Posture is something that our moms always bugged us about: “Stand up straight!” “Don’t slouch!” We’ve all heard it in one form or another, right? Well, it turns out that mom was on to something. The effects of good posture help with a myriad of things, from looking better to feeling better and having more energy. Conversely, the effects of bad posture are much more far-reaching than we might think.
Let’s take a closer look…
WHAT IT IS:
Posture is the position of our body in relation to gravity while standing, sitting or lying down. Alignment is how our bones are stacked in relation to one another, and proper alignment helps to create good posture. Good posture involves training our body to stand, walk, sit and lie in positions where the least amount of strain is placed on supporting muscles and ligaments during movement or weight-bearing activities.
BENEFITS OF GOOD POSTURE:
- Allows us to move with ease, economy and efficiency
- Decreases the wear-and-tear of joint surfaces
- Decreases stress on the ligaments holding the joints of the spine together
- Prevents the spine and body from becoming fixed in poor alignment (poor alignment can cause muscle imbalances that could lead to injury and/or pain)
- Prevents fatigue
- Prevents strain or overuse of muscles and joints
- Prevents backache and muscular pain
- Helps with better circulation
- Helps us look better
- It can even help promote more confidence!
So, if good posture is this beneficial, then why is it so hard to attain and ultimately maintain?
With today’s lifestyle, more people are less active. We work longer hours or have more than one job where we either sit for long hours or hold positions for several hours with poor posture. Sitting or standing for more hours a day, whether at a desk or in a car, equals less time to work out, not to mention less activity in general. With less activity, there’s potential for more weight gain. More weight gain and less activity changes the way our skeleton and muscles support themselves. Weight gain also increases the risk for disease as well as discomfort, pain and potential injury. Throughout this blog series, I’ll present ways and tips for bettering your posture—let’s start with seated posture.
POSTURE TIPS FOR SITTING
With a chair under our butts for most of the day, finding a neutral position of our bodies is crucial to starting to find better overall posture and well-being. What is good sitting posture? To find good posture, let’s start with poor posture and acknowledging the position that our bodies naturally ‘fall’ into as we sit at a desk.
The photo below is an example of POOR sitting posture:
- The ankles are crossed and feet pulled under the knees—this places stress on the upper thighs and knees, and limits the circulation of blood to the lower limb.
- The trunk is slouched and the head is falling forward and downward from the neck and spine—gravity places undue stress especially on the lower back and neck in this position because the vertebra (spine) are not positioned to absorb and dissipate the forces of the upper-body weight and gravity.
- The abdominals are slouched and not supporting the lower back or helping to decompress the spine.
- Altogether, this is not a pretty sight, nor one that is going to feel so good after a few hours or even minutes!
What can we do to achieve optimum sitting posture and alignment?
Start by finding a more upright, neutral posture. Adjust your seat so that when seated, your knees are slightly lower than your hips, and you can place your feet flat on the floor under your knees.
Lift up through the top of your head (remember, there’s an imaginary string on top of your head lifting upward) pulling your chin in and slightly downward to reach the back of your neck towards the space behind you. This will automatically make more room to pull in your abdominals to support your upper body and lower back.
Roll your shoulders back, creating a wide “smile” on your chest and collarbone area—think widening the clavicle from side to side and pulling the scapula (the shoulder blades) together and downward to broaden the upper back.
Think of lightening up the weight on each sit bone while maintaining even weight on both. Imagine that you are sitting between two panes of glass, and those pieces of glass are slightly drawing together and lifting upward. This will help create the space and length to lighten the load of the head, neck, shoulders and ribs over the pelvis.
The photo below is an example of GOOD sitting posture:
- The lifted and open chest.
- The head is looking straight ahead, with the spine aligned in a more neutral position.
- This posture is going to feel better for a longer period of time, and will seem easy once the muscles are accustomed to maintaining this alignment.
Try finding this upright, neutral position at least 4-5 times a day (more if you can) to start training the muscles that support good posture to kick in and work, while allowing the muscles that aren’t needed to relax and stand by for other work.
While this might not seem like much, a little bit every day goes a long way toward training the body to maintain this alignment every time we sit down. It will become more natural to sit this way after a bit of practice.
In my next post on posture, we’ll take a look at some stretches and easy exercises to help lengthen and strengthen our trunk so that it becomes easier to hold and move with better posture and alignment. Stay tuned!
Portia Page has been in the fitness industry for more than 25 years as a teacher, a program and fitness director, an international presenter and an author. She is the education project manager for Balanced Body and the author of Pilates Illustrated (Human Kinetics). Portia has a bachelor’s in cognitive science from UCSD. and is PMA-, ACE- and AFAA-certified.