Updated: Aug 30
When relating good posture to health, alignment is the magic word. Our amazing body and all it’s functions are designed to run in harmony, but when the basic structure is compromised, we can be left with minor but very annoying issues like tension headaches, digestive problems, back aches and such like.
Since our bodily functions are all interconnected in some way or another, just fixing a misaligned posture can have noticeable effects on our overall wellbeing. The most common misalignment is too much rounding forward in the upper body. Sitting infront of a computer or at a desk all day or working in the kitchen has us slouching forward, while extra stress makes us hitch up our shoulders.
1. Give the ache a break
Sitting and staying upright at our workspace is a real challenge. There are all kinds of chairs and cushions that claim to offer a solution, but in reality, it is all down to us. Your body needs to have the muscle power and muscle memory to find perfect alignment. When our core muscles at the front and back of the body are trained and strengthened equally, our shoulders can rest in their ideal position and the head can sit at the top of the spine without having to be held up with force as it does when you are slouching forward over a keyboard.
Remember, gravity pulls us all down towards the ground When our upper body is not upright but instead, is slouching, our frontal plane is pulled downwards more and our back and neck muscles need to work harder to work against that force of gravity. This can cause tightening in the shoulder and neck muscles, which can result in uncomfortable tension headaches. Strengthening your core muscles and learning what it feels like to use them to support a 'proper' or neutral posture, can avoid the extra tension and the subsequent headache.
2. Deeeeeep Breath!
This might be something that you already do whenever you feel stressed and need to calm down. Deep breathing is awesome and is even better when your upper body is properly aligned. When we breathe in, our diaphragm (the part of our body that separates the abdominal and thoracic cavities), moves downwards, making space for the breath to flow into the body. Our ribcage then expands three-dimensionally for the lungs to inflate. In order to create the best possible intake of air, our hips, spine and ribcage need to be in perfect alignment to provide maximum capacity for the lungs and diaphragm to do their work. This is why in yoga poses, the alignment of the upper body is so important. In every pose you do, you should be able to take a full and complete breath.
Now why is taking a full and complete breath a good idea? I could write a whole new blog post on this, but in short, full and deep breathing calms our nervous system and increases how much oxygen is in our blood, which in turn, helps the cells to create energy for us to perform better, both mentally and physically.
3. Take the pressure off
This is one of the more obvious benefits of good posture. If you slouch forward, your organs and their contents are being squished together, which as we all know, can be quite uncomfortable especially after a big meal. Having the ability to maintain proper posture allows the organs to have the space the need to do their job. Who likes to work when you are squashed up against another colleague?! In some cases, poor posture can even cause gastrointestinal symptoms such as acid reflux which can lead to more serious health issues longer term.
When our posture is upright, the spine, hips and shoulders are perfectly aligned meaning the diaphragm can work effectively as mentioned above. Since the diaphragm separates the abdominal and thoracic cavities, it’s movements affect the organs held in the abdomen as well. The movement of the diaphragm creates a gentle massage for the intestines and stomach which can help reduce bloating and constipation.
4. Align your curves
Lower back pain can be caused by a misalignment of the spinal curve. Our spine curves naturally at the lower back and upper back and if these curves are not aligned correctly, our muscles tighten and we experience back pain.
When slouching forward, the curve in the upper back gets thrown off balance and affects all the other spinal curves as well. The curve in the lower back is reduced, whilst the curve in the neck flattens. As the spine is attached to our hips, this misalignment continues on into the hip placement and we end up sitting like rolled up hedgehogs all day, with our back muscles and the muscles around the hips tightening up!
Together with strengthening, the core muscles learn how to maintain the natural curves in the spine, whilst sitting can remove alot of the extra muscle tension. Ju,st as we internalise the movements for any specialised activity such as tennis, golf or knitting for example, we have to commit the correct alignment of our spinal curve to muscle memory so that good posture comes naturally.
5. Confidence and Mood
Have you ever seen anyone cheer when slouching? If a football player scores a goal, the arms of their supporters go up and the chest puffs out in celebration. Our body language for being upbeat, positive and confident is having our feet firmly planted on the floor and standing upright. As humans, we all have bad days once in a while, or days where we feel less confident. Being in control of your posture and knowing how to set it up can be a huge advantage.
Posture affects your mood and your mood affects your posture. On the days we don’t feel 100%, we can start to improve how we feel by putting our body in the right position which will in turn, improve our mood. I like to call it the'Fake-it-till-you-make-it'effect! Usually confidence comes from experience but when those experiences are missing or are not easily coming to the surface, especially at the beginning of any career, trying to emanate confidence because you are who you are, is enough.
The big how
Reducing muscle pain, having better digestion and boosting confidence, can all happen through improved posture. As previously mentioned, good posture is not just about muscle strength but is also about muscle memory, like any other skill. We can’t work on strengthening the right muscles if we don’t know which ones to use and how to use them correctly. The good news is you won't need any weights or an expensive gym membership to improve your posture! My favourite way to start on posture is the one minute (60 second) plank challenge. The secret here is to learn exactly how a proper plank pose is set up and then work your way to holding it correctly for one minute. Practice every day going to your limit and increase this slowly - it's a great way to get started and any progress, no matter how small, is a real achievement.
Are you the dancing kind?
I believe dancing is the best way to teach your body and mind how to maintain overall good posture. Any style of dance is a full body workout. I have learned many styles of dance during my time as a practitioner and have come to the conclusion that whatever style you choose to learn, mastering how to move your hips is the most helpful to improve posture. Hip movement is not usually a large part of everyday life, but together with the correct feet placement, our hips are the foundation of good posture.
My favourite way to dance and workout is practicing Bollywood Dance Fitness. It get my hips and the rest of my body moving and brings together many different styles and movement patterns. The music is so upbeat and happy that you can’t possibly slouch on the dance floor!
Remember, posture affects your mood and your mood affects your posture. To join a dance fitness class, you don’t have to have any previous dance experience, all you need is an open mind and a love for dancing in your heart. A dance fitness class is more about having fun whilst dancing, rather than learning the perfect moves, so taking a class should feel like an awesome dance party, instead of posture training.
If you feel like giving it a try, email me at Cordula@freckle-fish.com to arrange for a free trial class online (via Zoom) or visit CordiPower.com for more information. I’m based in London and there will be several free live studio events coming up soon, so please do keep an eye out! I would love to dance with you to help you realise all the benefits that come from good posture.
Let’s dance soon,
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