Sure, we all think about posture occasionally. We know, deep down, that it can make us look taller, leaner, and more confident. But ugh, thinking about maintaining an erect posture consistently throughout the day can be difficult when so much of our energy goes toward work, family, and getting things done. But what if you didn’t have to think about it? You can make good posture a habit. All you have to do is make it a priority—focus on it—for a few minutes each day.
It might provide some incentive to know that posture is about so much more than appearance. It directly affects the way our muscles, bones, and organs function. The difference between good and not-so-good posture can be the difference between pain-free living and chronic pain. Improved posture makes us look more confident, yes; but better yet, it can really improve our health.
Posture is simply the position the body takes when sitting, standing, or walking. Throughout each day, we assume a number of different postures, depending on what we’re doing or feeling. Unfortunately, not all postures are created equal. Some postures place us in good alignment, while others place us in poor alignment. Good alignment, when the bones are stacked for optimal body function, reduces risk of injury, and allows for efficient movement. Poor alignment—like any of the common stress postures —means less-than-perfect stacking of bones. And while these not-so-great postures may feel comfortable, that’s only because we’re so used to them, and they usually cause more work for the muscles and bones. Over time, this excess work leads to skeletal system dysfunction and pain.
For example, if you slump or slouch, your pelvic and spinal alignment is compromised. The abdominal muscles are not able to strengthen optimally and the spinal muscles (erector spinae) are overworked to maintain an upright posture. The shoulders are often hunched forward and the chin protrudes, which strains the muscles at the back of the shoulders and neck (trapezius and suboccipital muscles), and cause tightness in the front of the chest (pectorals). All of this may start with poor posture, but the result is disproportionate strength and stretch in the muscles. This, along with a hardening of the fascial tissue, perpetuates the slumping posture so it starts to feel normal even though it places excess stress and strain on the muscles and bones. When you spend an excessive amount of time in this type of posture, chronic pain and conditions like forward head posture develop and worsen over time.
Posture also affects the function of the internal organs. Take slumping and slouching again as an example. These postures literally smush the internal organs. The front of the ribcage compresses so the lungs cannot fully expand and contract, which limits breath capacity and ultimately, stamina. The stomach, liver, and intestines cannot function optimally if they do not have an adequate amount of space. This can lead to digestive issues like constipation, diarrhea, indigestion, and gas and bloating.
Conversely, if you stand upright, with the bones stacked in optimal alignment, the muscles can find a healthy balance of stretch and strength to best support the skeleton and internal organs. This minimizes current and future pain, boosts digestive health, and increases strength and stamina. Make your health and well-being the priority, and as a happy side effect, you’ll feel and look more balanced and radiant.
To challenge your go-to postures, focus on these techniques three times a day. Set an alarm on your phone as a reminder to make adjustments. Over time, you won’t need a reminder, and a more optimal posture will become second nature.
- Equalize pressure. Notice if you stand with more weight on one foot than the other or sit with more weight on one hip than the other. The simple act of creating equal pressure on the left and right side of your body decreases imbalances and sets a strong foundation for proper alignment.
- Find length. Thanks to gravity, our bodies constantly want to get smaller and closer to the ground. Resist this tendency and find length in places like your side body—the space between the hips and the ribs—collarbones, spine, and neck.
- Set your gaze high. While walking, looking at the computer, reading, or texting our gaze often drifts down. This causes the neck to crane forward, leading to misalignment in the shoulders, spine, and hips. This simple gesture instantly brings your head, neck, and shoulders back into better alignment.