Have you ever watched a baby sitting on the floor- legs stretched out in front and tall, straight back – and said to yourself, “I wish I could still do that!”? How does she even know what good posture is? Well, because this time she didn’t tip over! A baby may not yet be cognitively aware of her posture, but her body can figure it out. She hasn’t spent most of her life sitting in chairs, so her hamstrings are still nice and long, and her abdominal and back muscles are plenty strong enough to hold her little body up against gravity. She works hard learning to move in this world. She eats, poops and then sleeps. We could learn a lot from a baby!
What good posture is.
“Good posture” is nothing more than the correct alignment of body parts supported by the right amount of muscle tension against gravity. Without engaging our postural muscles, we would simply collapse to the ground. If we aren’t aligned well, our postural muscles must work harder to hold us up.
People tend to think of good posture as something to maintain when sitting or standing. But postural muscles also maintain our alignment and balance during movement. Our postural muscles are made for endurance and are working all day long. When we sit back into a supportive chair or lie down on a firm mattress at night, we give them a well-deserved rest so that they’re ready to support us again come morning!
Why posture matters.
Neck and back pain are often the direct result of hours spent hunched over smartphones and slouching in front of computers. Poor posture strains your postural muscles, leading to fatigue, tension and increased risk of injury. In addition, poor posture prevents you from breathing deeply and compress your organs. You feel tired, sluggish and self-conscious. And that hunchback and pooching belly aren’t exactly appealing!
Practicing good posture engages your core, opens up your diaphragm to help you breathe better, and gives your organs the room they need to aid in digestion. Straightening up can help increase your energy and productivity and reduce stress. You feel confident and you look younger, more vibrant and attractive.
How to re-learn healthy postures.
Like a baby learning to sit up, we don’t normally have to think about maintaining our posture. Our postural muscles do it for us. But if you have developed unhealthy postures you will need to do a little re-training.
A healthy spine is shaped like an elongated “S.” To find this position for yourself, sit away from the back of your chair, lift up tall, and gently rock your pelvis forward and back a few times. Now stop somewhere in the middle of your most forward and most backward position. This is your “neutral spine” position. I like to think of it as the Goldilocks of posture- it’s “just right.” Now breathe deeply, into your belly, and close your eyes. How does it feel? Now, look in a mirror. Do you like what you see? Stand up. Try bending over. Can you maintain that alignment?
If you want more help, try a yoga class. With its emphasis on lengthening and balance, yoga is a great discipline for re-learning healthy postures. With practice, you can lengthen short hamstrings and strengthen the weak core and gluteal muscles necessary to supporting good postures.
And remember, working on your posture doesn’t stop when you leave the gym. Those squats you do to strengthen your glutes won’t do you much good if you spend the rest of your day just sitting on them! Your body “learns” what it does. Are you “teaching” it to slouch, or to sit up tall? Be mindful of your posture all day, every day, and you will be rewarded with vitality, confidence and good health!