When I was a young girl I was told constantly by my Mom to “put your shoulders back.” Does this sound familiar? I would roll my eyes and sigh; move on until she would say it again…(Maybe this sounds familiar, too??)
What I realized, as an adult, is that it’s not just as simple as telling someone to do it. I know now why she told me to do it and I have to bite my tongue when I see my husband or kids slouching!
There is an abundance of muscles, joints, tendons and ligaments at play when it comes to holding your torso upright. The erector spinae group is one of the most stabilizing, containing muscles that run the length of the spine, some from the back of the head, all the way down to either side of the spine. Other larger muscles most familiar to us include: trapezius (traps), latissimus dorsi (lats), rhomboids, the abdominals, obliques (side of the body) and of course the gluteals, just to name a few.
These muscles, along with some others, help to support our spine from top to bottom in all positions, including holding our spines in the correct, upright posture. If the spine is not held in the correct position because of weak or atrophied (non-vital muscle tissue) muscles, this can lead to many issues such as imbalances in the muscular/skeletal system, which in turn could lead to higher risk of injury, acute and chronic pain.
If our muscles are weak around our shoulders and upper back, the back will curve outward and the chin will jut forward out of alignment. Kyphosis (hunchback) is a degenerative condition, but for most of us we have what is called postural kyphosis due to slouching. Most of the time this change happens gradually and goes unnoticed until one day you look at yourself sideways in a mirror and are shocked!
So what’s the big deal about slouching-it’s just so comfortable! Well, besides looking like cavemen, it can lead to a number of health issues: imbalanced musculature that can lead to pain or injury, surgery and even digestive issues from protuberance of the digestive organs.
Also, when you are leaning over all the time your lung space collapses, which leads to less air, less circulation and less blood detox.
Have you ever felt anxiety? Sometimes it can be simply that our lungs are compressed, not allowing maximum space for oxygen. Stand up straight, raise your arms up in the air, take a deep breath, hold it and feel the stretch in the intercostal (rib) muscles then exhale slowly. Do that 3 times and I promise your situational anxiety will be alleviated!
Daily habits can also cause bad posture. In our modern society we sit constantly in front of computers, TVs, in our car, and in front of an IPad and IPhone that are all putting our bodies at risk for muscular imbalances and therefore incorrect spinal alignment. Even our children are following in our footsteps in this digital world and will be the next generation of terrible posture, poor spinal alignment and chronic neck and back pain.
So what can we do about it?
- Body Awareness. This is the most vital component to having healthy posture. Body awareness means consciously being aware of the postures you hold yourself in on a daily basis. How is your posture when you are eating, working, or standing? Learning to be conscious of body posturing will make you better at recognizing when you are not in correct alignment. According to Miranda Esmonde-White, the creator Essentrics®, most people have such poor body awareness that slouching feels correct and standing up straight feels wrong. That used to be me! Now that I have learned how to tone and stretch my back and torso properly it feels so wrong to slouch!
- Strength Training. We can only do what our bodies are capable of doing. If we have weak or atrophied muscles it will be almost impossible to have correct alignment and therefore correct posture. Strength training the muscles in your upper back and neck are necessary in order to hold your head in the correct alignment. (One example of a back strengthening workout done without weights: Take both arms up straight above your head so that your arms are next to your ears. Pull your arms up to the sky and keep pulling to stretch the vertebra apart-imagine a slinky being pulled apart, allowing space in between the coils. Keep arms up then push one arm to the back wall, engaging shoulder blade. Repeat the other side. Do both arms together, pushing to the back wall. Make sure you keep your torso from twisting and do not lean into your lower back. Next, take arms out to the sides, elbows bent, palms up toward sky and push down toward the floor-opening up the shoulders and chest breathing out deeply. Repeat 4-5 times for a great upper back workout! See diagrams below. This routine and other similar routines are courtesy of Essentrics.com)
Stretching. Along with strength training you should have loose, not tight, musculature. If muscles are too tight that can also cause imbalances. Try gently rolling your head down your chest from one shoulder to the other to loosen up and de-stress. Just move daily!
Now you have the knowledge and tools to improve your posture starting with the habit of body awareness! With body awareness you are well on your way to looking and feeling younger and more confident!
Have a happy and healthy day!
References: Essentrics®Level 1 Manual-Miranda Esmonde-White