Stand up straight! Don’t slouch! Tamra Mercieca explores the physical and mental benefits of having a perfect posture.
You’re only words into this article, and chances are you’ve already adjusted how you’re sitting. Posture is one of those things we often forget about, that is, until something or somebody reminds us to straighten up. Poor posture becomes a habit and then it’s as if we need an alarm clock to remind us to sit up straight, and stop hunching over.
For most of us, we were not born with bad posture, we learnt it. Maybe you began slouching when you hit puberty and your breasts blossomed before those of your peers, or maybe you found the heavy weight or your school bag more than your shoulders could bear. Whatever the reason, your lousy stance has become a bad habit. But thankfully, habits can be broken.
Peter Garbutt, the sports chiropractor for the Australian Beach Volleyball tour, says posture is highly important in all areas of life, whether sitting and watching the tv, at your work station, at the gym, on the sporting field or just walking around. “Posture sets the platform from which your body is going to operate,” Garbutt says.
What does it look like?
The body is straight, but not robotic, so your appearance should be relaxed. People with a perfect posture move effortlessly with poise, confidence and fluidity. Nature aligned us so our centre of gravity falls through our body and moves through specific bony landmarks. In normal, correct posture everything is balanced.
Look in the mirror. From the side, your ear should be in line with your shoulder, not in front of it, and your shoulder should be over your hip, your knee and your ankle. If you hung an imaginary plumb from the earlobe, the line would hang straight through the middle of the anklebone. From the front, your hands should hang with palms facing your thighs, not palms facing behind you.
How to do it…
One of the easiest ways to improving your posture, is to pretend that there is a string through the very top of your head pulling your head up tall, just like a puppet. Once your head is tall, the rest of your body should follow. By forcing yourself to stand straight and tall you will align your spine and even force your abdominal muscles to line up correctly.
Another exercise is the Brugger’s relief position, which can be practised whilst at your desk.
Step 1 Sit right on the front edge of your seat.
Step 2 Allow your hands to fall in front of the seat pan, at the sides
of your legs.
Step 3 Turn your thumbs outwards until they point backwards.
Step 4 With your head tall, pull your chin back without tilting your
Step 5 Hold this position for 10 seconds, 5 times.
Repeat this once an hour whilst at a desk.
The arrow exercise is another helpful tool used to improve posture, and is best done at home:
Step 1 Lay face down on the floor, arms by your sides.
Step 2 Turn thumbs outwards and up to the ceiling.
Step 3 Lift head off floor by pulling chin in.
Step 4 Hold this position for 10 seconds, 5 times.
Stretching your pectoral (chest) muscles also goes a long way to helping improve posture in most people. Rowing, and swimming the butterfly stroke are sports that promote good posture, while any abdominal exercises will enhance muscle balance and strength.
Make your environment conducive to perfect posture. Adjust the driver’s seat of your car to ensure that your back is straight and your head sits against the headrest. Make sure your desk chair is the appropriate height. Your knees should be at a 90 degree angle, as should your elbows when your hands rest on your computer keyboard.
Peter Garbutt says people with poorly set up work stations and students tend to be at high risk of poor posture as well as computer/video games players. “It’s important to take breaks from these activities on a regular basis to help reset your postural muscles and not fatigue them overly,” says Garbutt.
Most importantly, remind yourself to stand or sit up straight, even if you have to stick a post-it note on your computer.
You can tell a lot about a person by their posture. Have you ever seen someone glide or stride into a room and command instant attention or respect? Walking with good posture is certainly a skill worth learning if for no other reason than it gives you more confidence and helps you feel stronger.
Women’s health writer and former model, Bessie Bardot, says the simple fact is humans are drawn to people who look happy and confident because deep down we hope a bit of it will rub off on us. “Think of good posture as your secret weapon, almost like your armour for the day,” says Bardot.
A good posture is related closely to a better mood, a happier outlook and more confidence within yourself. In this way, posture works both ways. Negative emotions and feelings can lead to a poor posture, likewise, a poor posture will generate negative feelings. Just try walking slouched with your head down when you are really happy, or upright with a spring in your step when you are sad. See how awkward it feels.
Perfect posture can also make a person stunningly attractive. Bessie Bardot says you can visually lose 2.5 kilos just by standing up straight. “As you realign your body your tummy flattens, then as your move your shoulders back your arms appear slimmer, and finally tucking your butt in creates a smaller shape.”
When the body shifts and poor posture sets in, the bones are improperly aligned and muscles, joints and ligaments take more stress and strain than intended. Peter Garbutt says bad posture can lead to chronic headaches, back pain, increased chance of shoulder and hamstring injuries. “Lousy posture will also decrease your lung capacity, thus leaving you with decreased oxygen supply to the brain which will make you sleepy and fatigue more quickly.”
In the short term, Garbutt says poor posture can cause fatigue due to using higher levels of muscle activity, soreness as a result of this muscle fatigue, decrease your range of movement such as in your neck, your shoulders or your legs. “This in turn will affect performance for sporting exploits, put your body at risk of injury in the gym, or reduce your performance levels at work,” Garbutt says.
Those more at risk
Garbutt says bad posture is more prominent in certain people. “Those who suffer from depression tend to struggle more with maintaining a good posture, although posture correction can be a helpful tool in them managing their depression.”
The other group which is at risk is teenage girls. Garbutt says as girls hit puberty and start to develop, many are self conscious about their bodily changes and so they tend to round their shoulders and slump forward to make it less obvious. “This is quite a serious problem, as this sort of posture has many follow on effects that a teenager can do without.”
Other things to watch out for are high heeled shoes, tight clothing and wide belts, which shift our centre of gravity and move us out of normal alignment.
Good posture tells the world you’re satisfied, content, and have a clear direction in life.
It’s never too late to improve your posture. Committing to a slouch-free lifestyle won’t only boost your confidence by making you look taller and thinner, you’ll also improve your circulation, your breathing, and your digestion. Plus, you’ll help prevent back and neck pain. If you’re one of those people whose knuckles scrape the floor like a gorilla’s, its time to stand tall and move into the 21st century.
Posture is especially important for women, to help ensure they don’t experience sexual organ prolapse later in life. To learn more, visit www.yogaforthevagina.com