In Part One of our ‘Benefits of Good Posture’ we looked at how improving your posture can make a big difference to your health and well-being. So now we come to the big question: how do you go about improving your posture?
The good news is you can do it while going about your normal daily activities, and not have to set aside time for posture correction exercises. And if you need a little more motivation… good posture is NOT about trying to sit and stand straight. Achieving a good posture is about doing LESS – yes, you read that right. A natural, poised person uses less effort than either a slouched body, or one attempting to ‘do good posture’.
Let’s take a top-down approach.
Imagine a tower of wooden blocks with a larger block sitting on top. To balance the tower, the large block will have to sit centred over the others. In this position the tower supports the extra weight easily. But should you move the top block by just a small amount, the tower will topple over.
How does this relate to your posture?
The average head weighs 8 lbs (3.6 kg). If your head is thrust forward while using your tablet or phone, it effectively becomes much heavier and will pull your body out of shape.
So where should your head sit?
b) Now tilt your head up and down from this point without the neck moving.
c) Now turn left and right, again without twisting the neck.
This is where your head should sit. You can also imagine a seal balancing a ball on its nose! When in this position, the weight of the head is supported nicely by the spine and can help to correct a head forward posture and other excessive spinal curves.
But note – don’t stiffen your neck or pull your head back – just let it sit and balance on your spine. If done correctly, you should feel a little lighter and use less effort to sit, stand, walk and run. For many, addressing the balance of the head on the spine is sufficient to correct everything below, hence, ‘as above, so below.’
2. Shoulders/ Upper back
If you have a head-forward posture, your shoulders will invariable become rounded – not a good look, eh. In addition to what we’ve done in Step 1, visualise lifting your arms to the sides and widening across your back. This should give you the sense of releasing up the front of your body and bring your shoulders back by letting go of the tension pulling you down. This can be done from any position, and also have the benefit of freeing up your breathing.
3. Lower Back
For many, the lower back is a problematic area due to excessive stresses placed upon the muscles. It’s also where most people try to straighten to improve their sitting and standing posture. But this is not the most efficient use of your body.
When sitting, rock back a little on your ‘sit bones’ – see below, use the procedure in Step 2 with your shoulders, and relax your lower back. This will bring your head and upper body to sit nicely over the lower spine. If you add tension to the lower back to ‘sit up straight’, these muscles will quickly fatigue and lead to the familiar aches and pains. The same can be applied to standing – more in a moment.
At the base of your pelvis are two bones known as ‘sitting bones’. When sitting, imagine these as your feet and feel the support from the chair. You can also tilt forward and back on these while maintaining a neutral spine to get a sense of the relationship between your pelvis and back. Avoid collapsing in the lower back and maintain an upright (and effortless) posture by including the tip from Step 2.
When standing, remember you stand on your legs, and not with them. This allows you to release your lower back and appreciate your torso (back and pelvis) balances and your legs.
And last of all, we come to the feet. With 26 bones in each, the foot is a complex bit of kit and, as any podiatrist will tell you, any problems here will influence your posture, balance and led to numerous aches and pains. You can find out more about podiatry here, but for our purposes I’ll keep it simple for now.
You have three weight-bearing points on your feet: one under the heel, one just up from the big toe, and the other from the little toe. Stand and move slightly, either forward and back, or rotate to feel the ‘tripod’ beneath each foot. Check if you’re evenly balanced over these points and run back through Steps 1 to 4 quickly. Now imagine a piece of string attached the top of your head gently pulling you up. Avoid stiffening and ‘release up’.
Good posture doesn't have to be hard work. You have reflexes to balance, position and move your body. Poor habits built up over years of slouching at desks, in cars, and on sofas, prevent them from doing their job. By releasing undue, habitual tension allows your reflexes to function again.
Good posture should be natural, require no effort to achieve, free up your movement and give you a sense of lightness and ease. You had it as a young child and you didn’t have to ‘do it’ back then.
Posted by Roy Palmer, our teacher of The Alexander Technique at the centre.