We all know that poor posture can lead to back pain, headaches, sore muscles and just makes us look bad. But were you aware that it reduces lung capacity, causes musculoskeletal disorders, puts a strain on our internal organs and even leads to a loss of confidence and depression?
Surprise, the consequences of neglecting the way we hold ourselves goes far beyond temporary.
Often the concept of good posture is warped because it was explained poorly or not explained at all. “Stand Up Straight!” isn’t exactly specifically descriptive. So what is correct posture?
To understand correct posture is to understand and be conscious of body alignment.
Aesthetically, if you look at a body from the side and they are standing correctly, you should be able to draw a straight line through the ear, shoulder, hip, knee and ankle. It sounds easy, but training your body to stay that way is much harder than you think.
Once you’ve developed poor posture, it’s an unconscious habit. Our core muscles begin to weaken from lack of use and our neck and back begin feeling the strain from the unsupported weight of our body. Studies have shown that with proper posture the average human head weighs approximately 10-12 lbs, but once your posture begins to slump, the weight the neck is forced to carry increases up to 42 lbs.
For some perspective, let’s see what else weighs approx. 42 lbs:
- a cooler full of ice
- a medium sized pit bull
- a 3 year old child
- 5 gallons of water
- and a 15 foot canoe
Our necks weren’t made to withstand that weight!
What’s good posture supposed to feel like?
Starting from the top, the head should feel as if it were being pulled straight up from the crown, lengthening your neck. It should not be jutting forward or pulling back causing muscle strain.
Shoulders should not be forced into a military posture or pulled up toward your ears, they should be relaxed and in line between your ears and hips. Try rolling them backwards once and relaxing with arms by your side, thumbs facing forward, and feel the difference.
The spine should be lengthened naturally as you feel the imaginary pull straight upward from your head, aligning itself into it’s three natural curves.
Hips should be square, which means even with your shoulders and level with one another. Your pelvis ideally sits in a neutral position. A neutral pelvis is a term you will hear often in pilates or other core focused exercise, and describes the natural position between tucked under and arched backward.
Knees and legs should be straight, but not locked. Locking your legs leads to joint and muscle problems as well as puts an imbalanced strain on the rest of you body.
Keep your feet apart and even with your hips with your feet straight forward. You weight should be balanced equally between the ball (front) and heel of your feet.
This position is not only ideal for our health, but also is how we are at our most natural! Neglecting our posture is painful, and Roger Sperry, a renown psychobiologist, tells us that as we distort our spine through poor posture, lung capacity reduces as much as 30%, reducing the amount of oxygen available to the brain and the rest of the body. Less oxygen means less energy for thinking, metabolic function and healing.
A Reflection of Ourselves
Beside the physical limitations associated with poor posture, how we hold our bodies is also a reflection of how we and others view us. Imagine yourself interviewing a job candidate, they are confident and appear personable, professional and well qualified. How are they standing? They aren’t slouching or lazily hunched over waiting to hear their name. Of course not. How we carry and conduct ourselves reflect our level of self confidence, while in reverse, our posture is an indication of depression and poor attitude that we may in turn take on as real attributes of our personalities.
What Can We Do About Poor Posture?
Just standing up straight right now isn’t going to last without some work. As will all quality solutions when it comes to health and well being, maintaining good posture is a long term effort.
- Core Strengthening: Strengthening the abdominal wall and back muscles will make correct posture much easier. These muscles are responsible for holding your spine in place. Without them, our overall health would quickly decline. Taking a pilates or yoga class is a great start to understand and improve your body’s alignment.
- Look Into Ergonomics: How we work, and how much we work, has a lot to do with posture. Just making sure your desk and chair are adjusted properly so that your feet sit on the floor and you don’t have to lean forward, straining your neck and back, just to see the computer screen can make the difference between weary pain and a productive day at work. Standing up and stretching and walking once an hour or so to improve circulation and avoid stiff joints will keep you aware of your body.
Whatever you do, do it now. The effects of poor posture are accumulative, so the longer you let it go the more you’ll have to do to correct it.
Annalise Proctor, an avid reader, writer and Chicago transplant, with a extensive experience in dance and gymnastics through which she gained knowledge and experience attaining and maintaining body awareness. She loves sharing what she has learned over the years and promoting physical and mental long term wellness through contributing to a modern medical practice’s blog in her area.