Posture, posture, posture. Another endless (and relevant) topic. It effects the health of our bones, the amount of air we can take in to our lungs with every breath, and the strength of our muscles. A little crazy right? That something as simple as posture can affect so many things within our body?
However, with the risk of sounding like a party pooper, posture is anything but simple. It’s a dynamic balance of the muscles of the front, back, and sides of our bodies. Our skeleton would collapse without the support of our muscles, tendons, and ligaments. Every day, our posture is challenged by gravity and our everyday activities, which are usually performed in front of our bodies (for example reaching forward with our arms typing on a keyboard, and sitting for great lengths of time). Rarely do we perform activities that engages and strengthens the muscles on the back of our bodies. These muscles are instead constantly working to hold our shoulders and head back, while trying to maintain the natural curves in our upper, middle, and lower back. Over time these postural muscles get stretched out and give into the effects of gravity and repetitive activities that we perform in front of our bodies. When that happens, they stop functioning properly, and compensating muscles will kick in to make sure we can still stand up straight, and see what's in front of us. Hello shoulder impingement, frozen shoulder, achy back, sore neck, muscular tension or worse; cranky discs. How? Well, If we are "stuck" in a slouched posture with rounded shoulders and forward head posture, we've already established that back muscles are stretched out, while working (contracting) at the same time, and guess what? That hurts! Stretching while isometrically contracting is not something our muscles are designed to do. Another consequence of this slouchy posture, is that the discs become compressed in the front of our spine due to the misaligned curvature of our spine. That can lead to (or will lead to eventually), disc problems, sprains, strains or compression fractures.
Our knees, hips, and lower back are also affected by posture. If we start from the floor, how we stand (our foot alignment) matters. If there's uneven pressure on the inside or outside of our feet, we will have more compression on the bones within the outside or inside of our knees. Another example is the position of our knees. If we allow them to lock back when we are standing, we increase the wear and tear on our hips and/or low back. Postural awareness is in other words key to the health of our bones from our head to our toes.
Rounded shoulders and forward head posture also affects our ability to breathe. It compresses the rib cage and doesn’t allow full expansion of our lungs. Then consequently, the less oxygen we take in with every breath, the less oxygen-rich blood reaches our brain, organs, and muscles. So by standing and moving with correct posture, we are able to achieve greater lung expansion.
What is good posture then? From the ground up: place your feet shoulder width apart (feet pointing straight forward) with equal weight on each leg, careful not to lock those knees. Align ankles, knees, hips, shoulders and ears into one straight vertical line. Observe your spine. In the low back, a small curve should exist. If your low back is flat, then try to "lift" your tailbone a little. If your low back is too curved, reach your tailbone towards the floor. To engage your back correctly, externally rotate your upper arms, while reaching your arms straight down. Simple, simple, but also tricky. We've gots to work on it, daily. XO