We have almost everything we could possibly want in the modern world but, despite this fact, our general health levels are declining. A good portion of the general population spend their days in almost continuous pain, whether it be from the lower back, posterior chain, or solar plexus.
What causes this? How can we have so much but still find ourselves in so much pain?
The short and simple answer is: posture.
The technological explosion of recent years has handed us bad posture on a plate. Think about it for a second. How many hours do you spend slumped over a smartphone or tablet? How many hours a day do you spend in the office, hunched over a keyboard with a nagging pain in your lower back?
The answer for most of us is too many, and it’s got to stop.
Today I’m going to talk about posture – the good, the bad, the ugly, and why it’s so important we get it right once and for all.
Let’s get to it.
What are the benefits of good posture?
Breathing does much more than just keep us alive. In fact, correct breathing technique can be the difference between emotional wellbeing and crippling anxiety issues. For breathing to work its magic we need to have good posture, in order that the lungs have the room they need to expand in your chest.
Gets rid of back and neck pain
If you are one of the millions of people who suffer daily with back and neck pain learning (or is that re-learning?) good posture could lead to a near-miraculous recovery. When we correct our posture, our bones and spine can easily support our bodyweight with no strain. On the other hand, when our posture has deteriorated due to the years slumped over laptops our muscles, ligaments and tendons work overtime to support our skeletal structure.
It is this imbalance and inability to evenly distribute the weight of the body that causes most back and neck issues, as well as the headaches that can ensue. Learning good posture can eliminate these sometimes life-long issues in short periods of time.
Improves alignment of the body
When we have good posture, we can stand and sit in complete comfort. This is because the body is now properly aligned, which means all our muscles and organs can function as nature intended, with no extra duties. The benefits extend all the way to our stomach, or core, which is why improving posture often leads to improvements in digestion and general sense of wellbeing.
Enhances our ability to learn and remember things
Seems like an odd benefit to sitting up straight, doesn’t it? On the contrary, recent studies have strongly indicated there is an intimate link between our posture and our ability to remember new things. One theory that attempts to explain this leans on the idea that maintaining good posture enhances your breathing, which in turn allows our brain to take in more oxygen and perform at a higher level.
Makes concentrating for long periods much easier
In line with what we discussed about improved memory retention, good posture can also enhance our ability to concentrate. One study found that the male students with the best posture achieved far better exam results than their slouching colleagues.
The reason? Researchers suggest that this increase in performance is due to an increase in testosterone, which results in a corresponding drop in the stress hormone cortisol, allowing for far more intense levels of concentration.
Improves our mood and mental functioning
It is not only memory and concentration that is positively affected by good posture. One study found that those who habitually slouch and exhibit bad posture are more likely to remember negative memories, whereas their good posture counterparts will recall happy memories. If you have struggled with your mental state before now improving your posture may be the answer you are looking for.
Makes us look far more confident (as well as more attractive)
You’ve probably heard that our body language has far more influence on how people perceive us than our actual words, right? These non-verbal ques are so powerful because we instinctively size people up when we met them, often subconsciously reading between the lines of what they are saying or doing.
When we have good posture, we are perceived as more confident, more dominant and more trustworthy by the people around us, which makes us significantly more attractive. This is good news all round – recent studies suggest that people who are perceived as physically attractive, on average, experience far more success in life.
Make us feel far more confident
The mind/body connection is a powerful tool and, for those people with good posture, the benefits are almost endless. Studies have found that assuming a dominant ‘power’ pose – such as standing upright – can increase testosterone by a huge 16%, with an additional 11% decrease in cortisol. This effect takes place not in hour or in day, but in minutes!
There is also the secret that sports psychologists and top-level business consultants have known for years – your feelings will always reflect your actions. By correcting your posture and building the habit you will naturally feel more confident and less anxious. This is the direct result of your new and improved body language.
Destructive myths about good posture that we need to eliminate
Before we can get down to the nitty gritty of improving our posture, there are several myths we need to address. These seem to be prevalent in society and, as such, hold people back from doing something that could easily change their lives. They’ve got to go.
Myth of good posture #1) Good posture is uncomfortable
When most people think of good posture their first thought is one of discomfort. We automatically think back to all the times our parents told us to sit up straight at the dinner table, or of soldiers standing stiffly to attention. Often, when we have spent time practicing what we think is good posture we feel sore the next day. Obviously, something isn’t right.
Good posture – the kind of posture that gives us all the benefits listed above – is effortless. When we have good posture all our muscles and tendons are instantly released from any tension or strain, with the weight finally being held up by our bones (as it should be).
If you are used to slumping and slouching, then this change in posture may feel weird at first. It certainly won’t feel as described above. However, over time, your muscles will realise that they no longer need to stay tight to hold you up and will naturally release, filling you with a sense of ease and wellbeing you may never have felt before.
Myth of good posture #2) Good posture is a ‘one-size-fits-all’ scenario
This naturally follows on from the idea we all have about what constitutes good posture. Thanks to social conditioning, we assume that if we aren’t doing something a certain way we must be doing it wrong. Nothing could be further from the truth. The fact is, there is no one-size-fits-all where posture is concerned. We all have different bodies and, as such, what works for one person may not work as well for someone else. Despite this, there are several ways we can all find out what our perfect standing and sitting posture is. Details are below.
How to fix your posture once and for all
Now we know why improving our posture is good and why what we think about good posture is probably incorrect, we can get to the part where we start to put things into practice.
How to achieve good sitting posture
Bad posture when sitting is probably the largest single contributing factor to lower back pain, which affects millions of people worldwide. The 12-16 hours per day use of laptops and computers has only made it worse, as we tend to slump and slouch to get closer to the screen.
It is more difficult to maintain good posture in a sitting position. Consequently, the first action you can take to lessen the effects of bad posture whilst sitting is to sit less! When you are working at the computer commit to taking regular breaks throughout the day to walk about and release tension from your body.
Another thing you can do, if you work at home or in an office that allows such things, is invest in a standing desk. Alternating between sitting and standing like this – during a normal working day – can save you from a lot of unnecessary discomfort (bonus: your productivity will go up).
In the times that you do sit the first thing you should do is ensure that your shoulders and ears are lined up. This has the desirable effect of eliminating any shoulder slumping that can happen from long periods sitting at a desk. Don’t associate keeping your shoulders straight with any stress or strain. Again, good posture should always feel relaxed and effortless.
To make the transition from bad posture to good posture a little easier, ensure your feet are always resting flat on the floor when you are sitting, with your hips and knees bent at a 90-degree angle. When you are typing, your arms should also be at a 90-degree angle. Adjust your chair until you find the sweet spot.
How to achieve good standing posture
Achieving good posture while standing has a lot to do with ensuring the body is correctly aligned. This means that the shoulders, hips, knees and ankles should all be in one straight line.
One of the problems that many people run into when they first attempt to change their posture is getting their shoulders to play along. If we have been practicing bad posture for a long time we likely have rounded shoulders, where the muscles are compensating for the skeleton and causing tight muscles around the neck area. A lot of weight lifters who emphasise their chest and shoulder (push) training over their back (pull) training tend to develop this imbalance over time.
Always remember that your weight should be evenly distributed across your body when you are standing. Make sure your chin is parallel to the ground and your shoulders are completely aligned with your hips.
Exercises to help reverse years of bad posture
One of the best and easiest ways to start practicing good posture is to simply become aware of it. When we become are of how tight and uncomfortable our muscles are, we can automatically switch back to good posture. It sounds crazy but after years of bad posture it can be harder than you think to break the habit.
If you have been practicing bad posture for a very long time you might find maintaining a neutral spine throughout the day is extremely difficult, almost impossible. As tough as this is to swallow initially, don’t despair. Use the exercises below to gently ease your body into proper alignment.
If you want some fast relief from the effects of bad posture this is your exercise. Lie flat on the floor and position your legs on the top of a raised surface such as a bed, table or chair. Ensure that your knees are bent at a 90-degree angle and bring your hips as close to the raised surface as possible. Lie in this position for 5-10 minutes.
This position helps align the shoulders with the hips, relaxing the muscles in the lower back and stretching the thoracic muscles. The effect is generally very pleasant and can bring lasting benefits.
If you are looking for something a little more intense then try this for size. Instead of using the raised platform from the previous exercise, lie on the floor in front of a wall. Drag yourself forward until your butt is as close to the wall as possible. Bring your legs up against the wall until it looks as though you are sitting on it. Lie like this for 5-10 minutes and let all the tension from your lower back, core and hamstrings drain away. This will feel like the first exercise but just a little more forceful on the tight muscles.
Hopefully you are now convinced of the importance of good posture, if you weren’t already. Not only can it help us physically, it can do amazing things for our emotional and mental health. Good luck with trying to put it right and, as always, if you have any questions please don’t hesitate to shoot me a message.