with your feet firmly planted on the ground. Bring your hands to meet in the middle of your chest with palms and fingers touching. Pull your shoulder blades back with your ears resting above your shoulders. Lift one leg up to your thigh or shin (not your knee), and press the sole of your foot into your leg for stability. Both legs should be engaged, and your core should be tucked slightly as you maintain a neutral spine.
To put it simply, poor posture is mostly due to our bad habits, but once you pay attention to your alignment and become mindful of it at all times you will begin to negate such habits and notice when something is out of line. Poor posture can be altered and we can learn to carry ourselves correctly for a healthier, more comfortable way of life.
Online diploma courses in over 60 Holistic Therapies
Here at the School of Natural Health Sciences we offer more than 60 holistic therapy distance learning diploma courses. For those interested in posture and fitness we offer Exercise for Health & Wellness and Yoga. For those wanting to become more mindful, our popular Mindfulness course will help you to manage stress and pain levels and improve relationships.